After a Breakup: Managing the Loneliness
Feeling lonely is to be expected, but you can push back.
Posted Sep 25, 2018
The sudden absence of your partner creates a hole in your life. If the relationship has been going downhill for a while, or even felt emotionally abusive at times, there may be a sense of relief, but after a period of days or weeks, loneliness is likely to set in. There is not another body filling your space, someone to bounce off of even if the other person said little or even nothing at all. The sense of you suddenly being only with you can have a powerful impact.
Research tells us that loneliness can be a killer. It increases stress and is a risk factor for physical problems such as addiction or heart conditions as well as psychological problems — depression, anxiety, even suicide. But loneliness — whether it comes in spurts on a long weekend, or whether it is a chronic undertow dragging down your life — is a natural consequence of any ending. It comes with grief; and grief, that sense of loss, comes regardless of the quality of any relationship. It's about psychological attachments that are suddenly cut off.
Here are some tips for overcoming loneliness:
Let others know what has happened
Others only know what is going on in your life if you tell them. Yes, you may need time to sort out what’s happened for yourself before you know what to say, or you may feel embarrassed or worry about other’s reactions adding to your initial stress. But at some point, you need to let others in. Some will be sympathetic, others less so; so be it. But by letting others in, you can hopefully gauge who may be available for you to turn to as you move through this difficult time.
Check in with someone
If you have a close friend, a parent or sibling, a therapist, someone that you feel comfortable and supported by, set up a regular check-in — in person, by phone. Texts are okay for mini state-of-the-state reports, but you want to be able to have conversations, voice-to-voice. This is what creates the comfort and sense of support.
By checking in, you are mentally forced to assess how you are doing, to notice what has changed over the days and weeks. This is invaluable to counter the emotional blur that you understandably may feel.
Kari’s coworker invites her to a low-key party on Saturday; she really doesn’t feel like going. Should she go? The rule-of-thumb here is: go, and then see how you feel. With grief, you often may be reluctant to go, but once you get there you may feel better. The key is keeping your expectations about yourself low — you don’t need to be the life of the party, just show up. And if it helps, give yourself a timeframe before heading out — stay for half an hour and see how you're feeling, then decide to stay longer or leave. That way, you don’t feel worried about staying trapped for a long period of time.
And when you get home, give yourself a pat on the back for simply going. It’s not about the party or your performance but about going against your emotional grain.
Make a social schedule
If you know there are particular times that are an emotional challenge for you — that upcoming long weekend or a holiday or even hitting the front door on a Friday night — map out a plan in advance to help you get over the hump. Visit your parents on the long weekend, even if you spend your time sitting on the porch, or visit your sister, even if you wind up playing 10 boring games of Candyland with your niece. Go out for drinks with a work colleague on Friday night for a couple of hours before you go home and crash and watch Netflix, or plan a long phone catch-up with your college roommate in Houston over on a holiday weekend.
The key here is being proactive, mapping in advance rather than waiting until those hard times descend on you. Once the loneliness takes over, it gets harder to push yourself and recoup.
Hang with like-minded people
What is good about your break-up, even if you aren’t quite feeling it, is that you now have freedom to do what you want. Rather than emotionally scrambling, focusing on finding someone to fill that emotional hole, look to fill in your time with activities you enjoy that may have been pushed to the side when you were in the relationship.
Do a meet-up for a hiking or bicycle group or folks who do swing dancing. Volunteer for a political organization or at a soup kitchen. Again, don’t worry about meeting Mr. or Ms. Right; go to be around like-minded people. They may become your new posse, and through them you may find other possible relationships down the road.
Get professional help
With any break-up, you're taking an emotional hit. Even low-dose medication may help take the edge off your anxiety and depression; therapy may not provide support but, during this period of transition, give you a prime opportunity to learn lessons from the past, as well as new coping skills.
Loneliness is a natural byproduct of any relationship loss. Expect it, but don’t allow it to run your life.