Valentine’s Day and other events can be stressful for many people, especially those who have recently ended a relationship. If you’re struggling to move forward after a divorce or breakup and you are being reminded of what you’ve lost, you might need a little help to get through. The following tips can help.
1. Give Yourself Time to Grieve
Compared to people in many other cultures, Americans struggle to acknowledge and embrace grief and sadness. Even though our culture doesn’t often permit us to talk openly about these emotions, they’re perfectly normal and healthy responses to loss.
All of us, at various points in our lives, experience periods of grief. Accept that this is normal and allow yourself the time to process your grief. If someone you trust asks how you are, it’s okay to share the truth. You might even find they can relate more than you know.
2. Know the Difference Between Sadness and Depression
If you’re suffering from depression after a breakup, you’re not alone. According to the World Health Organization, 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide.
Depression is different from sadness. When you are sad, it is typically related to a specific event, person, or experience. Sadness is an emotion that comes and goes and tends to become less powerful and pervasive over time. Amid sadness, you can still experience positive emotions like joy, happiness, gratitude, and hopefulness at the same time.
Depression involves prolonged sadness, often without a cause or despite everything else being normal and fine. And while sadness can be a constructive emotion that leads to a renewed appreciation for life, depression tends to rob people of motivation and their ability to appreciate what they have.
It’s healthy and normal to feel sad after a breakup, but you should watch for symptoms of depression and talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you’re experiencing them consistently. Common symptoms of depression include:
- Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
- Pessimism and hopelessness
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won't go away
- Digestive problems that don't get better, even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
- Suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts
Even though things might feel hopeless, depression gets better with treatment. Your doctor or mental health professional can talk with you about strategies that might help, including medication, talk therapy, and alternative medicine.
3. Develop New Habits
Humans are social creatures, and research shows that our brains develop and become conditioned through our observations and interactions with others. If you had a routine with your previous partner, that routine created structure and habits that guided your daily life. The withdrawal of any consistent figure in our lives will disrupt our normal brain patterns and leave us with a sense of something missing.
One way to help your brain heal from this disruption is to create new habits and routines that take the place of the old ones. A breakup is a good time to think about how you can build a lifestyle that makes you stronger and happier. Take this opportunity to think about major life goals you have — perhaps a change in career or pursuing a hobby you’ve always wanted to take up. Regardless of what you want to accomplish, incorporating new activities into your schedule can ease the sense of loss and help you move forward.
4. Consider Group Therapy
If you’re finding it difficult to open up to friends and family about your feelings after a divorce or breakup, group therapy may provide a space where you can work through your feelings and experience important benefits. While only a very small percentage of people in the U.S. take advantage of this outlet, research shows that group therapy is often just as effective as one-on-one therapy.
Group therapy offers several advantages over traditional one-on-one therapy, including:
- An opportunity to build social skills
- An emotionally rich and dynamic environment that can help you work through, express, and tolerate strong emotions in front of others
- A chance to hear a variety of different perspectives from a diverse range of people
Many people feel reluctant about group therapy at first, but many patients who’ve tried both group and individual therapy report that they prefer group therapy. To explore group therapy, talk with a licensed therapist and ask them whether group therapy might be a good fit for you.
5. Examine Your Spirituality
If spirituality has been an important part of your life in the past, now might be a good time to get back in touch with your beliefs. Research shows that spirituality can provide powerful benefits to people who are going through a stressful life event. Specifically, researchers have found that people with a favorable view of religion tend to feel less lonely, depressed, and anxious, even during life events that most people would regard as highly stressful.
6. Know Your Triggers
While “relapse” is a term we associate with substance abuse and other types of addictions, it’s certainly possible to relapse into depression when getting over a relationship — especially on a holiday like Valentine’s Day when triggers are everywhere. Keep your potential triggers in mind and remember that it’s okay to avoid places and situations that remind you of your former partner, especially if your breakup happened recently and the emotional wounds are still fresh.
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Comer, R.J. (2011). Fundamentals of abnormal psychology (6th ed). New York, NY: Worth Publishers. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=y-FUzkLQ7GsC&pg=PA57&lpg=PA57&dq=ronald+j.+comer+treatment+for+divorce&source=bl&ots=sP-rAkNIe7&sig=Exae5vmP4sVCL5gaXcjanEcdZCA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiUuf_A6OjfAhUGRa0KHYfEBmoQ6AEwA3oECAsQAQ#v=onepage&q=ronald%20j.%20comer%20treatment%20for%20divorce&f=false
Depression [fact sheet]. (2018, March 22). World Health Organization. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression
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Howes, R. (2013, May 30). What about group therapy? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-therapy/201305/what-about-group-therapy