“Time heals all wounds,” or so the saying goes. But when you’re in the throes of a breakup – one you’re so deeply distraught by that you’re casually tossing around terms like “throes” – chances are, you want to know two things:
- How long will it take to get over this breakup?
- Where do I even begin to move on from this heartache?
We’ve all been there – deep in the dumper- and dumpee-trenches alike. To help you move on from the misery, we asked Mary Breen, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New York City, to share tips for healthily coping with a breakup. Here are suggestions for how to get over someone:
1. Know that you may need a proper grieving period – and that you’re not alone
Healing from a breakup is like moving through grief after any loss. It is an ugly, messy process – with no definitive time frame for how long it will take. You might find comfort knowing that many others have gone through this, and come out stronger and healthier on the other side.
It is with certainty that you will not feel like this forever and by taking a few actionable steps with regular doses of self-compassion, the waves of pain from your “whole” body-ache will become fewer and farther apart.
2. Maintain routines and engagement in your life
Although you may not feel like it, the most effective way to heal a broken heart is to recondition yourself to a “new normal” way of being in the world without your partner.
It is imperative that you continue to take care of your health and wellbeing, go to work or school, and be social. On the days when you feel your most raw, it is important to choose a few non-negotiable tasks that you will complete each day. These “non-negotiables” may be as simple as:
- Getting dressed
- Going to work
- Texting a friend
As you ease into your reconditioned routine, maybe you add meeting friends out a few times a week and going to an exercise class. As more time passes, perhaps you sign up for a dating app – even if you’re not feeling 100% ready to date again.
Gradually, you increase the number of new experiences that are not linked to your ex, and simultaneously, you become practiced at integrating the familiar parts of your life as your new, single self.
This strategy is a variation of a type of evidence-based treatment commonly used in cognitive behavioral therapy for depression called “Behavioral Activation.” In essence, you fake it until you become it.
3. Set aside designated time to heal
Set aside time in your day or week to mourn with intention. Knowing that you have time built in to process your thoughts and emotions around the loss makes it easier to meet the demands of your daily life while not avoiding your feelings. Eventually, it will become less and less compelling to focus on the past.
Incorporating physical activity with this dedicated grieving time can be an incredibly powerful way to release emotion. I often encourage clients to create an evocative playlist to listen to while journaling or going for a walk or run.
4. Equip yourself with some coping mechanisms and tools
My favorite tool to help you to become unstuck is to use your breath in conjunction with a positive, affirming mantra – followed by a statement of gratitude.
Grieving a relationship is incredibly stressful to your physical and emotional body – and breath, mantra, and gratitude are evidence-based stress reduction techniques. One such active meditation exercise to try is to start by lying down comfortably placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart.
As you breathe in, silently say to yourself: “I receive love.” As you exhale, silently say, “I am whole.” Do this for 12 minutes.
After you complete the breathing exercise, then say – either silently, or out loud – one to two things that you are grateful for. Repeat this exercise three times per week, for eight to 11 weeks. Additionally, you can use it as a self-soothing tool intermittently throughout the day when you notice painful memories or negative thoughts bubble up.
5. Accepting all of your emotions will help you grow stronger
No emotions are negative, they simply exist to provide us with information. However, the power of self-regulation through breath can help us to make the distinction between our authentic self and the emotions that pass through us.
Think of yourself as a beautiful tree rooted in the ground. The weather always changes and it may influence you, but you remain the tree – strong enough to sway at times, while remaining grounded in the earth.
When we are not acting from a place of tension (fight, flight, or freeze – sympathetic nervous system), we have more clarity about a given situation, and therefore we have a greater capacity to choose how we respond.
6. Resist the urge to toss all the tchotchkes
With the exception of muting social media contact, purging reminders of your ex-partner is not necessarily advisable.
Once healing has occurred, you may find meaning in being able to reminisce about the positive aspects of your time together and reflect on the lessons about yourself that you learned because of this significant relationship.
Instead, gather tangible memory items, put them in a box, and seal it. Either hide the box away or give it to someone you trust to keep until a later time.
7. Know when to ask for help
Separations are one of many life events that can trigger or exacerbate mental health problems. While it is normal to experience intense sadness and anger after a relationship ends, you should gradually feel better as you come to accept the loss and your life moves forward.
Signs that it might be time to seek professional help include:
- Feeling worse as time goes on
- Engaging in coping behaviors that are unhealthy or risky
- If you’ve struggled with mental health conditions in the past
If you are feeling suicidal, take immediate action by calling a suicide hotline or 911, and/or going to an emergency room.
Asking for support when you need it is stepping up to take responsibility for your own health and wellness which is both incredibly brave and an empowering first step towards feeling better.