8 Ways to Get Over a Bad Breakup, According to Science
Sure I’d heard the cliches. But when my first busted heart arrived at my doorstep, the enormous, persistent pain baffled me. It really did feel like the world was ending—or like my heart had a gaping hole in it with no hope of repair.
I tried to sew myself back together, with Friends marathons, #selfcare Sundays, and Modest Mouse. I had my nails painted and got a new (okay, only slightly shorter) hairdo, worked out twice a day, signed up for naked yoga, and even escaped to Rhode Island for a week-long beach hiatus. But nothing worked. I was still, simply, sad. And definitely not over it.
So I did what any good journalist does when they have an urgent “asking for a friend” question: Consult the research and talk to the experts. Below, 8 science-backed ways to get over a former partner once and for all—and feel ready to move on.
Cut all social media ties
“I’ve never had a client say that social media made them feel better during a breakup,” says Jennifer L. Taitz, PsyD, clinical psychologist and author of How to Be Single and Happy: Science-Based Strategies for Keeping Your Sanity While Looking for a Soul Mate.
Research backs up her observation. One study found that people who Facebook-stalk their exes are more distressed, harbor more negative feelings, and feel a greater sense of longing and loss than those who cut the digital cord. Other research has shown that simply looking at a photo of an ex who recently dumped you is enough to activate areas of the brain associated with physical pain. To truly get over the person, “go cold turkey and stop keeping tabs on them electronically,” says Taitz.
Remind yourself of your ex's negative traits
Remembering their smelly feet, laziness when it came to household chores, failure to reciprocate oral sex, and other unappealing characteristics can actually help you fall out of love. One small study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that thinking of a former partner's negative qualities was much more effective at getting rid of lingering romantic feelings than general distractions or thinking of their positive traits.
The researchers put it this way: “In the context of a romantic breakup, negative reappraisal is an effective love down-regulation strategy, whereas distraction is an effective positive emotion up-regulation strategy.” Since falling out of love should be your numero uno goal, think up all the bitchy thoughts you can muster, then distract yourself and go back to you whatever you were doing. You want to remember the bad stuff, but not let anger or sadness build up inside you.
Volunteer for a cause you believe in
It’s tempting throw yourself a pity party complete with Sex and The City reruns when you’re mourning the loss of a relationship. (Me? Yep, guilty as charged.) While it's okay to feel sad for a stretch of time, says Taitz, getting involved in something new, like volunteering, can help you escape your own head (and heart). In fact, research has linked volunteering with reduced feelings of depression, more life satisfaction, and enhanced well-being—all things that are usually lacking when you're heartbroken.
Spend time with a furry buddy
Raise your hand if you know someone who brought home a cat, dog, or even a goldfish after a breakup. Of course, getting a pet is a decision that should only be made if you’re mentally and financially in a place to take on the care that an animal requires. But whether you're sure you’re ready for a furry companion or you have one already, this is the time to score more hang sessions with them. According to the CDC, pet care has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness. Plus, having another creature to take care of will force you to stop thinking of your relationship status.
Kill it at the gym
“If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, exercise improves your mood as powerfully as medication does,” Taitz says, pointing to a study from the Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine, which found that people who did yoga felt better able to cope with distress. A second study suggested that simply getting up and moving around seems to reduce feelings of depression, thanks to mood-boosting endorphins. “There’s also something about increasing the number of burpees you can do that makes you feel like you are up to facing any hurdle…even heartbreak,” says Taitz.
Don’t hook up with your ex
You know you shouldn't. But even if the sex you two used to have was explosive and you tell yourself you're just going to their place to score a quick orgasm, it's a terrible idea. New findings published in Family Relations suggest that sleeping with a former partner can increase symptoms of psychological distress. Adds Taitz: “Sleeping with an ex can sound comforting or even sexy, but it’s just not worth short-circuiting your road to recovery."
Take a vacation
If you've ever wanted to see another part of the world but decided not to because your former significant other wasn't on board, now’s the time to book the trip. Solo traveling can be liberating, but it also gives you an opportunity to develop and grow as an individual. “Instead of drowning in sadness, you do activities, try things, and reinvent yourself outside of the relationship,” says Taitz.
One study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that your ability to deal with a breakup has a lot to do with your sense of self as a person, not one half of a relationship. “What’s a better opportunity to connect with yourself and discover just how strong you really are than by literally making the world your oyster?” asks Taitz. (Bonus: one in 50 travelers finds the love of their life while on a flight, according to one survey.)
Wait out the pain
Look, I get it. Going through life just hoping that somehow your shattered heart will magically heal on its own sounds impossible. But research published by the American Psychological Association shows that the more time and space you get after a breakup, the more you heal emotionally.
"Our review of the literature suggests we have a mechanism in our brains designed by natural selection to pull us through a very tumultuous time in our lives," wrote study author Brian Boutwell, PhD, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice and associate professor of epidemiology at Saint Louis University. "It suggests people will recover; the pain will go away with time. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel." More good news: Research suggests we tend to overestimate how long it will take us to feel better after a romantic split.