Breakups are hard. They're an inevitable shock to the system. Breakups change everything you've become accustomed to. There may be so many questions, such as what went wrong, what you could have done differently, and why you weren't good enough. Even if you were the one who ended the relationship, you'll probably have at least a few moments when you miss your ex. At some point, you'll probably wonder if your heart will ever heal from the breakup. The answer is yes, your heart will eventually heal. Anyone who’s come out the other side of a breakup knows that. But if you’re currently in the trenches of a potent heartbreak, that’s not exactly comforting. We won’t sugarcoat it: The unfortunate truth is that having a broken heart sucks and it’s going to continue to suck — until it doesn’t. However, the good news is that there really are things you can do to speed the mending of your broken heart and make it a little less painful in the meantime. While science can certainly offer some insight into the best ways to recover from a breakup (and we will get into that), when it comes to mysteries of the heart, it can be useful to cast a wide net. In that vein, we spoke with every expert we could think of, from a neuroscientist to a meditation guru, to get actionable advice every heartbroken person needs to hear. Click through for healing ideas that help while you’re still waiting for that "until-it-doesn’t" moment. Drop the story line
One of the
worst parts of a breakup
is feeling like it’s all your fault, says Jessica Zucker, PhD, a psychologist based in Los Angeles. “If we think we [had] a hand in it or that something’s wrong with us, we think we can change it for the next time.” While it’s totally normal to want to find out what happened, this often leads to an endless parade of counterproductive “what-ifs” in your mind.
The first thing to do is to stop that line of thinking. The story of your relationship is over, so you can’t rewrite it. Instead, try to focus on the fact that you will grow from this experience. Just because it’s over for your relationship doesn’t mean it was a waste of time. “Grief does shape us in big ways," says Lodro Rinzler, a meditation instructor and author of the the new book
Love Hurts: Buddhist Advice for the Heartbroken
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Build a support system
“Learning to provide comfort for yourself when you feel distressed is one of the most valuable tools we can have in our toolbox,” says Olubukonla Kolawole, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in New York City. But you can only do so much inside your own head, so consider recruiting two or three people you can reach out to when you need someone.
“Every time you want to send a text to your partner or are reminded about your ex and want to reach for them, reach for one of your buddies instead,” she says. “It’s great to have multiple people so you don’t hold yourself back with worry about your friend being tired of having to hear the same things.” You can even take it a step further by stating upfront
what you need from your friends
, whether it’s reassurance, agreement, or help looking forward.
More Write it down
One way to process your emotions is to
write them down
. You can even take it a step further by
writing an honest letter to your ex
, says Kolawole. Include all the things you’re grateful for and the things you’re disappointed about.
“The letter is an an opportunity to really say goodbye, as well as say all the things you never said or wished you had said,” she says. “Write it as if you won’t be sending it so you can just write freely and take your time. But more importantly, let yourself feel your feelings as you write the letter. Let yourself grieve the relationship and feel sadness, anger, gratitude and whatever else comes up.”
After you’re done writing you can decide whether sending it is worth it to you — but Kolawole says to remember that the purpose of the letter is to use it for your own grief, not as a last attempt to get something from your ex.
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Story continues Have a mantra
As cheesy and obnoxious as they may seem sometimes,
really do work, because they are a quick way to keep your mind focused on moving forward, rather than spiraling into anxious thoughts.
“My favourite mantra is ‘feelings are not facts,’" says Dr. Zucker. Repeat it whenever you find yourself in a spot where it’s easy to drift into negative thought territory and spiral out of control — like when you’re trying to sleep or are commuting and have nothing else to focus on. “Turn back into you, and say,
okay, I’m feeling scared and insecure
, and then try to remind yourself that feelings are not facts,” Dr. Zucker says.
Other mantras you might try: “I love her, but I love myself more” or “No relationship is a waste of time.” As time goes on, and you get closer to a place of acceptance, the mantra that you find most helpful may change.
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Get in touch with what you're feeling
When you’re dealing with the loss of an important relationship, there is a variety of competing emotions you might be feeling: shock, sadness, anger, fear, and more. All of these are not only totally normal, they’re also necessary for healing. The problem: “We live in a culture where we don’t really want to feel, we just want to make it better,” Dr. Zucker says.
Instead of looking for answers to your emotions, Dr. Zucker suggests really leaning into them. This could mean blocking off time for devoted introspection (and let’s face it,
lots of crying
) or simply giving yourself permission in the moment to feel however it is that you feel.
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Be careful with distraction
While it’s good to spend as much time as you need working through your emotions, it’s also wise to take a break from them. “We don’t need to feel all the time because we [can end up] paralysed by emotion,” Dr. Zucker says.
You can also use distraction as a salve, according to Dr. Brown.
