You just got dumped, or maybe you broke up with someone. You just want to curl up and retreat from the world.
It doesn't matter if it was a long-term relationship, a short-lived cyber affair, an unrequited love or a good friends-with-benefits arrangement. If you cared and connected, you feel a deep and painful void where there was once laughter and affection. It's like experiencing a small death.
Grieving over your lost love for a short time is understandable, but if you linger too long in the purgatory of how-it-used-to-be, your friends will eventually get tired of hearing you talk about your ex and advise you to "Get over it."
You agree on some level. You know that you really ought to start getting on with life and move on. Every day starts with that intention. But every night ends with you wanting to call them, check out their Facebook page or look through old photos, just to feel closer to them.
Getting over it. Easy to say. Much harder to do.
And no wonder, because there's a bio-chemical reason behind the desperation and despair.
Researchers who've looked at the brains of the lovelorn say that loss, especially rejection by a romantic partner, lights up areas of the brain that are associated with addiction. This can lead to psychological reactions that cause obsessive preoccupation with your partner, feelings of frenzied desperation, guilt over what you could have done differently and even physical pain. Letting go for good seems unimaginable.
Trust me, as both a relationship therapist and a veteran of countless breakups myself, I've seen it all and I get it. What I've discovered along the way is that you need a holistic approach to getting over a breakup, one that addresses the four core areas: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The following are highly effective strategies from the healing section my book using each of those four core areas to get you on the road to recovery from that breakup -- fast.
1. Meditate, don't medicate. Avoid overusing drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and coffee and resist the urge to stuff down your feelings using chocolate and food. You'll only end up feeling worse about yourself. In times of stress, having a drink or eating a quart of ice cream may be tempting, but doing so will only cause you to spiral down into a depression, lose sleep and gain weight. Instead, take five minutes to sit quietly, meditate, practice yoga or deep breathing.
2. Eat healthfully and regularly. Your body can't function properly without the proper nutrition. Don't skip meals or resort to convenience food. Treat yourself as if you were your own child -- eat wholesome meals that are balanced and freshly made.
3. Get plenty of sleep. There's nothing more replenishing to your body than quality sleep. If you are having trouble going to sleep because of punishing, pain-producing thoughts, try this: Keep a journal by your bed, write down your anxieties and imagine them flowing out of you and onto the paper. Say, "I fully release you and let you go. I give myself permission to peacefully sleep."
4. Exercise your blues away. The absence of pleasure-producing endorphins after a break up can make you feel sluggish and miserable. Exercise increases your endorphins. Join a health club, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to work, do some yoga or take a salsa lesson. Make a promise to do something active for 30 minutes a day for 30 days, no excuses.
5. Feel your feelings. Don't ignore or stuff them down. Let the tears flow and express your anger. Ignored emotions will only make you calloused and afraid. One way of unloading your feelings is to write out what might be too difficult to say out loud to others right now. Or better yet, start a dialogue with your broken heart, asking this part of you questions and giving it the solace and attention it needs right now.
6. Surround yourself with smiles and happy vibes. Make time for some feel good activities -- anything from having a cup of tea with a friend to taking the kids to the zoo to playing a round of golf. Be sure to surround yourself with people that will uplift you, not unhappy ones that will just drag you down. Studies have shown that laughter or just smiling has a way of lifting your mood instantly.
7. Stop obsessing. All those obsessive thoughts and instant replays of would of, could of, should of head trips must stop NOW. The best way to do it is to say, "STOP!" If the thoughts won't stop, then say, "NO! STOP NOW!" If they persist, then continue, "ENOUGH! NO MORE! STOP!"
Saying "STOP!" interrupts the obsessive thought process and breaks the cycle of pain. Immediately, redirect your thoughts away to something good that is happening in your life.
8. Take a 60-second vacation. Thinking relaxing thoughts and verbalizing calming statements starts the healing process and helps you lessen anxiety. Take a deep breath and say out loud, "I am calm. I am safe and I can handle this." Anything from smelling a flower to petting an animal can help take you away for even a minute, which starts the process of feeling free.
9. Gratitude is grounding. Have you ever noticed that it's impossible to feel grateful and depressed at the same time? Gratitude can transform pain into love and bring peace to your emotional chaos. Remind yourself of all the things you're grateful for. Better yet, write it down. This strategy works miracles for bringing you out of any gloomy mood.
10. Give to others. Studies show that the happiest people are ones who give the most to others. When you're depressed, anxious or stressed, there is a high degree of focus on the self. Focusing on the needs of others literally helps shift your thinking and your mood from victimhood to empowerment.
When you're feeling down after a breakup, you may feel like you want to avoid the very activities that will actually make you feel better -- exercise, visiting friends, being kind to those in need. As much as you might want to, avoid isolating yourself from others. Ask for help and talk to a friend who you know is a good listener. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Don't think of this as time wasted because you aren't with that special person, but as precious time you need to reinvest in a healthier, more grounded and more spiritually enlightened you.
Sheri Meyers, Psy.D is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA, and author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love, and Affair-Proof Your Relationship.
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