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Coming to terms with the deep feelings of sadness after a breakup can be difficult, but there are practical steps you can take to begin rebuilding your life.
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between the sadness of processing a split and depression after a breakup. If you are experiencing extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, a sense of worthlessness and the belief that there’s no hope for improvement in the future, it’s important to reach out for help as soon as possible.
A breakup, particularly one that’s unexpected, can sometimes feel like grief as you have parted ways with someone who was one of the most important people in your world. There can be feelings of betrayal, rejection, embarrassment, guilt and even relief, and you may find yourself struggling with trust issues.
There may be physical hurt, too, such as aches and pains in the body. Experts speculate that the emotions of a breakup trigger activity in the same part of the brain associated with physical pain.
In addition, some research suggests romantic breakups may cause insomnia, decreased immunity and even broken heart syndrome, where stress hormones after an emotional shock cause the heart to stop pumping blood properly.
Psychologist Leanne Hall stresses that there’s no right or wrong way to respond to a breakup – however some responses are less healthy than others. She says an unhealthy response can involve:
It can be tempting to make drastic changes to try to regain a sense of control over how you feel
Here’s Leanne’s advice on the best ways to cope with feeling sad after a breakup and get back to mental wellbeing.
They say time heals all wounds and when it comes to a breakup that’s particularly true, confirms Leanne.
“Breakups almost always negatively affect mental health,” she says. “This is completely normal. We need to allow time to grieve and adjust to being single – it’s not about loving being on your own, just learning to tolerate it.”
Leanne recommends finding new routines and setting some fresh goals. “Maybe you’ve always wanted to do a cooking course or perhaps you’ve always wanted to visit a certain place. Ask a friend or family member to do this with you,” she suggests.
“Start creating new memories and experiences. See these as opportunities to be around people who care about you. This will help you rebuild your confidence.”
Although you may want to snuggle under the doona and avoid reality for the first few weeks after a split, it’s important not to dwell on your troubles in isolation.
“You need time to grieve and adjust,” recommends Leanne. “It’s uncomfortable but necessary – dealing with hurt and loss is extremely hard and painful, which is why it’s important to reach out and connect with loved ones.
“Allow yourself to be vulnerable with those you trust, such as a best friend, parent or sibling, and know that it’s okay to give yourself time to heal. You may need to pull back on some of your commitments and plan time with friends instead.”
Going through a breakup is an emotional upheaval, so Leanne advises postponing big life changes until you feel calm and clear.
“This isn’t a good time to be making big decisions,” she says. “It can be tempting to make drastic changes in an attempt to regain a sense of control over how you feel. Cutting your hair is one thing, but moving cities or changing jobs is another. Let things settle down before you start changing your life.”
Being on social media following a breakup means you could see things you don’t want to, like your former partner seemingly relishing every minute of being single or – worse – in the arms of a new squeeze.
“I suggest going cold turkey and blocking your ex,” Leanne advises. “It’s not helpful seeing what they are doing, and just makes it harder for you to adjust and move on. If you have children together, keep your interactions focussed on the children only. Maintaining healthy boundaries not only makes it easier for you, but makes it less confusing to children, reduces conflict and helps them adjust.”
According to Leanne, good self-care is key to keeping your mood and energy levels buoyant while you process a breakup.
“Make sure you are exercising and eating well – it sounds obvious but these things, along with sleep, are crucial during times of emotional adjustment and grief,” she says.
Being kind to yourself, instead of beating yourself up for choices you made, can be helpful. Research shows that divorced people who expressed high levels of self-compassion reported fewer negative thoughts and feelings about their split – an effect still present nine months afterwards.
Along with sleep, exercising and eating well are crucial in times of emotional adjustment and grief
If your mood doesn’t lift, then it might be time to reach out to a professional, says Leanne.
“Following a breakup, many people experience a period of depression such as withdrawal, low mood and low self-esteem,” she explains. “If this pattern persists for several months, or if someone has a history of being depressed previously, I would always suggest they seek professional help. For others, it’s important to find ways to re-engage with life and people.”
Signs of depression include withdrawing from close family and friends, relying on alcohol or sedatives, lacking in confidence and change of appetite.
If you need guidance, talk to your GP or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36. Here are some other resources that can help:
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.