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Practical Advice for Heartbreak & Getting Over Your Ex

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One of the hardest, yet realest parts of being human is going through heartbreak. Going through a breakup can bring about a sort of “ambiguous grief”. Grieving a person or relationship who is still alive and maybe still part of your life in some ways. 

This grief and heartbreak can make you feel like you’re falling apart, and unable to carry on with your daily life. Scientists back up the very real physical sensation that many people feel when they’re heartbroken. Many people experience chest pain, panic attacks, and feelings of being “crushed”.

The Science Behind Heartbreak

Hormones released during heartbreak can activate both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. This can confuse the brain and heart, making them feel like they’re getting mixed messages (sound familiar?). These mixed messages can disturb the electrical activity of the heart. We see the effect in widows and widowers who have a 41% increased risk of dying within the first six months of losing their spouse. 

Further research shows that heartbreak may have an evolutionary purpose. That the pain people experience has helped them survive and that the risk of heartbreak plays a role in secure attachment and social bonding. 

As interesting as the science behind heartbreaks is, it probably doesn’t lessen the pain you’re experiencing. Which is why we’re here to support you with some practical tips to get through a breakup. 

Set Boundaries

Some breakups can drag on for weeks, months, or even years. This is especially true if you have kids with someone, have lived together, or share other assets. That’s why it’s so important to have boundaries.

Therapist, somatic teacher, and founder of The Embodiment Institute, Prentis Hemphill, defined boundaries as “the distance at which I can love both you and me simultaneously.” Her work emphasizes the importance of self-love first to set the foundation for your connection with others. 

Boundaries can seem like an intangible concept, or impossible to navigate amidst the stress of heartbreak, so here are some examples. 

  • Boundaries with your ex may look like going no contact or if you share friend groups, rotating going to social gatherings.
  • Boundaries with friends can include saying “I need space to focus on myself right now” or “I would love to do an activity together that focuses on self-care”.
  • Boundaries with yourself (yes they exist) can mean muting your ex’s stories on social media or setting aside 20 minutes a day to actively grieve then going back to your normal activities. 

You’re not a bad person for setting boundaries. Boundary setting is setting you up for success in your future relationships, whether they’re romantic, or with friends or family. 

Make Time To Process

It can be easy to want to distract yourself from heartbreak. That could be through work, partying, or throwing yourself right back into dating. While a healthy amount of distraction can help you take a break from the pain, you can’t just brush this under the rug. 

A romantic relationship, no matter how big or small, can make a huge impact on who we are. They can be the catalyst for change and growth, even when you break up. 

So many conflicting feelings can surface during a breakup – shame, rage, regret, resentment, anger, sadness, grief. They’re all welcome, and they’re all valid. Making space to process these emotions and thoughts that come up allows you to actively move through them so they don’t fester beneath the surface and create further harm.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is one of the most used terms in the wellness world, and for good reason. Taking care of yourself is important. Especially during a breakup. Practicing self-care is one of the ways you can make space to process. Self-care can also be difficult to practice when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and hide away from the world. 

If you’re going through a breakup or another kind of heartbreak, we’re going to challenge you to take one act of self-care a day, no matter how small it is. 

Here are some ideas: 

  • Go for a walk. Moving your body and fresh air can shift your mood in a few minutes. You can listen to a podcast or talk to a friend if you don’t want to be alone with your thoughts.
  • Do something you love like reading, going to a dance class, gardening, or doing an art project.
  • Journal. Let it all out on paper and you just might feel a little lighter.
  • Go in water. Being immersed in water can be a huge mood shifter whether that’s a river, the ocean, or your bath. 

Seek Mental Health Support

Breakups can trigger or exacerbate underlying mental health issues, so it’s important to be gentle with your mental health at this time.

A mental health provider can help you reframe your breakup, shift your beliefs or ideas around relationships, and give you practical tools so that you can start to feel like yourself again.

Whether you already have a therapist or you need to find one, this is a great time to be able to focus on yourself again and deeply examine patterns that may be holding you back. 

What To Do for a Friend Going Through a Breakup

If you have a dear friend or loved one going through a breakup, rallying behind them can make a world of difference in their healing process. Remember that you can’t fix them, this is their healing journey to go through, but you can help make it a little easier with comfort and support.

Here are a few ways to support your friend:

  • Let them know you’re thinking of them. It could be as simple as “You’re in my heart today, I hope you’re able to find a moment of softness.”
  • Make space for them to process without pushing it. “I’m always here if you want to talk about it, but there’s no pressure.”
  • Distract them. It’s easy to lose yourself and your sense of joy in a breakup. Remind them of who they are outside of the relationship with some quality fun or a cheesy reality show.
  • Ask them! It may be difficult for them to vocalize their needs, but you can simply ask “How can I support you right now?”

You’ll Get Through It

Whether it’s you or a loved one who’s going through a breakup, we know how hard this can be. Like an injury, it can take time for the heart to heal. But we promise it will happen eventually. Know that there is more love, joy, pleasure, and connection on the other side of this. 

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