It was 7 p.m. on a summer Thursday and I could have been mistaken for a decorative rug. I’d been sprawled out for the past several evenings absent of the energy needed to flip from horizontal to vertical after Trevor* broke up with me. Flattened was my post-breakup posture. And it would take a week to muster the strength to lift a vertebra. But without that abundant floor time, I’m not sure I’d be over Trevor today, nearly a year later.
Breakups, whether they wreak major or minor havoc on your heart, are something we’ve pretty much all been through. And yet, no matter how many partings we endure, they aren’t any easier to deal with. But if collective experience shows anything, it’s that you’ll get to the point where it doesn’t feel like your guts are on fire. People have been through this before and there is practically a library of ways to cope.
Danielle Forshee, Psy.D., takes a deep breath before beginning to explain how to get over a breakup. “According to the most recent research, you have to remind yourself of the bad things about your ex. That will then help you not feel like you miss them so much. We tend to associate the pain with missing them.” But often it’s their presence you miss, not them. File all those vacation pictures in your “really, do not do this to yourself” folder within your “don’t open this” folder and soundtrack your sobs to a feel-good playlist.
For Katie, 29, whose partner broke up with her after three passionate, confusing months of flip-flopping between I’m-in-this and I-can’t-do-this, just being sad helped. “If you want to be dramatic, let the feelings flow,” she says. Crying isn’t a sign that you’re not getting over a breakup, it’s a cleansing mechanism.
“In tears are pain, sadness, and grief, and there are a lot of stress hormones that are released,” Forshee says. Confront the crap head-on and you’ll suppress less feelings that could surprise you further down the road of recovery.
After “cry,” add “hang with friends” to your breakup to-do list. “A way that I really did take care of myself was to invite over some dear lady friends, order in a feast and wine, and let myself feel weird but with people who supported me,” Katie says. Your friends are there to rally around you and lift you up in this insecure time. They can also, as mine have, maybe too happily report for duty when asked to break down, again, why things didn’t work out with your now ex.
But be careful not to fall into destructive behaviors. While diving spoon-first into a pint of ice cream can be cathartic, it’s a temporary Band-Aid. A little overindulgence is normal, but it’s also not a healthy coping mechanism. After you’ve allowed yourself a not-so-great evening (or two), “you have to get it together,” says Forshee.
Lean into activity.
Try picking up a new activity. This proved helpful to Maddy, 29, who, after ending a “toxic relationship” that compromised her independence, was determined to concentrate on herself. “The first thing I did was get sucked into something I knew I could do well. It was a reminder that I was good at and could find joy in doing something with myself, as opposed to with another person. For me, it was knitting. I find it very meditative and helps my thought process.”
“Create a situation for yourself where you start to feel competent about who you are and what you’re doing,” says Forshee. Engaging in or discovering new hobbies is a way to feel like your whole self again.
Or, just go to work. Peter, 28, credits his routine of showing up at his job for “giving [him] the time to get back to [his] normal self.” A little normalcy when your heart gets shattered and scrambled is welcome. But don’t rush into it. Confront the sadness before burying woe in spreadsheets. Forshee encourages getting back into your routine routine “as soon as possible” but not without “allowing yourself an opportunity to grieve.”
Soothe yourself with music and entertainment.
Until then, there’s always music. Listening to the same album on repeat can propel you through the gunk of heartbreak. Skye, 27, opted for Nick Lachey’s “What’s Left Of Me,” Taylor Swift’s “Breathe,” and Paramore’s entire discography when it was revealed her partner had been cheating. “These songs allowed me to wallow, let it out, and eventually be like, ‘screw you’ [to my ex],” she says. Those think-happy-thoughts albums are good for your heart and your brain. “If the music you listen to repetitively is positive in nature, uplifting, and motivating, you’re more likely to allow your brain an opportunity to secrete serotonin,” Forshee says.
It’s not only music and lyrics that may make you feel better. Lindsay, 26, whose partner ended their two-year relationship because he wanted to see other people, spent an entire summer laughing hysterically to stand up comedy sets as she rode her bike around Boston. “I didn’t have to interact with people, but could still get out and laugh,” she says.
You are the nurse and doctor of your breakup. You administer the medicine — be that giving 110 percent at the office or listening to John Mulaney stand-up while in transit — that will give you the energy to lift yourself up. Eventually, and I say this from personal experience, you will put yourself back together.
*Names have been changed to protect innocent daters everywhere.