Wellness·7 min read

How to Get Over a Breakup: Science-Backed Tips to Help You Move On

Man and woman sitting apart and looking in opposite directions
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
Jan 4, 2022

We feel you: getting over a breakup is hard. And dealing with it during a pandemic can be especially tough. But throwing one long pity party isn’t likely to help you move on from an ex. Here are some words of encouragement: You might be more resilient than you think. And there are science-backed ways to help you move on swiftly (whether or not you’re playing Taylor Swift on repeat as you do it). 

We talked to Hinge’s director of relationship science (yes, her real title) Logan Ury about how to navigate a breakup and come out whole on the other side. She’s also the author of “How To Not Die Alone,” a book that has a section devoted to breakups (which was a major resource for this guide). 

So how do I get over a breakup?

First, give yourself props for getting through that tough conversation — or post-it note. Not easy. Now, make sure you have a plan for who to text instead of your ex. And if you’re an overachiever (and the breakup ended somewhat amicably), you can try filling out Ury’s breakup contract with your former flame. Or just use pieces of it to help navigate the “how should we communicate, if ever” conversation. After that…

1. Reframe the breakup

This is your glass-half-full moment. Take pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write down the pros of the breakup. It can be as small as, “I don’t have to pretend to care about Formula 1” to something major like, “I don’t need to move across the country to be near their parents.” You also have permission to be petty. Research suggests that remembering the negatives about the relationship might help you move on. As Ury puts it: “Turn your angst into a manifesto.” 

2. Rediscover yourself

If you want to ask your hairdresser for a lob, we won’t stop you. But this step is more about getting reacquainted with your hobbies than reinventing your look. Get back into your solo routine, like jogging in the park or working from that cafe that plays great jazz music. Better yet: Revisit those activities your partner wasn’t into. Think: taking a weightlifting class or eating whatever food he/she inexplicably despised (still love you, mushrooms). Some research suggests that getting reacquainted with your pre-relationship self can help you regain the identity you put aside when you became part of a “we.” 

3. Try something new

If you want extra credit, try out a *brand new* sport or class, which can be truly fun. But yes, it might require a self-pep talk to get you off the couch. Ury suggests psyching yourself up for a new adventure like you would to work out. “Most people don’t feel like going to the gym, but once you get to the gym and start going, the endorphins kick in,” she says. “And then you’re almost always happy that you went.” Because getting out there is good for you. Much better for you in the long-term than watching every rom-com on Netflix over ice cream — though some couch potato-ing is OK, too, Ury says.

4. Take (some) time to move on

Someone should tell Charlotte York that it doesn’t take half of the length of the relationship to get over someone. There actually isn’t a specific time frame for that, Ury says. Instead, your move-on momentum is determined by whether you give yourself ample time to reflect and learn from your experience. Journaling the answers to questions like, “Who were you in your last relationship,” “Who would you like to be in your next one,” and “What have you learned about what truly matters in a relationship” should help you get there. And when you feel ready to see new people, you probably are. Because rebounds can be good for you. We said what we said.

OK, but why do I feel so awful after a breakup?

They don’t call it 'heartbreak' for nothing. Although your heart might not be in literal pieces, research shows that breakups can cause physical and mental pain. Breakups can be stressful and, in the aftermath, you could have higher-than-normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

On rare occasions, intense stress and emotions could lead to a temporary weakening of the heart called “broken heart syndrome,” which can feel like a heart attack. The condition has surged during the pandemic — 7.8% incidence during it vs. up to 1.8% before it, according to one study — disproportionately affecting women. And it’s not only tied to breakups: Job loss, the death of a loved one, or any other intensely stressful event can trigger it.

If your physical symptoms from the breakup don’t improve, long-term activation of the stress response could suppress the immune system, potentially leading to other conditions like insomnia, depression, and anxiety. (Some of our tips for dealing with burnout and anxiety might help.) At this point, if you haven’t already, it might be time to reach out to your PCP or therapist to figure out a treatment plan.

Your brain might also be unable to differentiate between a figurative heartache and actual physical pain, either. Research demonstrates that when someone thinks about their romantic partner, that can activate some of the same areas of the brain as when a drug addict thinks about the drug they are addicted to. It’s no wonder that pain-related words are used in languages around the world to describe rejection. Like the French “la douleur exquise,” which translates to “exquisite pain” – like the kind you’d get from loving someone you can’t have. At least it sounds beautiful.

Will this heartbreak last forever?

Hopefully just long enough for you to write a great song. But chances are the pain you ultimately feel won’t be as bad as the agony you anticipate. It’s because of something psychologists call an affective forecasting error. Translation: People aren’t great at predicting their future feelings. A study from Northwestern University found that this tendency indeed applied to breakups — they’re rarely as bad as you think they’re going to be.

And another study found that people who hadn’t found a new partner after recently getting out of a long-term relationship (aka the people you’d think would be most sad) were mostly not sad that their breakup happened. But if you find yourself unable to exit the struggle bus, here’s a list of podcasts that are good for your mental health. And remember that you can absolutely talk to a therapist.

theSkimm

It might feel impossible to get over breakups. They can feel like life events of earth-shattering proportions. So it's no wonder that so much art is inspired by them. But the good news is that if you reframe the separation as a positive event, focus on finding your solo self again, and psych yourself into getting out there, chances are the heartache won’t last nearly as long as you anticipated.

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 


Live Smarter

Sign up for the Daily Skimm email newsletter. Delivered to your inbox every morning and prepares you for your day in minutes.

fbtwitteremail