It’s called ‘heartbreak’ for a reason. Studies show that your brain registers and processes the emotional pain of heartbreak in the same way as it does a broken bone.
So, just the way a broken leg is going to disrupt your life for a while, so will a broken heart. The good news is, there is plenty you can do to ease the pain until the storm passes and the sun comes out again (which it will!). We asked the heartbreak healers for their advice.
1. Put pen to paper
“Because the chemical composition of the brain changes when you have your heart broken, mood swings are going to happen,” says hypnotherapist Malminder Gill, who specialises in treating clients with ‘chronic heartbreak’ – that is people she describes as ‘psychologically stuck’ in the trauma of a break-up.
The stages are exactly the same as grief: so you might feel shocked, angry or depressed. Journaling allows you to literally write the feelings out of your head.
“There’s something so cathartic about grabbing a pen and paper, writing it all down then ripping it up or burning it. Just doing something with it makes you feel empowered.”
Consultant psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani explains it can also help to see things more clearly.
“Often when we’re under emotional stress, our thoughts become muddled,” she says. “Journaling brings clarity and frees up mental space. What's more, creating a record of your feelings can help you look back and see how far you've come.”
Try writing about how you’re feeling for 20 minutes every morning – just let the words flow.
“You may find that there comes a time when there is nothing more to write about,” says Gill. “And it really is time to put the pen down and move on with life.”
2. Make a voice recording
Making a voice recording is another great way of processing your feelings.
“Recording yourself gives you space that you wouldn’t get with your friends, or even a therapist, because people will inevitably butt in,” says Gill, “which stops the chain of thought and feeling of release.”
In the recording, talk about the story of your relationship but crucially, what’s really bothering you that day.
“You may regress into the past… ‘but he promised this and we were supposed to be going on holiday together...’ Or how this person dumped you, or worries about how you’ll manage now. The idea is to give a 10-minute stream of consciousness about what’s going on in your mind right there and then.”
Gill suggests then leaving at least a day before you listen back.
“There’s something magical that happens when you listen back with time and distance,” she says.
“You hear yourselves as other people hear you – it’s often a revelation! You’re then able to ‘have a word’ with yourself in a different way, which often gives you a boost of self-esteem.”
3. Stay away from your ex
It's normal to miss your ex and wonder what they're doing now. You may feel like you’ve been left hanging and have unanswered questions about your relationship.
Unfortunately, none of this will help you move on, so resist the urge to contact your ex or look them up on social media (always the path to madness!). Give your ex a really wide berth for as long as possible until you’ve been able to deal with your grief.
“You might be able to salvage a friendship,” says Dr Bijlani, “but right now, seeing your ex online or in real life will only increase your heartache, so block them from all social media, delete their number and focus on yourself.”
4. Own your part in the break-up
Resentments are a huge part of the pain felt in heartbreak: Why didn’t they tell me earlier, why did they string me along? “But these resentments usually boil down to the fact that there were red flags we chose to ignore,” says Gill. “We weren’t paying attention to our own inner experience.”
Also, there’s the lack of boundaries.
“Often the people that come knocking on my door are those who completely immersed all of who they are into the relationship, without any sense of separation. Then, when the person walks away they have lost their identity.
“They made the other person responsible for their happiness, but nobody can do that – only you.”
Gill explains how it may sound harsh at first, but a broken heart only eases once we start to recognise our own role in it. “Once people realise, ‘Oh, I saw the red flags but I continued’, the resentments lessen. They take responsibility and feel less of a victim.”
5. Embrace the new future you
“When we fall in love, we often imagine a lovely future with this person,” says Gill. “Your ‘future mental movie’ might be about walking down the aisle, buying a house together, getting a dog…”
So, when you break up, what you’re missing is not necessarily the person, but the future you thought you were going to have with them.
Because you’re not with that person anymore, however, holding onto that story in the future is going to keep you stuck in pain and suffering.
Hypnotherapy may help reduce the timeframe of getting over an ex because it works with all those stories in the subconscious mind that we create, often unknowingly.
“Knowing what the original stories are, we can then start to dismantle them,” says Gill. “We start to create a new ‘future movie’ that helps the person embrace their life as a single person.”
6. Have new experiences
Breaking up with someone is akin to withdrawing from drugs. All the feel-good hormones like dopamine and endorphins that our body was flooded with when we fell in love, disappear and are replaced with cortisol – the stress hormone that makes you feel hurt and sad.
It’s really important to find healthy ways to replace those lost endorphins rather than quick fixes like comfort food, alcohol or texting an ex.
“Exercise is one of the most effective ways to do so, as well as social bonding ” says Gill. “So continue to get out and keep on doing the things you like, but also try new hobbies, with new people.
“Sure, you probably won’t want to, but the longer you don’t, the stronger and longer the pain and suffering you’ll experience. It’s just about being around people and building new memories. The aim is to have fresh experiences that have nothing to do with your ex.”
7. Seek professional support if needed
It’s normal to feel down for a few months after a break-up, but if acute pain lasts much longer it might be worth getting some professional therapy – otherwise you may risk falling into depression.
“If you’re not careful, you can end up shutting yourself away and ruminating,” says Gill. “Part of you still believes you’re in the relationship and the other part is feeling the intense pain of not being – and that is a stuck, painful place to be.”
As well as getting counselling, you could attend a support group for like-minded people where you can share your thoughts and feelings.
Visit Mentalhealth-uk.org to find support groups in your area. Who knows? You might make a whole new circle of friends.