Here's What to Do After a Breakup to Keep From Losing Your Mind, According to Science
Love hurts. Breakups are never easy. There are plenty of fish in the sea. The list of cliches uttered at the end of a relationship goes on and on, but does little to actually help soothe the emotional and mental reeling of heartache — and the inability to get out of bed. Here are some tips for what to do after a breakup, backed by science.
What happens to us when we're in love: When in love, our partner drives up our brain's dopamine activity and oxytocin levels, giving us the same feel-good, take-on-the-world high as a drug, according to the Guardian. Soon, the brain begins to expect to always feel this way (like an addiction). In somewhat frightening news, studies have found partners in long-term relationships actually regulate each other's biological rhythms, according to NPR. But a breakup guillotines all of that, which tosses our brain into distress mode and, sometimes, our bodies into physical pain.
The plus side to all of this disheartening scientific research is that the brain continuously adapts and will slowly and surely put itself back together over time, the Guardian reported. But no one has the time to sit on the sidelines and wait until we're over a breakup. We have bills to pay, places to be and people to see.
How to get over a breakup — the right way: First things first, end both real life and virtual communication (if possible). The most effective way to combat an obsession is by controlling it before it can control you, psychotherapist Janice Lieberman told Live Science. That means deleting or at least hiding your former partner's Twitter, Facebook, photographs.
Hitting the gym after a breakup is also a surefire way to instantly boost your mood, Daniel Amen told Men's Fitness. "When we lose people we are attached to, two chemicals go awry in the brain — serotonin, the happy, feel-good chemical; and endorphins, the painkiller," he said. "The best way to feel better naturally is to exercise."
Or put on headphones, since a 2014 study found that listening to sad music can actually help you regulate emotion and evoke empathy and even self-reflection, the Huffington Post reported. The catharsis of connecting with music that expresses your situation helps you feel less alone.
"The only thing to do is to ride the emotion out," psychologist David Sbarra told NPR about dealing with the initial whirlwind of emotions. It often feels like a withdrawal similar to that of cocaine. In his co-authored research, Sbarra found that calmly verbalizing and reflecting on ourselves and the failed relationship can help reconnect us with our own identity again faster.
Writing about the relationship is effective in understanding the relationship more clearly, and can prompt us to focus on the good rather than wallow on only the bad, psychologist Gary Lewandowski told io9. The good meaning the things your former partner didn't nurture.
On that note, picking up a new activity and getting back in touch with old friends can help in personal rediscovery. A 2007 study found that breakups actually tend to make people become more goal oriented, according to NPR.
Correction: Feb. 18, 2016