Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

11 Breakup Survival Tips (That Don’t Involve Positive Thinking)

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Breakups are as much a part of the human experience as a breathing oxygen and not licking cactuses. It’s actual science that going through a breakup does the same thing to your body as withdrawal from an addiction, activating the part of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings.

As well as this, emotional pain triggers the same pathways in the brain as physical pain. 

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it will get better. 

If you’re going through a breakup now you’ll probably want to file that under ‘B‘ for ‘But you don’t get it – no-body has ever lost like I’ve lost.’  Yes. It’s highly possible that humankind is unfamiliar with the level of wretched misery you’ve fallen to now, but read on anyway, because the ugly truth is that the only way through a breakup is straight through the middle. Here’s how to start with that:

  1. Don’t make any big decisions.   

    Tattoos, relationships, work and cutting off your locks. It might seem seem like a good idea to get ‘Just Breathe,’ or ‘Live Life‘ tattooed in times roman 120pt on your forearm but seriously, if you need these sort of reminders so badly as to have them embedded into your skin, then you’re in no position to be making life-lasting decisions. They might all turn out to be great decisions one day, but make them when Rhianna stops singing ‘Love the way you lie’ in your head. ‘Just gonna stand there and watch me bu…’ Don’t. Just don’t.

  2. Unfriend him (or her) on Facebook.   Do it right now. We’ll wait.

    He’s not going to be posting sad faced ‘missing you’ selfies from the places you used to go – and anything else, you don’t need to know about. Keeping up the follow will swallow you whole. The only reason to have him there is to check he’s not getting on with his life too happily without you. He will be. So will you, without him, just as soon as you stop the Facebook stalk. If you’re going to keep him friended, just rip your heart from your chest, hand it over and tell him to squeeze. It will hurt a lot less.  

  3. Exercise. Just not at the gym he goes to. At the same time he goes there.

    Possibly the only exercise you’ll feel like doing is hurling ‘that’ photo of both of you across the room but if you can manage something more active (though perhaps less cathartic) you will feel better afterwards. Cortisol, the stress hormone, will be making itself at home inside you. One way to take the fire out of cortisol is to exercise. Exercise will also stimulate the brain to release endorphins (the feel good chemicals) and you’ll already be short on them so you’ve got nothing to lose. You don’t have to work up a sweat – going for a walk will do. A caveat though: If the activity involves walking slowly past his house or climbing up the stormwater pipe to get a look into his window, it doesn’t count as exercise. It counts as stalking. 

  4. Get rid of texting capacity if you’re going to have a drink. A couple of drinks won’t make you Shakespeare. They just won’t.

    Alcohol is a depressant, so if you’re on a downhill slide it’s best to stay away from it. If you are going to have a drink though, protect yourself at all costs from the temptation to drunk text. You’re human. You’ll want to. But don’t fall for the courage that comes in a bottle of decent pinot. It’s been fed by slightly hammered wisdom and it won’t end well. Never. Ever. Just give your phone to a friend you trust and tell her to feed it to a pack of wolves before even thinking of giving it back to you. Unless you’re totally – totally – sober. You won’t need to explain why. She’ll get it. 

  5. Connect with friends and family. 

    The real ones. Not the ones who you haven’t heard from since the last crisis. The real ones who will sit through ‘Love Actually’ with you for the 37th time and eat microwaved Indian from the dodgy plastic container it came in last night because you used the last clean plate three days ago. One of the reasons a breakup hurts so much is because it messes around with the primal need to be connected to other people. You might not be able to be with the one person you want to be with, but spending time with your tribe will feed the human need for connection and will bring a much needed boost of oxytocin (the happy hormone) you’ve been missing. And those real friends? On the way out the door they’ll pop the dishwasher on before telling you they’ve organised for both of you to do salsa dancing classes to get you out of the house. Don’t argue. Just go. There’s a good chance you’re starting to smell like a week-long temper and it will only get worse.

  6. Give your bedroom a bit of a reno. And get some sleep.

    Buy new sheets, new pjs and new scented candles for your bedroom – nothing that reminds you of him. Get rid of anything that makes you think of what you’ve lost. And then remind yourself that you haven’t lost it because it wasn’t there. Otherwise he would be too. Shake away those sepia dusted images of the two of you at your almost-but-not-quite spring wedding staring longingly at each other or the buffet. Keep your ‘OMG My Wedding Yay’ Pinterest board though. It will still come in handy one day. If you want it to. It just won’t be with him – and that will be okay, you’ll see. And stop falling asleep on the couch in your day clothes. 

  7. Eat Healthy. Or don’t. Whatever. Just don’t keep it going for too long.

    You’re doing it tough.  You’ve got enough to worry about – you don’t need to get sick on top of everything else. Give your body what it needs to function. Eat healthy and eat regularly. Of course, the occasional crowd-pleaser bucket of fried chicken won’t hurt. Everything in moderation. Or in a delicious crunchy coating.

