A few weeks after a breakup, a friend told me over dinner that breaking up is like mourning: you are losing someone who was a central part of your life. It’s both a practical, habitual loss and a conceptual loss. Every relationship is different, so every breakup is different. But whatever your relationship looked like, the breakup marks a hugely stressful, impactful moment of change.
Studies back my friend up: divorce and marital separation rank right below the death of a spouse on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Separation from a partner, whatever the reason, has the effect of changing our lives in ways that we don’t always know how to cope with and inducing stress.
The path to moving on is often a winding one. And to continue the metaphor, it can be hilly, rocky, and rife with potholes.There’s no easy way to navigate it, but you don’t need to get stuck
These three tips, which are expert-backed, can help you navigate the stress of dealing with that difficult path towards “over it.”
Give yourself time and space to think through the relationship
We’re often told to “forget them” or “just get back out there” immediately after a breakup. But research shows that thinking through a relationship (not just the breakup, but the good times that led up to it as well) is actually helpful for reestablishing a sense of self outside of the partnership — and that is in turn crucial for moving on. When you look back on the whole story of your time with someone, as well as the ending of that story, it’s easier to attach the experience to a narrative, and to give that narrative an end that focuses on you rather than your partner. This process, by centering you as the center of your own story, can help remind you of who you are.
Ruminating excessively on a breakup can be unhealthy, but don’t pressure yourself to forget what happened — your relationship is a story that only you have the power to tell, and that means you get to write the final words. So don’t feel pressured to immediately “get better.”
Actually write a narrative story
And not necessarily about your breakup, although you can certainly take that as your subject. Studies show writing, especially narrative storytelling, can lower your heart rate, which in turn helps your body cope with the stress of separation from a partner. Keeping tension out of your body helps keep tension out of your mind. So get a notebook and write, whether or not you consider yourself a writer: This story is for you.
Rely on your friends and family
Ask your friends, as I did mine that night at dinner, for extra support. And seek out those who have known you since before your current relationship, or whom you interact with primarily without your ex-partner. Spending time with people who love you helps in so many ways: they can remind you of the kinds of activities that you love, and by extension, of who you are (outside your relationship). They can also offer advice, commiseration, or just an ear for that narrativizing you’re doing. All of this support helps alleviate the stress of a monumental life shift.
Asking for help can be hard. But remember the times your friends and family have relied on you when going through a stressful time, and let them return the favor: They want to be there for you as much as you wanted to be there for them.