Feeling bad about feeling bad
Heartbreak is universal and everyone will experience it in some form during their lives. But acknowledging this pain is often seen as a weakness, and we’re told that the ‘best’ treatment is to ignore it. Right? Wrong.
Studies have shown that our brains process relationship breakups the same way we do physical pain (in the anterior cingulate cortex, in case you were wondering). When we’re heartbroken we experience the loss of an important social relationship and this impacts on our bodies in several ways. It causes our brains to increase the production of cortisol and decrease norepinephrine, which can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.
Emotionally, we can go through all the usual stages of grief from denial to acceptance. The compulsion to “soldier on” and the infamous British stiff upper lip, can stop us from acknowledging how we truly feel and that it’s OK to have those feelings.
So what should we do instead?
Give yourself a break. You are not going to wake up two days later suddenly fully recovered and back to your jolly self. It’s simply not possible and more importantly, not advisable. Facing your feelings and working through them frees you from emotional baggage and mess. You may not be on top form for a few weeks, but generally speaking, your friends, family and colleagues will be fine with this. Which leads us to…
Get support. You’ve just lost a major social link, and it’s crucial to try and fill that gap. Resist the urge to hide away and try to spend some time with others. Make yourself get out and about. Speak to close friends and family, and perhaps someone supportive at work, and admit to feeling vulnerable.
Let it go. Grief doesn’t only relate to the feelings experienced when someone dies it applies to any major loss. And a significant break up is a major loss. Thinking of it less as “heartbreak” and more as a “loss” may help you accept your feelings. The aim isn’t to wallow in the sadness, but to get through to the other side, when you can start to feel like yourself again.