Broken heart

Breakup, not Breakdown: 6 strategies to manage a broken heart

July 24, 2019

Let’s not beat around the bush. Breakups suck. Having a broken heart sucks.

And no wonder – brain scans have shown that a breakup activates the same region of the brain that processes physical pain reactions. Breakups are painful as your brain handles them just as it would a physical injury! Scans also show that breakups light up the same brain mechanisms as when people addicted to cocaine go through withdrawal. In other words, you might feel a literal ‘craving’ for your lost love…

But all is not lost! Clichés aside, there are no “quick fixes” or “hacks” to feel better right now. But there are things you can control and manage to reduce unnecessary pain and suffering.

6 strategies to manage a broken heart:

  1. Let yourself feel (and heal)
    It can seem like the right thing sometimes to just power on, shove it down, and ‘get over it’. But it is important to acknowledge and notice what you’re feeling. You’re not being silly – you’re in pain. Whether you’re upset, angry or scared – notice and acknowledge it, give it a name. Take time to heal just as you would with a physical injury – you’ve had an emotional injury and that takes time to heal. If you need a cry, go for it. If you need a day off, then listen to what you need. No one is forcing the guy on crutches to go for a run, are they?
  2. Cut all ties (at least for now)
    In this modern world, this can be hard. Facebook, Instagram, texts, emails, photos everywhere! But this is an essential step in dealing with heartbreak. Remember that “craving”, those brain mechanisms lighting up? Taking a step back and having a clean break will not only reduce your likelihood to reach out for a ‘hit’; it will give you the chance to establish boundaries, look forward, and provide you necessary opportunities to manage and regulate your own emotions. So say it with me, “block, delete, block, delete!”.
  3. Reach out and talk it out
    It is normal to feel like you want to hide away in these times. But don’t isolate yourself – speaking to people will help verbalize and unpack what has happened. Choose selectively at first, someone who will offer a positive and realistic viewpoint with some hope for what is next. Listen to how friends have coped before. Have friends come and sit with you and not talk if needed. Just try to avoid airing everything on social media, keep it real life only! If you feel the urge – write it all down on paper, wait a few weeks and re-read it.
  4. Nourish and care for yourself
    You don’t have to be performing at your best straight away! But try to maintain regular sleep hours, shower daily, eat regularly and drink water. Try to avoid alcohol, drugs, and too much coffee if you’re feeling anxious. Give yourself a short period for the above ‘surviving, not thriving’ self-care, and then start to move towards a higher level of self-care – you’ll feel better physically, if not emotionally. Eat well, utilize good sleep hygiene habits, exercise regularly and get back into a regular routine. If you’re finding it difficult, talk with your employer about the situation. Discuss your needs and negotiate what can benefit you both at this time. Perhaps there are some flexible working arrangements that can be agreed on while you recover.
  5. Take off the rose-coloured glasses to learn
    Evaluate your past relationship realistically. This can mean listing all the reasons why it wouldn’t have worked in the long run, or the things you had to compromise on that perhaps you wouldn’t choose to again. Its OK to remember good memories, but also remember them realistically – yes that holiday was great, but you did both argue a lot about how to spend your days. Did you have different conflict styles? Different values around family? Maybe their sense of humour rubbed you the wrong way at times? Now take a lesson from this – identify what the desired qualities and the deal-breakers were for next time. Identify what you do not want to compromise on next time. And if relevant, identify any of your own behaviours and approaches that you may want to work through before your next relationship.
  6. Get busy and try new things!
    Once you’re feeling a bit more ‘you’ again, make some plans! Start small – invite friends over for a Netflix night, go down to your local for dinner, grab a beer with your mates. But start deliberately having several things to look forward to. Make plans in advance, book tickets to an upcoming musical, plan a road trip. Do things you maybe couldn’t do when you were in your relationship. Try something new – take a dance class, drive somewhere new, join a club, go skydiving if you’re brave. Try to avoid life-changing decisions like moving states or getting a huge new tattoo initially – but otherwise, start moving and living!

Above all, healing from an emotional injury will take time. Be kind to yourself, allow people to carry you if needed, and don’t apologise for reaching out. If you are finding yourself struggling to move through a breakup, contact us here to book in to speak with a psychologist at Attuned Psychology.

Stephanie Zylstra,

Clinical Psychologist.


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