Breakups suck. Whether you're still very much "in love" with the person who just broke up with you and wished the relationship wouldn't have ended, or are actually relieved to have broken up with a person you knew wasn't a good match, the end of a relationship is often the beginning of a path of grief. You may well go through all the famous "stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, though not necessary in that order — in order to come out in one piece at the other side.
Mourning your lost relationship, no matter if it was a healthy relationship or decidedly bad for you, can help you move on. How do you ensure that your approach to grief is healthy rather than (self-)destructive, though?
What Happens To Your Brain When You Break Up?
Having a relationship, research shows, directly alters our sense of self. As we engage in the bonding that's so natural to us, we come to see our partner as an integral part of our very selves, not to mention that couples frequently have shared hobbies and interests, enjoy the same friends, and attend the same activities. They can also, of course, share a marriage certificate and children.
This is a terribly hard process that can, as you already knew and studies confirm, result in loneliness, severe distress, and a feeling of emptiness and being lost. It can, in some cases, induce clinical depression, or make us feel suicidal and even homicidal. Research indicates that breaking up can, shockingly, activate the same parts of our brain that are associated with drug withdrawal — and we all know that people who are withdrawing from drugs aren't exactly capable of behaving rationally. It's this feature of breaking up, perhaps, that leads some of us to desperately try to win our ex back, even though we should rationally be aware that the relationship is well and truly over.
The Holy Grail Of Post-Relationship No-Nos
So, what shouldn't you do after breaking up? Don't deny that you're in pain. Don't mull the past around in your head thinking about where on Earth you went wrong and what you could have done differently. There is a time and a place for considering your own role in the circumstances that eventually doomed your relationship, but immediately post-breakup isn't it: right now, you need to look after yourself with compassion.
Don't idealize your ex, thinking that you will never be able to be happy without them, and don't — unless you were in an abusive relationship — demonize them either. Don't send countless messages to your ex, lamenting exactly how unhappy you are right now or what a piece of horror they are. Don't desperately try to get back together after your ex has made it clear that they really want to continue life separately.
What else shouldn't you do? Getting drunk every night, having one-night stands, and turning to comfort eating may sound appealing right after breaking up, but don't, because these aren't healthy behaviors. Don't seek revenge either, don't stop enjoying the things you previously enjoyed, and don't let go of the daily routine that could play such a huge part in keeping you sane. Finally, don't isolate yourself from your friends and family, people on whom you can count to get you through this rough patch of your life.
That's a lot of "don'ts". What should you do, then?
Healthy Post-Breakup Coping Mechanisms
Losing the person you thought of as your other half is genuinely devastating. Rather than minimizing your sadness, feel free to let those tears flow, because crying isn't for sissies but for everyone in tough situations. Research shows that crying lowers stress and lifts the mood, as well as physically removing toxins from the body. It's not for nothing that New York Times reporter Benedict Carey called it "emotional perspiration". Whether you are crying because you sorely miss your ex, because you are incredibly confused about what to do with your life now, or because you are finally free from someone who simply wasn't right for you, let it all out. Those tears will stop, and rainbows really do wait for you after severe showers.
If you lived with your ex, your routine will probably change a lot after breaking up. Rather than making pajamas, nightclubs, potato chips and vodka an integral part of your routine, why not work on the things you have always wanted to work but didn't have the chance to engage in before? Activities that promote personal growth and health can include taking a class, going for a jog every morning, joining a gym, and doing lunch with supportive friends and relatives. You could also look into doing volunteer work.
Write And Reflect
Research shows that it's best to cope with break-ups by keeping the "focus on the positive aspects of their experience while simultaneously minimizing negative emotions". One way to achieve this very effectively is by keeping a journal of your feelings and experience during the aftermath of your break-up. "Writing about positive aspects of the break-up can increase positive emotions and can do so without a corresponding increase in negative emotions," one study notes.
Allow Yourself To Be Supported
Do you have supportive friends and relatives who are there for you during this hard period of your life? Don't shun them in favor of solo pity parties, but accept their helping hand and allow them to assist you during the process of rediscovering yourself as a single person. Should you not have supportive friends and relatives, now is the perfect time to turn to professional counseling or even, if you're not ready for therapy or can't afford it, internet discussion forums. By having someone to talk to about your feelings, you will recover that much faster.
What About Rebound Relationships?
It is, of course, possible that you will meet the right person for you shortly after breaking up. Be weary, however, of plunging yourself into a rebound relationship simply to fill the empty space your ex left behind, in order to help you avoid working through all the feelings you have about your previous relationship. Use this time to heal, not to fall right into another relationship. If you do meet someone new during this time, take it easy.
Note The Positive
After breaking up, you may just notice, after a while, how you are now able to do things you weren't able to enjoy before you split up from your ex. Whether it's watching your favorite TV show without being disturbed, focusing on your own emotional needs, not having arguments all the time any more, having really spicy meals, or really spreading out in the bed without another body there, take note and relish the moment.