5 scientifically proven ways to handle a breakup (and come out stronger than ever)

Breakups can be devastating. Coming to terms with the end of a relationship is not only painful, but research has shown that it also has a significant impact on our physical health, too. Here are 5 scientifically proven ways to handle a breakup, and come out stronger than ever before.

From sleep deprivation, to a reduced immune system, and even some longterm psychosomatic disorders – the reality of a breakup can be brutal. If you’re in the throes of a breakup, the good news is that there are scientifically proven strategies that can get you back on track.

Photographer: Chelsea Moudry

Don’t fight your feelings

Often when we’re faced with uncomfortable of painful feelings, we try to bury them. This might work in the short term, but over time suppressing your feelings in this way can cause them to amplify, often having serious repercussions when they bubble back to the surface. 

Scientists have found that if you communicate your feelings with acceptance, and without judgement, it can positively impact your ability to move on from a breakup. 

So, for example, rather than trying to fight your feelings of loss and sadness, instead practice saying out loud “it’s ok to love someone I’m no longer with”, and to embrace the feelings of sadness that come with that reality. Researchers have shown that this practice of accepting feelings is effective at helping you to come to terms with a breakup.

Distract your mind

When you’re going through  a breakup, it can be so easy to fixate on all of the things that remind you of your ex. Your favorite foods, your favorite movies, the places you shared together… it can be an emotional battleground. 

Rather than focusing on the things that remind you of your relationship, try instead to distract your mind. Engage your mind in positive things that are completely unrelated to your ex. Rediscover places you loved before your relationship, take a trip somewhere entirely new, or try out a hobby that you neglected during your relationship. This has been shown to be a powerful technique in overcoming painful thoughts after a breakup – and it’s also an amazing way to rediscover who you are as an individual, outside of your relationship.

However, “Distraction is a form of avoidance, which has been shown to reduce the recovery from a breakup,” says study co-author Sandra Langeslag, director of the Neurocognition of Emotion and Motivation Lab at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, so the strategy should be used sparingly to boost mood in the short term.

Photographer: Gian Cescon

Face painful reminders head on

In this age of social media, where our past lives are almost impossible to avoid, it’s likely that you will be confronted with images of your ex in their ‘new’ life without you. 

If you do everything you can to avoid seeing these images, it will only hit you like a ton of bricks when the inevitable happens. Instead, painful as it might be, try to densensitize yourself from potential trigger images by allowing yourself to see and process them, without it being a taboo. Far short of coming off all social media and hiding in a cave until your sadness passes, you’ll probably not be able to avoid seeing triggers that make you sad, angry and hurt. So rather than try to fight those feelings, embrace them, accept them, and know that they’re a natural and essential part of moving on.

Have positive expectations

Studies have shown that if you expect a breakup recovery technique to work, there’s a good chance it will. That’s because if you are hopeful that something will work – if you have a level of positive expectation – your brain function alters and you are more receptive to positive or optimstic things. 

This is really important, as rates of depression are significantly higher among people who’ve experienced a breakup. So adopting an (albeit unconscious) positive mindset can really help you to be more receptive to the good bits of your breakup recovery process than you might otherwise be.

Take charge of the situation

One of the most common causes of distress after a breakup is a feeling of loss of control. This is particularly true if you have been dumped. A powerful remedy to a breakup is therefore to take charge of the situation and your life in some way. This can be anything from keeping a journal, to making a conscious effort to beat loneliness by socialising more than you usually would. 

Whatever feelings of helplessness or loss your breakup has brought on, know that it is within your control to counteract them and make the situation more bearable for yourself. You can’t control other people’s actions, but how to respond to them is down to you and you alone. This can be quite an empowering realisation for many people going through the breakup blues.

Whilst these 5 techniques are effective at kickstarting the process of getting over a relationship breakdown – remember that the healing process takes time. There is unfortunately no on/off switch for sadness, and whilst it persists remember to be kind to yourself. Check in with your feelings, sit with them, learn to love them even – even if they are painful or uncomfortable. And know that in time, these emotional scars will be an important part of the person you have grown into. That, in some ways, you wouldn’t be you without them. You got this.

If you need support coming to terms with a breakup, there are charities that can help. If you’re in US, here is a list of non-profits that can help you with depression and anxiety. Here’s a list of support networks for UK readers. Always reach out if you need help. You’re never alone.

Written by:
Dirty Boots & Messy Hair Team

Connection is what it’s all about. Feel free to reach out to us with any comments or questions you might have, even if it’s only to say hello. If it wasn’t for our beautiful community, this place just wouldn’t feel the same.

relationships + dating
13 Sep 2018


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