  8.  He’s gone. He’s not coming back. But you are.

    Every breakup survival needs a breakup comeback. When the time is right, plan for yours. Do something you wouldn’t have done while you were with him – and no – that doesn’t mean hooking up with Russell, the 40-something from accounts with the earring and gold bracelet who threw you a cheesey line at office drinks. He’s not the only man to own a guitar and being able to play the first four bars of The Simpsons doesn’t make him a musician. Leave Russell where you found him – possibly texting Shona, Shaniqua and Shaniya – and instead learn Italian, cook French, buy new lingerie (with you in mind, because you deserve it), plan a girls trip to Morocco – or if you’re budget’s gasping for breath, a girls’ trip to Target for your new lacy knickers will do fine.

  9.  Don’t meet up for coffee as friends. Actually, don’t do anything as friends.

    There is nothing in this ‘let’s be friends’ thing for you. No doubt you’re a mature, emotionally together lady-human who can deal with this just fine, and deal with it you will … until he wants to introduce you to his new friend Sally – ‘Sal’ – the pilates instructor who snacks on kale and beetroot juice and drops a quick line about the movie they saw last night together. Together. As in, to-geth-er. Rational heads don’t necessarily follow broken hearts. There. I said it. So when they go to the movies, you (quietly) go to ‘What. A. Jackass. Did I ever really know him no I don’t think I did because we’ve been untogether for three months now which is practically five minutes in breakup years and now he’s watching movies with some girl and that can only mean that they’re shagging and she says his name like they’re practically engaged and I can’t believe this did he ever really care about me at awwwwwwlllll?’ Sound familiar? Nope? Well maybe just me then. At any rate, you loved him once remember. And he loved you. It’s hard to go backwards from that.

    If you can take the dignified high road and forgive and forget and be friends, good for you, but you might be heading for trouble. You’ve been there. Done that. Nothing to gain from doing it again. In this sort of relationship, someone will always want more. And it probably won’t be him – especially if it’s only been weeks since he was outta there. If he is the one that wants more, then still ‘no’. A few weeks is never enough for him to ”find himself’.  He’s not a remote that slipped behind the couch. It’s never that simple. Never.

    Of course, if you have kids together you will have to stay on friendly terms (at least in front of the kids). It might not be easy but you’re a woman who will always love your kids more than you’ll want to hate any man so you’ll be fine. You’re phenomenal. And that’s why you’re his loss. Remember that.

  10.  Look for what it can give you.

    Sometimes when you’re down it’s because there’s something down there you’re meant to find. As part of your breakup survival, look for the gems. What can you learn? Why did you choose the relationship? What’s the wisdom that’s left for you when everything is said and done? Everyone comes into our lives to learn from us or to teach us. What have you learnt? The fact that it’s over doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. It just means it’s run its course and it’s no longer the right one. Use it as a step up to the one that is.

  11.  You only have to get through today.

    Don’t think too far ahead. It still has the imprints of you and him with your perfectly behaved children, that spring wedding and you running that marathon (actually, keep that one – just don’t have him at the finish line ready to receive you and your gazelle-esque stride). Just don’t go there. Unless it’s to make real plans for something fun. You only have to get through today. You can deal with tomorrow when it gets to you. Just put one foot in front of the other and it will get easier. Promise.

Above all else remember that the path to wisdom and a happy life is often littered with shards of broken hearts, including our own. And keep going. You’ll get there. 

What are your breakup survival remedies? Let us know in the comments below …

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130 Comments

Deena

I don’t even know where to begin. I have been in what I suspect is a mentally and emotionally abusive relationship for a little over a year which has finally come to a very painful end. The entire relationship I spent trying to prove my worth and value to this person with them constantly criticizing me. They would tell me that I am boring, I have no goals, I am not passionate etc. in addition to them constantly insinuating that I am dumb and all that. It wasn’t all bad. It did come across like they were truly trying to help me be a better person. Anyway due to unforeseen circumstances I fell into depression. At that point I just knew it over for me as I had been hanging by a loose thread anyway. I had to tell him I was unable to give him what he wants from me right now and I did hope he would stay and give me more time to get back on my feet. He chose to leave and expose the private reason I was depressed to his entire family. Devastated is an understatement for how I feel. I would have never predicted that my life could unravel with such a series of unfortunate events. I don’t know how I could ever be happy again. I am so traumatized by life. So much loss all at the same time. Every step I take I hear his voice “be more fun! Show me you’re passionate! Impress me!”. The feeling of worthlessness is something that nobody will ever fully understand. I’m not sleeping. In addition I need to spend lots of money and time to fix the issue that resulted in me being depressed. I have so much guilt and regret and I am just a shell of my former self. I will never forget how low I feel right now. I pray I make it to the other side.

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Shane

We we’re just together for 3 months compared to others that was been on a long term relationships that was ended but heck, why am I feeling this way. When throughout that relationship I was the only one suffering. He was my crush and everything just happen so fast that I didn’t even notice. I got pregnant but the only thing that I hear from him is he will think first leaving me behind. At first I understand him or I did try to understand him. I don’t even know why I love him when all he did was break my heart. I’m 5 months pregnant know and I’m just taking care of it myself without his help and even support which I told him so. He is the most ungrateful man I ever know but why do I still love him despite of that. It is so frustrating because I ended up stalking his facebook and stuff like that and when he texted me I just got excited and have my hopes up again even though I know it will just end up me hurting myself. I’m so stressed and depressed by this already and the only thing that keeps me going is the child that I’m bearing . I don’t really know what to do know or I’ll say I know what to do but it is so hard for me to do it. 🙁

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