, also known as the feel-good "cuddle hormone," can be released when you feel close to someone, even if that someone isn't a romantic partner. Likewise, new experiences can be key. “Learn a new language, exercise a lot if you don’t already,” she says. “Go out and do new things. Hug friends. You need a jolt of oxytocin from someone else.”
All this said, you want to be focused on sources of distraction that aren't bad for your mind and body in the long run, Zucker says. “If it’s getting wasted every night and acting out, that’s just a temporary distraction that’s ultimately self destructive.”
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Breathe
After you've had enough of seeing your ex's side, remember to breathe.
can be both a healthy distraction and a way to help you work through your feelings. “We fill the extra space with sex, booze, online shopping, overeating, Netflix bingeing, but at some point, we say, ‘oh, none of this is helping,” Rinzler says. “Meditation is a tool for us to just rest with what’s going on and it might be peaceful and joyful.” The technique comes down to a basic form of resting with the breath, he says, by taking three deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth, which will calm down your nervous system.
30-day meditation challenge
can you get into the groove.
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More See the other sideOne way to dig deeper into your feelings is to work on making peace with your former partner (at least in your mind.) This can be helpful, because one of the things you have to do after a breakup is rebuild your identity without that person. Working through your feelings towards him or her can help you do that, says Rinzler. He suggests an exercise he calls Just Like Me. You can do this as a simple thought exercise or you can write it down. “You begin by bringing an image of this person and sitting without judgment for 30 seconds, if possible,” he says. “Then, list positive things that this person desires and add these words at the end: ‘Just like me.’” For example, James wants to feel desired...just like me. James longs for security...just like me. Once you get to the end of the “positives,” you can feel free to move into the messier areas: James was arrogant...just like me. James slept with someone he shouldn’t have...just like me. Throughout the exercise, these statements will probably bring up a lot of emotions, but instead of pushing them aside or arguing with yourself about who’s to blame, sit with them. In most relationships, both parties have made a fair share of mistakes. This is a way to help you come to terms with that, Rinzler says. “Then [you] can drop the contemplation and rest with whatever feelings have emerged from the exercise. It doesn’t negate that this person betrayed you, but ideally you move toward some form of understanding.” Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Pop a pill (really)
When you’re feeling rejected by someone you love, the pain you feel is literal, not figurative. In fact, studies have shown that the same area of the brain that is involved in the distress of physical pain — the insular cortex — is activated in response to social rejection, says Lucy Brown, PhD, a clinical professor of neuroscience at Yeshiva University whose
focuses on romantic love and the brain. While she confirms that time (ugh, yes) is one of the only ways to end your heartache, she adds that in the meantime, the common over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen (sold as Tylenol) might help you feel a little better.
In fact, for a 2015
published in the journal
, researchers recruited 80 volunteers and separated them into two groups. Half of them got a placebo pill while the other half got a dose of
. After waiting for the drugs to kick in, the researchers then showed the participants various images — some distressing and some not — and had them rate how the images made them feel. In the end, those who got a dose of the drug had much less intense reactions to photos that would normally elicit an extreme reaction, leading researchers to conclude that the drug has a “general blunting effect” on emotions.
reported that people taking acetaminophen daily for three weeks were less affected by the pain of social rejection.
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Open up your body Exercise
is just as medicinal for your “broken heart” as it is for your actual heart, because working up a sweat triggers the release of endogenous opiates — also known as
— which are literally your body’s built-in painkillers. In addition to generally boosting your mood, endorphins help you feel better by soothing the pain response, Dr. Brown says.
Going for a run, hitting up a SoulCycle class, or simply going for a walk can be helpful — just choose an activity you like doing. If an actual workout seems like too much, a few gentle stretches or restorative yoga poses are a great place to start, says New York-based life coach and yoga teacher Lauren Taus.
One pose that can really help is supta baddha konasana (or reclined bound angle pose), Taus says. Start by laying face-up on the floor or on a yoga mat. Bend your knees and allow them to splay out to each side with the bottoms of your feet touching one another. Let your arms spread out to each side. (You can also use a cushion or bolster under your back if you’d like to feel more supported.)
Another idea: “Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of insulation and lie back, placing another blanket over the pelvis to create a feeling of insulation,” Taus says. “This pose can leave us feeling exposed and vulnerable, but encourages openness in a safe, supported way.”
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Ditch the tension
Another pose that never fails to relax you and release tension:
or Corpse pose. To do it, all you have to do is lay down on the floor on your back, close your eyes, and breathe. Taus recommends either Savasana with a rolled blanket or bolster under your thigh bones to drop deeper into your pelvis with your arms by your side, palms facing down. “Your chin should be perpendicular to the floor, and your throat should feel open and tension free,” Taus says.
