Heartbreak can be dire and debilitating. Sometimes, it can even physically hurt, as emotional and physical pain actually trigger the same brain regions. Add to this the overdose of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine flowing through your veins, leaving you with overwhelming hurdles that prevent you from moving forward. However, unconsciously we ourselves may be standing in the way of our happiness by the tendency to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Luckily, psychology teaches us how to not go further down the rabbit hole through learning how to help ourselves. The secret is to take charge of your emotions, and to let your prefrontal cortex see you through:
1. Respect your emotions
One of the most important life lessons we could gain from psychology is that we ought to respect how we feel; to acknowledge them, to allow ourselves to let them out, and to know that it is not something to be ashamed of.
Simply put, emotions that are not expressed will always end up somewhere, sometimes with a vengeance. Defense mechanisms are unhealthy. They lead to more serious emotional and psychological problems, which is why we should cry if we need to, be sad if we have to, and let the pain subside on its own. After all, our bodies were designed to achieve a state of homeostasis and to heal itself.
2. Give yourself a time limit
To paint a clearer picture, when you’re sick, there are things you need to avoid to not make your condition worse. If you have a wound, you don’t keep picking at your scab. Simple, right? But not so simple when it comes to emotional wounds.
Often times, the things we do when we’re sad or hurt causes us more pain and deepens the wound. As aforementioned, we are built to achieve homeostasis. At one point, our brain will calm down and the neurons firing (caused by pain stimuli) will cease. But it’s hard to pinpoint when they’ve stopped because we could encounter triggers that fire the same neurons yet again.
3. Avoid triggers
Stop going through your old photos. Stop rereading sweet messages. Avoid those places and things that remind you of them, at least for a little while. Neuroscience tells us that when a romantic relationship ends, we have a tendency to highlight the good things and develop obsessive thinking. Our brain goes haywire because we have built strong neural pathways that bring us comfort and security. The good news is, recent studies show that we have the capacity to create new pathways; our brains are flexible.
4. Be objective
Did the break up really come as a surprise, or did your gut always tell you there was something wrong, but you just refused to look harder? Do you honestly believe that no one will ever love you the same way, that you’ll never find love again? What are the actual statistics? Relationships begin and end every day. Unexpected love stories are written and concluded in the most surprising ways.
5. Think of why it didn’t work
In line with being objective, we should also think about the negative traits of our partner or our relationship because that would help our brains make sense of what happened. When you see things through rose-colored lenses, all the red flags just seem like flags. Let that fantasy go. Cognitive dissonance might arise because the good things that dominate your thoughts are in conflict with the objective reality. Help your brain and yourself to accept by reminding yourself that your relationship wasn’t perfect and that it ended for a reason.
6. It’s not just you, it’s also them
Again, we have a common tendency to blame ourselves for a relationship turned sour. But ultimately, if you’re the one left by your partner, it’s not really your inadequacies but their perception of how their partner ought to be. It’s not you not being pretty enough, it’s their definition of what’s pretty. It’s not you being too demanding, it’s their interpretation of what’s demanding.
7. Find comfort in the fact that pain is brain-based
Sometimes, reminding ourselves that it’s all a matter of tricking our brains makes coping easier because it makes it seem like the problem can be solved. Psychology tells us that believing in our capabilities and believing that we have control over the situation is the first step to getting a job done. Expectations impact outcome (self-fulfilling prophecy). Remember that experiencing heartbreak is much like an addict experiencing withdrawal. It’s the same parts of the brain being triggered, after all!
8. Talk about it
Talking about the problem is therapeutic because we become desensitized, and we make better sense of what happened each time. We process information, and sometimes we uncover different perspectives in the process.
9. Surround yourself with people
Self-esteem is generally our meter of our social lives. When we are content with our social life, our self-esteem increases. Having a solid support system does just that. Also, studies show that people with higher self-esteem handle heartbreaks better because they tend to blame themselves less.
10. Keep yourself productive
Again, breakups hurt our self-esteem because we’re biased to thinking we’re the problem. To combat this, we should rebuild it by allowing ourselves to achieve more through becoming productive.
11. Find things to look forward to
More than being just busy, there should be new goals created. New goals create new habits. This is essential to moving on because old habits and old routines linked to your partner should be unlearned. Despite losing love, there should be something that still keeps you excited, and later on these things may prove to you that a life without love is still worth living.