Breaking Up Hurts for Real: How to Recover Faster
Five Proven Ways to Recover Faster from a Painful Breakup
Posted September 24, 2009
In studies of life's most stressful events, being divorced or a breakup of a long-term relationship is the number two top life stressor, following right behind number one, being widowed. Both can plunge you into severe depression and health problems. Breakup of a significant relationship or marriage creates a panic response in the brain. And so much stress in the body that neuroscientists believe it can lead to a lowered immune system and illness. If you fall into either of these categories, you absolutely need to take care of yourself and do all the activities we discuss.
Research on the Physiology of Breakups
Women who hadn't gotten over a relationship by 16 weeks after the breakup had decreased brain activity in the regions associated with emotion, motivation and attention. This is a physical change in the brain. That's why it is so hard to concentrate on anything-so hard to get up and go. Do not let yourself go this length of time without intervention.
Researchers at UCLA have pinpointed the part of the brain that registers the pain of a break-up. Being rejected activates one of the same areas of the brain as physical pain! In the study, the more ignored the people felt, the more activity they had in the anterior cingulate, which also registers physical distress. So your pain is physiological.
Other researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found that a breakup can create physical heart pain and shortness of breath. They call it Broken Heart Syndrome and, of course, it affects more women than men. Emotional stress or rage can actually precipitate a heart attack, so on this one you need to get it medically checked out.
Five Ways to Recover From Heartbreak
Getting over heartbreak isn't easy but there are definitely some clinically proven methods to beat the blues. There are five recovery methods I recommend to clients and friends: sharing; meditation; sleep; exercise; and, having imaginary conversations with the ex.
Recovery Method 1.
In one study, talking about their negative feelings lessened the participant's activity in the pain-feeling part of the brain. Among the recommendations coming out of the UCLA study is that a good remedy for heartache is to spend time sharing with close friends, because this activity causes the brain to release natural opioids, which are like the painkillers found in opium. So make a beeline for your friends, a sponsor, a minister or someone else you confide in.
Recovery Method 2.
Johns Hopkins researchers emphasize practicing relaxation techniques, including meditation, deep breathing or journaling out your feelings. For example, many studies of meditation show that it can reduce cortisol levels and other physiological stress markers.
Recovery Method 3.
Sleep is very important to helping immune function but with the depressive reactions that many have, sleep may be hard to come by. This is another reason to consider starting a regular relaxation or meditation program-these have been shown to help people sleep better.
Recovery Method 4.
Working out at the gym or walking 30 minutes to an hour may help because it releases opioids and increases endorphin levels. Unfortunately, the uplift may last but a short time. Therefore, it's important to combine exercise with the other recommended activities.
Recovery Method 5.
One final way to beat the blues comes from a study that showed that people who had imaginary conversations and then said goodbye to their partner had more relief from grief than those who didn't. Here is one imaginary conversation that my client, Darlene, had with her very narcissistic ex:
"You are so classically narcissistic! You only think of yourself. You sucked me in at first with all this generosity, but once you had me, you only took, took, took. And you were the one who abandoned the relationship, even though I bent over backward for you, you jerk! Withdrawing slowly from me to the point where there was nothing left. You stonewalling jerk!! Even though you were the one withdrawing, you provoked me into ending it by actually going on Match and chatting online in the same room as me!!!! How humiliating!!
And now I hear you are happy. It makes me so upset! You never deserved me and I hope in your next relationships you'll get exactly what you dealt out--a lot of bullshit in a charming voice. You wasted my time and my life these past 2 years. I fell for it, I didn't self-protect, I was too anxious to be in a relationship and I ignored the signs. I wanted someone else to do the hard work for me. Well, I have learned that I have to do it. I will watch out for myself. I will speak up for myself!"
Airing these pent-up issues and feelings helped Darlene let go and later she moved forward into a relationship with a terrific guy she met at church. Similarly allowing yourself to be with and process your own thoughts and feelings, no matter how painful they are will also allow you to move beyond them and the ex who triggered it all.