Another version is Side-Lying Savasana, a twist that will feel really nice because it allows more space in your rib cage and stomach. Lay on your left side with your feet at a wall and your back against a bolster or cushion. Bend your right knee to 90 degrees and support your right knee and shin with a bolster or folded blankets so that the right leg is as high as the right hip. Use a pillow or another folded blanket to support your head so you have a straight spine. Rest here for two to five minutes before moving into the twist.
Roll your torso to the right over the bolster, keeping your right arm fully supported. You should not feel a stretch, but rather as though your chest is open and your breath is fluid. Stay for another two to five minutes.
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Ground yourself
you can try is the Supported Child’s Pose, Taus says. Place two yoga blocks underneath two ends of a pillow. Then kneel on the floor, sitting on your heels. Exhale as you lower your chest down to your pillow. “Slide your arms underneath the gap between the pillow and the floor, bringing each hand toward the opposite elbow,” Taus says. Then turn your head to one side, alternating sides halfway through the pose.
Illustrated by: Ivy Liu. More Give it three months
Part of what makes heartbreak so unbearable is that it feels like it will never end, which just causes more anxiety. It’s worth repeating: the pain will end, and it will probably be over sooner than you think. One study, published in the
Journal of Positive Psychology
, suggests that for most people, it takes just three months.
For the study, the researchers recruited 155 undergraduate students who had been through a
within the previous six months. Via interviews, the researchers found that 71% of study participants were able to begin to see their lost relationship in a positive light after 11 weeks. They also were more likely to agree with positive statements such as, “I have learned a lot about myself,” and, “I have grown as a person,” when asked about their breakup.
The lesson: you’ll get there.
Illustrated by Aimee Sy More From All About Love
book about love
might sound like the
thing you need to read right now, bell hooks' vision of a love that's healing and sacred will help you realize that what you left behind just wasn't enough — and that self-love is crucial, too.
“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” —
All About Love More From Come As You Are
You might not be ready to consider
sex with a new partner
, but when you are, this book is filled with smart advice about reclaiming your sexuality and asking for what you want in bed. A lot of the information is based in psychology, so if you're not into heady self-help books, this might seem more accessible.
"Emotions are tunnels. You have to go all the way through the darkness to get to the light at the end." –
Come As You Are More From Milk and Honey
Practicing self-care is a crucial step in recovering from a breakup. This
book of poems by Rupi Kaur
is full of carefully-worded, sage advice that will help you remember who you are, and why you're worthy of love. You're going to want to Instagram every page of it.
"i am a museum full of art
but you had your eyes shut" –
Milk and Honey More From The Power of Now
If you haven't read this
monumental self-help book
before, after a breakup is the perfect time because it focuses on living in the moment, not ruminating in the past. It's infused with wisdom about how to look at yourself with love and compassion, which is so important when you're reeling from a breakup.
"Love is not selective, just as the light of the sun is not selective. It does not make one person special. It is not exclusive. Exclusivity is not the love of God but the 'love' of ego. However, the intensity with which true love is felt can vary. There may be one person who reflects your love back to you more clearly and more intensely than others, and if that person feels the same toward you, it can be said that you are in a love relationship with him or her." –
The Power Of Now More From A Little Life
about four friends living and falling in love in New York City will gut you, but leave you feeling hopeful for the future after loss. It's long, but worth it if you're ready to lean in to your emotions.
"...things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realise that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully." –
A Little Life More From Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
It's hard to believe that this book of poems about loss and longing was written way back in 1924, because so much of the advice and observations could be applied to right now. Some of the poems are a bit heavy, so wait until you're really ready to reckon with your feelings before you dig in.
"I am no longer in love with her, that's certain, but maybe I love her. Love is so short, forgetting is so long." –
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair More From Tiny Beautiful Things
This book is a compilation of advice columns from
, and chances are one of them has
what you need to hear.
"You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else." –
Tiny Beautiful Things More From The Love Affairs Of Nathaniel P.
If you need an introspective, not overly cheesy, novel about dating as a young adult in New York City, curl up with this one. It's a little cynical, but sometimes breakups can do that to you.
"Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. You're sizing people up to see if they're worth your time and attention, and they're doing the same to you. It's meritocracy applied to personal life, but there's no accountability." -
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. More From A Walk To Remember
You might roll your eyes at Nicholas Sparks, but sometimes you need a hokey, melodramatic love story to remind you that there's hope in the world. This one is heavy on the sap, and of course has an
iconic film adaptation
that's worth checking out as well.
"There are moments when I wish I could roll back the clock and take all the sadness away, but I have the feeling that if I did, the joy would be gone as well." –
A Walk To Remember More Illustrated by Aimee Sy More Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? 5 Reasons You Should Break Up With Your Partner I Asked My Ex 29 Questions About Our Relationship Can You Ever Really Get Closure With An Ex?