Time supposedly heals all wounds—but when it comes to the deep cut of a broken heart, it often feels like time stands still. The idea that you'll ever get over the heartbreak (let alone the person who did the breaking) is almost unfathomable in those first few days or weeks after a breakup.
This, of course, can lead to seemingly insurmountable feelings of sadness and anxiety, sending you into a downward spiral of wallowing, overanalyzing, and maaaybe even a little social media stalking. Not only is this damaging to your sense of self-worth, but your physical and mental health can suffer as well. In short, the side effects of a breakup can be toxic—and you don't want to prolong your exposure.
So, we're here to guide you down a healthier path—one that not only helps you let go of your ex faster but allows you to grow and learn things about yourself in the process. "Breakups, like relationships, can be fertile grounds for self-discovery and development," says relationship and well-being coach Shula Melamed, M.A., MPH.
Here, we explore five expert-approved strategies to help you get over a breakup in the healthiest way possible:
1. Dive headfirst into self-care.
In the days and weeks following a breakup, it's more important than ever to practice self-care and self-compassion and not to give in to the rom-com clichés of post-breakup life. "It might be tempting to launch headfirst into unhealthy eating, drinking, or sleeping habits when you are going through a breakup, but it's actually the perfect time to double down on healthy practices," Melamed says.
Breakups and the weeks afterward are intensely stressful, which can have very real effects on your body (weight gain, poor sleep, headaches, anxiety, digestive issues, to name a few) due in large part to elevated levels of the hormone cortisol. So, providing your body and mind with the necessary tools they need to combat this stress can go a long way in your healing process.
What does that mean, exactly? Take your breakup as an opportunity to create new habits and routines that nourish your body and spirit—and have nothing to do with your ex—like these:
Get plenty of sleep. It may sound childish, but getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night is key for counteracting the elevated stress you experience with a breakup. Poor sleep is tied to increased production of cortisol, research shows. Consider cutting out caffeine and alcohol later in the day to ensure you snag enough shut-eye, or create a relaxing pre-bed ritual (e.g., some light stretching while you diffuse calming essential oils) to help lull you into a restful slumber.
Start a gratitude journal. It might sound impossible in the throes of a breakup, but practicing gratitude regularly and actively looking for the bright side can create the mental shift you need to start leaning into the things in life that make you happy. This includes identifying the good things that have come out of the end of your relationship, too. Maybe you now have time to take an art or cooking class, or you can cook all the salmon you want without anyone protesting. Research shows that looking for the positives in a negative situation (which is called a redemptive narrative) helps alleviate emotional distress.
Eat clean, calming foods. While consuming too much sugar or refined carbs can release cortisol and amplify the negative effects of breakup stress, other foods can have a calming, even mood-boosting effect. So, even if it initially seems daunting, take the time to prepare nourishing meals loaded with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, lean meats, and fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi (think Mediterranean diet). Higher intake of antioxidants, omega-3s, and probiotics have all been associated with improvements in mood and reduced anxiety.
Get outside and move. Even getting out of bed might feel hard right now, but convincing yourself to lace up those sneakers and go for a jog or hike is totally worth it. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins and neurotransmitters and is a reminder that our bodies and minds are powerful and strong, which can induce a sense of resiliency, Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., integrative neurologist, told mbg. While all forms of movement are good, she says "the best form of exercise for traumatic and negative life events is [anything] that can be done outdoors." Studies show that immersion in nature reduces anxiety and depression and promotes feelings of calm.
2. Connect with people.
Just because your romantic relationship is over doesn't mean you're alone in this world. You can (and should) call a friend or family member when you hit the rough patches in navigating your breakup. Melamed stresses that it's important to lean on the people and into the activities you love when you're at your emotional lows; actively engaging with the people and activities that bring you joy will help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
"See friends and family; go to your weekly pottery class; see the movies, shows, or exhibits that light you up," she suggests. "Reach out to people who will support you and lift you up during this tough time. And don't be afraid or ashamed of asking for help from a therapist, coach, or other impartial third party."
3. Embrace alone time.
Just because it's important to reach out and connect, however, doesn't mean you aren't allowed to spend time alone to grieve or reflect on the relationship and recharge. There are plenty of benefits to taking time for yourself. Alone time has been shown to increase creativity, decrease risk of depression, and decrease the intensity of negative emotions in general.
So, there's absolutely nothing wrong with forgoing happy hour for an at-home spa night for one, complete with natural sheet masks and calming essential oils, or simply curling up with your dog or cat and getting lost in a novel. The key, Melamed says, is distinguishing between alone time and self-imposed isolation—and avoiding the latter. A healthy dose of solitude should feel energizing and grounding, not depleting.
4. Take time to feel your emotions.
There is no established timeline for getting over a breakup and someone you love—it might take you weeks; it might take you months, maybe even a year. Whatever the case, know that it's OK. "Everyone has their own timing; get to know your own by listening to your mind, body, and heart," says Melamed. Your feelings and how long you feel them are unique to you and your situation, and wishing they'd go away won't help you heal any faster.
The quickest way to the other side of pain is often straight through, so be sure give yourself time to really feel it. One strategy: Schedule in 15 minutes or so during the day to reflect on your relationship, what it meant to you, and that "redemptive narrative" we mentioned above. Once that time is up, dive into your day (and some of your self-care strategies) and try not to dwell too much on your breakup anymore. This will help you get on with your life while still dedicating time for necessary reflection and emotional healing.
5. Don't let social media mess with your progress.
Back in the old days (or like 15 years ago), if you broke up with someone and got that icky urge to check up on them, you had to either drive by their house or ask a mutual friend for intel. Today, you can check up on anyone from the comfort of your pajamas, right on your smartphone. That means it's way too easy to compare yourself to how they're handling (or appear to be handling) the split.
Social comparison theory suggests that humans have an innate tendency to judge our social and personal growth by comparing ourselves to others, Melamed explains. In other words, it's literally human nature to compare your post-breakup life to your ex's, which isn't a good way to bounce back from a breakup. Not only will you feel worse about yourself, but you might lean into that pain, which is doubly unhealthy.
"If seeing your ex on social media triggers negative emotions or the pain of rejection, it's OK to unfollow them. Consider this not an act of aggression toward them but as an act of self-care on your part," says Malamed. "This is healing time for you."
Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.