Emotionally speaking, losing a partner to a breakup is very similar to losing one to death, and in both cases the only way to get over the loss is to let yourself grieve. Give yourself the time you need to process your feelings.
Cry as much as you want for the first day or two. Crying when you’re hurting the most will release emotional energy, reduce stress and help you move on more quickly. After the first 48 hours or so, allow yourself a little time each day to vent your emotions and just feel bad. But don’t wallow. When that time is up, get back to doing other things that will make you feel better and help you heal.
If you and your ex are able to heal the wounds of your breakup and remain friends, that’s great, but don’t try to get there too soon. Make a clean break. Don’t call him and don’t take his calls. Zero contact will help you both heal faster and increase your chances of crafting a new friendship later if that’s something you both want after the pain fades.
Get your ex out of your life virtually as well as physically by cutting all your social media ties. Unfriend him, stop following him and delete his number from your phone and your text favorites. Keeping tabs on him online after the breakup is just another name for stalking, and maintaining those connections will just make it harder for you to heal. Besides, do you really want a painful reminder of your failed relationship every time you log on?
Working out is a great way to work on mending your broken heart. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins, which interact with the receptors in your brain that perceive pain. Regular exercise reduces stress, wards off anxiety and depression, increases self-esteem, helps you sleep, and boosts your immune system and overall health. And by working out frequently while you’re grieving and healing, you’ll look and feel your best when you’re ready to try a new relationship.
Spend time with friends
You may need some solo time to grieve after a breakup, but don’t spend too much time alone. Your friends want to help, so let them. Scheduling time with your friends, whether you meet to play tennis or just get together for coffee, will remind you that you are loved by some wonderful people and that you can have a full and rewarding life—even without your ex.
You know that old saying that laughter is the best medicine? When it comes to mending a broken heart, nothing is more powerful than a good laugh. Make popcorn and watch a few screwball comedies, make plans with a friend to check out a local comedy club, or just get together with some of the people who always make you laugh. If nothing else, laughter may give you a welcome break from your heartache; it’s not easy to feel miserable when you’re laughing.
Don’t torture yourself
You know what we’re talking about. Don’t spend time reading old love letters, crying over photos of the two of you when you were happy, or reviewing every email and text he ever sent you. Either get rid of all that stuff or put it aside for a few years—long enough that it no longer has the power to cause you pain.
Get a makeover
Most people end up feeling pretty unattractive and undesirable after a breakup. One way to get past that a little more quickly is to change your look. But don’t overdo it. Head to the makeup counter to get a professional makeover or spend a day at the spa getting treatments that will help you feel beautiful, but save the drastic haircut until your emotions are under control again.
Eat comfort food
There will never be a better time to indulge your taste for comfort food than when you’re recovering from a breakup. Don’t go crazy—you don’t want to conquer heartbreak only to find that you’ve gained 30 pounds—but don’t feel you have to deny yourself, either. Choose a couple of foods that make you feel better, whether it’s chocolate or mac ‘n cheese, then savor each bite to get the most satisfaction from a relatively small amount of these normally forbidden fruits. Go on. You know you want to.
Do a few things just for you. Go shopping for a little retail therapy, take the day off work to take a long walk and see a matinee movie, or book a massage and get your nails done. When you feel lousy, doing things that make you feel better is good sense and good medicine.
People often feel depressed and lethargic after a breakup, so it’s tempting to lock the door, draw the drapes and focus on your pain. Don’t. At least not for long. Instead, find things to do that will energize you and help restore your positive outlook. Clean your closets and get rid of all the clutter in your house, resume an old hobby, or volunteer to help a local charity.
Change your sheets
Buying new bedding after a breakup, from sheets to a new quilt or comforter, is a relatively inexpensive way to help freshen your emotional outlook and rid your bedroom of negative energy and painful memories.
Sleep is good for you in the best of times, but it’s even better for you when things turn bad. Sleep heals, pure and simple, so don’t stay up late trying to figure out what went wrong or how you can get him back. Instead, go to bed and get some good sleep. If you can’t, try taking melatonin at bedtime or ask your doctor for something that will help you sleep.
Listen to music
When you’re going through a breakup, every song you hear seems to be about your pain. So skip the popular songs that will just remind you of what you’ve lost, and focus instead on instrumentals that make you feel good—it doesn’t matter if it’s Bach or bluegrass—or upbeat songs about feeling powerful and seeing a bright future ahead.
Go to the dogs
Research shows that interacting with animals can help us heal emotionally, so lavish some of the love your ex no longer wants on a furry friend or two. If you have pets of your own, it’s easy. If you don’t, then right after a breakup is not the right time to adopt a pet. Instead, try volunteering at an animal shelter, offering to walk a friend’s dog every day for a few weeks, or pet-sitting for a neighbor who is going on vacation.
It’s great to talk about your feelings with your friends and family, but rather than ask the people who love you to go over the same ground again and again, try keeping a daily journal where you can record your thoughts and feelings about the relationship, the breakup and how you want your life to proceed from here.
Learn meditation or make yoga a regular part of your day. Focus on your breathing, learning to clear your mind and being present in each moment of your life. These disciplines will help relieve the stress and anxiety you’re feeling and give you skills that will make your life better even after your heartache is over.
Take your time
Don’t rush out and buy a new car, move to a new city or quit your job when you’re in the midst of a breakup—and please don’t try to start dating right away. All of those actions are things people in pain sometimes do to avoid their feelings, but you’ll get much farther faster by letting yourself grieve, delaying any life-changing decisions you may be considering, and not rebounding into a new relationship before you’re ready.
Get help if you need it
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, recovering from a breakup is just more than you can manage on your own. If enough time has gone by that you think you should be starting to feel better, but you find yourself stuck or actually feeling worse, don’t be afraid to find a qualified therapist and ask for help. There may be deeper issues that you need to identify and work through before you can completely move beyond your current pain.Sharon O’Brien is a freelance writer and licensed professional counselor in Portland, Oregon.