How to Cope with a Breakup: 7 Insights from Therapists
As the famous song goes, “breaking up is hard to do.” And it’s true, recovering from the end of a relationship can be even harder. The emotions that come with breakups, including shame, guilt, anger, sadness, and sometimes relief, can be overwhelming, says Kelli Harding, MD, MPH, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.
In addition to these emotions, there is also grief. “Breakups are a grieving process with a wide range of emotions,” says Jessica Leader, a licensed marriage and family therapist with Root to Rise Therapy in Los Angeles. A significant part of this grief comes from the loss of the future that you thought you had with your ex-partner.
“Grief over a different future than imagined is often a part of the dynamic,” Dr. Harding says. To make matters worse, the end of a long-term relationship may entail thorny logistical questions, such as how to handle children and finances, in addition to all the emotions, Harding says.
It’s worth noting that there’s no age limit when it comes to how much a split can hurt. Whether it was a six-week fling or a six-year relationship, “losing a relationship with someone you love at any age is painful and takes time to heal,” Harding says. “If it was a short relationship but it knocked the wind out of your sails when it’s over, that’s okay to acknowledge and feel all the feelings to move through them.”
But despite the pain that comes with a breakup, people generally become better equipped to deal with them as time goes on. “There is a saying with grief that is true for breakups too: It never gets better, only easier,” Harding says. “With life experience, we often learn that everything is temporary, including the pain of negative emotions such as loss and grief.”
Here are seven tips from therapists to help you cope with a breakup:
When going through a breakup, it can be difficult to focus on your own well-being, but it’s crucial to do so. Research has shown that breakups can have negative effects on your immune system and sleep patterns. To counteract these effects, it’s important to maintain healthy habits, such as exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and staying socially connected.
Write a Closure Letter
One exercise that can help you gain closure is writing a letter to your ex. In the book Conscious Uncoupling by Katherine Woodward Thomas, the author suggests writing a letter thanking your ex for what you gained in the relationship and saying goodbye. While some people choose to share this letter with their ex, it can be beneficial even if it’s not shared. The act of writing down your thoughts and feelings can provide a sense of closure.
Lean on Your Support System
It’s normal to want to isolate yourself after a breakup, but social support is important for mental health. Studies have shown that social interactions can help protect against loneliness and depression. Reach out to friends and family and accept invitations to spend time together. Being around loved ones can provide comfort and help you feel less alone.
Give Yourself Time to Heal
Healing from a breakup takes time and it’s important to be patient with yourself. Recovery is not always linear, and setbacks are normal. It’s possible that you may never completely get over this person, but that’s okay. The key is to learn to carry on and grow from the experience.
Validate Your Feelings
Allow yourself to feel your emotions and don’t push them away. Feeling deeply is a sign of being open to love. Talking to a trusted friend, therapist, or family member can help you process your feelings. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can also be a helpful coping strategy.
Do Something Kind for Others
Sometimes, taking the focus off of yourself and helping others can provide a mood boost and perspective. Studies have shown that distraction can be an effective coping strategy. Consider volunteering or doing something kind for a friend who is going through a tough time.
Seek Professional Help if Needed
It’s normal to feel sad after a breakup, but if your functioning at work or school is being affected for an extended period of time, seeking professional help may be necessary. Talking to a counselor or therapist can provide support and guidance. There are also free and confidential hotlines available for those who need someone to talk to. Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone.