At its worst, a romantic breakup can be an earthquake in your life that seems to rock the foundation of who you are.
When it happens, it can sometimes feel like your world is ending. Overnight, routines vanish. There’s a sudden void of companionship, intimacy and commiseration that your partner used to fill. You may feel intense emotions like sadness, anger, confusion, relief and everything in between.
And now you have to go to work on top of all that?
In the aftermath of a breakup, it’s totally normal if merely doing enough to stay focused and employed is a struggle. “It is a loss, and rules for grieving apply, meaning don’t downplay your sadness. Don’t beat yourself up for having feelings,” said Tanisha Ranger, a Nevada-based clinical psychologist. “But don’t let it necessarily drive or dictate everything that you do.”
The most important thing is to not isolate yourself from people who care about you. “People really do believe, ‘Nobody wants to hear about my sad sex tales and nobody thinks it’s important that this person I was dating for three weeks ghosted me. They’re going to think it’s stupid,’” Ranger said. “You convince yourself of all of that stuff, and then you withdraw and then the isolation makes it worse. Even if it’s there’s nobody you want to or can confide in at work, you have a phone, and you have people outside of work.”
Here are other ways to make workdays a little easier amid the pain of a breakup, according to therapists and people who’ve been there.
1. Plan things to look forward to throughout the workday.
Treating yourself to little moments of joy can make a big difference after a breakup. Take a moment to consciously do something nice for yourself while you’re at work, recommended psychotherapist Shannon Garcia.
“Stop and get your favorite coffee or tea on your way to the office. Make your favorite lunch item or decide you are ordering lunch from your place of choice. Wear your comfy sweater or an outfit that boosts your confidence,” she said. “The key is to say to yourself, ‘This is for me.’ You’ve been through something so difficult; use this to be kind to yourself.”
It could also mean reengaging with hobbies and friendships. The goal is to make sure you are living a life outside of work that is not just about wallowing, rehashing and ruminating about the relationship, Ranger said.
“Part of what going to is help you work through it — like literally work through it — it is to make sure you don’t spend every moment outside of work in that space” of rumination, she said.
2. If it’s hard to care about work, do low-bandwidth tasks first. But if works give you purpose, lean into that.
If taking a mental health day is an option, use that time off to rest and process your feelings. But when you need to go back to work, go easy on yourself.
It may be difficult to concentrate at work, especially in the first few days following the breakup, Garcia said. That’s why she recommends choosing tasks you can complete that aren’t too hard to finish.
“Maybe that’s clearing out your inbox or a data-entry assignment,” Garcia said. “Ease into your workday by choosing a task that takes less mental bandwidth. Something relatively mindless but productive. Return to these simpler tasks when concentrating on the bigger tasks gets difficult throughout the day.”
On the other hand, work can also help by serving as a reminder of the person you are outside of the relationship you used to have.
Take it from my friend Jaliz, who shared what it felt like after the sudden end of her three-year relationship: “I had no capacity to envision or think about the future in the aftermath of my breakup,” she said.
Jaliz, who works as an educator, said that her students and their earnestness gave her a sense of future purpose beyond what she could see for herself as she dealt with the heartbreak.
“The students subconsciously provided me with a vision of the future via the skills I knew I had to teach them so that they could be successful and tap into their potential as learners,” she told me. “And that helped me. It helped me articulate a future for myself despite the pain I was experiencing personally.”
Jaliz said it helps to remember that a whole world exists out of your relationship, and that work can be one of the many avenues you have to move toward healing ― although it shouldn’t be the only one.
3. Prioritize sleep.
How you feel is shaped by how well you rest. Breakups can be physically and mentally draining. One way to show compassion to yourself during this hard time is to get a good night’s sleep.
“Make sure you get enough sleep in order to wake up well rested,” said Katheryn Perez, a marriage and family therapist in Burbank, California. ″If you’re struggling with falling asleep, you can drink a calming tea at night, take a warm bath or listen to meditation music to decrease any anxious thoughts or feelings of sadness.“
And if you still feel exhausted when you wake up, shower before work. It can provide a much-needed an energy boost, Perez said.
4. Take breaks outside of your desk or workstation.
Don’t use work as a total distraction from heartbreak, though. Give yourself time in between projects for breaks.
Perez recommended going on short walks during the workday.
“If you can leave the building, please do leave the building,” Ranger said. “Even go to your car and blast some music. Do something that feels nourishing.”
5. Loop in a trusted work confidante.
It’s OK to have discretion about whom you choose to share personal news with. “You don’t want to tell somebody and have that person invalidate your feelings, because that is going to be even more painful,” Ranger said.
But sharing what you are going through with a work confidante can lead to much-needed support. “People always say they don’t want to be a burden. I am ‘Team Burden.’ When you engage in relationships, that is part of the contract: ‘You are my burden. I am your burden,’” Ranger said. “The people who are closest to you don’t want you to suffer alone.”
Work friends can double-check your assignments when you’re distracted, or they can also share little reminders of their care for you. It could be as silly as “I want you text me every hour on the hour something stupid like ‘Get your ass back to work’ or whatever the case may be,” Ranger said.
“Our individualistic society keeps telling us that we have to manage everything on our own, and we don’t,” Ranger said. “Usually, there are people who love and care about you and will assist you wherever they can.”
If it helps, you also can put boundaries around what you’re willing to discuss with your friend during work hours. You don’t have to talk about the breakup to feel the solace of friendship.
“I’ve had instances where I’ve said to a friend of mine, ‘Hey, I’m feeling kind of shitty and I don’t want to talk about it, but I would like for you to tell me something good that is going on in your life, because I can celebrate you. I don’t want to talk about me,’” Ranger shared.
6. If you feel comfortable, let your boss know that you’re dealing with a personal problem.
To tell or not to tell your boss about a breakup? It can be a tricky question, especially given power dynamics and the desire to be seen as a competent employee.
After the breakup of a months-long situationship, I told no one at work, even though I found myself missing deadlines and staring into space for a week after it happened. In retrospect, I believe my boss would have been completely supportive of a deadline extension had I shared why I needed it.
Another friend said that sharing the news of her breakup helped her grow closer to her boss. “My boss was so nice about it. She was very sweet and I’m not very emotional like this at work, but I kind of cried!” she shared. “Our relationship turned a corner kind of, because she was so supportive and I look back at that moment and will always appreciate her for that.”
If you want to limit how much your boss knows about your personal business, you can also keep your situation vague. For example, you could tell your boss, “I’m having some problems in my personal life that are leaving me very stressed,” Ranger said.
7. Make a list of what’s essential and what’s not.
After a breakup, people can experience “the vegetative symptoms of depression,” which can include sleeping a lot and having low energy or low motivation, Ranger said.
If you find yourself in this state, and even choosing low-bandwidth work tasks feels like too much to bear, start with even more basic accomplishments.
Ranger recommended making a list of the absolute essential things that you need to do to get through a workday, from brushing your teeth and drinking water to eating breakfast.
“Make a chart and pay attention that you do those things every day and you don’t allow yourself to spiral out of control and not engage in self-care at the most basic level,” she said.
8. Know that therapy is an option, too.
And if you find yourself unable to think about anything else beyond the breakup months after it happens, you may be stuck in the grieving process and in need of professional help, Ranger said.
“If you feel three months later the same way you felt the day after, there’s a possibility you might need some help from a therapist,” she said.