“I have lost the witness to my life. I am afraid I shall live more carelessly now.” – Pliny The Younger.
When it comes to love and relationship advice, many of us defer to our hearts for coping mechanisms, as well as the advice of a trusted confidant, who fills in from time to time as our personal love guru.
Though both our hearts and friends can only provide us with subjective counsel, they might not be as unhelpful as the romantic recommendations invading social media. That’s why we thought, what better way to tackle these unhealthy tips than by refuting them with scientific facts?
Before we delve in, let’s remember a couple of things: firstly, love is far more complicated than a couple of “how to” methods. Be it sociological, psychological, physiological, or even philosophical, we all have our various definitions of love and myriad ways we try to express that for our significant others. Secondly, and just as important, we’re entitled to every emotion we’re feeling, and no one has the right to dismiss or undermine our emotions.
With that in mind, let’s break down the ways to deal healthily with a breakup, one piece of “impractical advice” at a time!
“Revenge Body” (But Why?)
One of the most common and truly inappropriate conceptions worldwide when someone’s going through a breakup is the “revenge body.” Say person A broke up with person B. In retaliation, person B could work to “improve” their body image, become super successful, and have everything in their life worked out perfectly, so person A can see what they’re missing out on now, and regret leaving them.
Working on ourselves physically, mentally, and quite literally holistically, is great, and our mere pursuit of it deserves to be appreciated! Plus, it’s amazing to have a motivation that lights up a fire within us to pursue a better and healthier lifestyle, and wanting to be better-looking isn’t something we ought to be ashamed of! So, why is this concept problematic?
Culturally, “having a revenge body” would be promoting negative ideas about what a healthy or attractive physique looks like, sustaining stigma against certain body types. Even if you look at it from the angle of physical wellbeing, the idea that a healthy core is all about six-pack abs and a 2% body fat is completely faulty! In fact, science tells us that it’s vital that we have a healthy amount of fat within our bodies, so as to avoid risks of developing chronic illnesses, such as heart conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, and liver cirrhosis.
The cherry on top is it doesn’t even help us heal from our partners’ departure! Because while working on ourselves can be a good distraction, it’s unlikely to affect how we feel about that person. So, it may help you feel better just for a little while, but the feelings are still there.
Grieving over a breakup is perfectly normal, regardless of who separated from who. By the end of the day, this is someone you’ve shared not just part of your life with, but yourself as a whole! Every intimate detail, every shared memory, even the feelings that they evoked within you are still there, except they are not anymore.
“Get Over Them!” (You Don’t Say!)
You can imagine the frustration I felt watching a TikTok personality proudly telling his audience how he yelled at his best friend for being upset over his breakup. Seeing him preaching to people that they’re only feeling heartbreak because of their “shallowness” was terrifying! So, with all due respect to Mr. TikTok’s extremely unproductive pep-talk, here’s how validating our emotions can help us cope with our emotional breakup!
Psychological studies have found that grief resulting from a romantic breakup can affect brain activity and hormonal release. Influential psychiatric researcher Myron A. Hofer highlights that separation is like “losing regulatory control of stable daily patterns, of tasks, attention, concentration, sleep, food intake and mood, such that they become fragmented, and the individual has a sense of internal disorganization.”
In other words, we can’t be expected to snap out of our grief over them, because when we’re with someone for a long time, our minds start to draw an integrated network of shared memories with our partner, and a wide range of future expectations with them. This process alone relies heavily on cognition, emotional, and behavioral functions. However, this deeply interwoven network can slowly dissolve when we start accepting how we feel and “the reality of our loss.”
Interestingly, validating and accepting our emotions can do so much more for our wellbeing! A 2017 study showed that embracing our negative experiences can help us gain healthier mental responses, because in learning to confront these feelings, we’re likely to overcome them faster than if we maneuvered past them.
Let Go of Them and Hold Tight to Yourself!
Breakups can be (and I say this in the least cliché way possible) the best thing that can ever happen to us. Scientific findings tell us that overcoming a breakup healthily can help us foster qualities such as confidence, resilience, independence, emotional stability, and overall personal development… Who wouldn’t want that?
Overcoming a breakup doesn’t have a cheat sheet per se; it depends heavily on a lot of factors varying from the person’s level of emotional independence to their socioeconomic condition (that is aside from personal previous experiences), and hormonal regulations — for example, fluctuations in dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. But, there is a general rule of thumb that we can try to follow to help us get back on our feet and restore our emotional balance. Here are a few of the suggested coping mechanisms.
#1 Try to Journal
Journaling, or expressive writing, has been correlated with a noticeable improvement in both physical and mental states. In fact, studies have found that there are numerous self-reported benefits of expressive writing, including a reduction in depressive symptoms, and an increase in emotion regulation. As a strategy to handle a breakup, it has been found to remarkably reduce the person’s negative thoughts and stimulate cognitive processes. Journaling can also help us mitigate internalizing negative self-thoughts, which can help us avoid feelings of rejection. An investigation whose participants wrote for an average of 15 to 30 minutes a day for three consecutive days reported experiencing positive emotions after their breakup, like developing a sense of comfort, relief, gratitude, and satisfaction.
#2 Give Yourself Time to Heal
A psychological analysis found that people experiencing a romantic breakup are more prone to feel “psychological distress” and dissatisfaction with their lives. So, it’s only sensible to allow ourselves to heal and pursue routes that can restore our feelings of fulfillment with ourselves and our lives. Adopting healthy habits can pave the way for that! Adopting healthy activities like practicing gratitude can increase our feelings of contentment with our lives and our surroundings, scientifically, adapting gratitude in your daily life can improve self-esteem, promote meaning and purpose in life, and help the person nurture a sense of optimism and self-acceptance. What’s not to like?
There are always other holistic practices, such as mindfulness (which allows us to focus on and cherish our positive experiences), deep breathing (it has been scientifically proven to a cause noticeable drop in cortisol levels, which lowers feelings of stress), exercising (the release of endorphins can stimulate positive feelings), following a nutritious and healthy diet (consuming food that contains essential nutrients, especially fruits, and vegetables, has been found to improve mental health and overall sense of happiness), or engaging in activities that can naturally raise your dopamine levels, such as going on a nature walk or reading your favorite book.
#3 Seek Support
Last but not least, seek support. During a breakup, there’s a very high probability that we’ll feel lonely, or in other words, experience emotional loneliness. That’s why it’s important to surround ourselves with the essential love, care, and support to deal with our breakup healthily and avoid potential feelings of loneliness. Try connecting with your friends and family, and let them know how you’ve been doing and how you’ve been feeling; they might open you up to new places or experiences that reinvite positive emotions.
It’s also normal if you’re uncomfortable speaking openly about your feelings yet. Try to connect with a therapist or a practitioner to help walk you through the process of honoring your emotions and moving on.
Heartbreaking as breakups are, remember: this is just a phase. As much as it’s important that we focus on our personal development, it’s also crucial that we validate our feelings and give ourselves enough time to heal. Love, from a psychological perspective, does not have an on/off switch. It takes time, cognitive processes, events, and shared experiences for love to happen. Likewise for moving on from that love. Though every breakup is different, and every emotional experience has its variables, we all by the end of the day share the same human feelings; we all are in tune with the emotional spectrum that is evoked after a romantic separation. So, try to take it easy on yourself.
Remember: you’ve got this.