When my first boyfriend called to break up with me on New Year’s Day, 2002, I had some feelings. These feelings were mostly expressed via soap opera-worthy sobbing sessions, doors slammed in extreme teen angst, and many, many ill-advised attempts at a reconciliation over the next four years.
I like to think my relationship disaster plan has improved over the last 17 years, but no matter how emotionally evolved and mature you are, breakups suck. And they suck hard, even if you’re left feeling relieved (which can be confusing) or totally empty. Also confusing.
It’s that confusion that might lead to a poorly selected rebound, a newly intimate bond with carbohydrates, or risky and unfortunate bangs that require months to grow out. These immediate reactions are normal, BT Dubs — but not ideal if you’re unsure if you’ll regret it.
So here are 19 strategies to cope and recoup during the healing process, before investing in a makeover.
One of the trickiest parts of navigating post-breakup reality is figuring out whether you actually want to stay in touch. Sometimes totally eliminating the ex from your life will serve you better in the short (and maybe long) term.
There are a ton of factors that can go into that decision — how long you were together, whether the breakup was amicable or mutual, whether you share friends, pets, or a living space, etc.
Regardless of which choice you land on, taking at least some time totally apart and out of contact may help make your decision-making process a little less stressful.
Do you two frequent the same grocery store? Have a favorite brunch spot that you used to hit up together? Even if you don’t run into your ex in the frozen food aisle, the potential for encountering emotionally charged sights and sounds is a big burden to bear when you’re freshly single.
One of the biggest mistakes I made after my first breakup (to be fair, I was 17) was convincing myself that I could convince him to regret his decision.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned — in romance, friendship, professional relationships, etc. — is that you’re not responsible for anyone else’s thoughts or behaviors.
Telling yourself that you have the power to “win” someone back may just elongate your mourning period and make moving on a whole lot harder.
There’s the A-word again: “acceptance.” Yeah, it’s an annoying term to hear when you’re in the throes of emotional turmoil, but granting yourself permission to feel terrible, wonderful, indifferent, and everything in between is important to the grieving and healing process.
It can be tempting to distract yourself with a million activities but feeling your feelings rather than numbing out will help you deal with the situation and move on rather than dragging it out.
Your friends might encourage you to buck up and get back out to play the field, but if you’d rather spend some Saturday nights watching sappy rom-coms in your PJs than hit the bars, that’s totally fine.
Keep an eye on your own behavior though, or at least really listen to when your friends say it might be time to stop. Being able to see the difference between a healthy wallow and all-out depression is what stops you from ruining your other relationships.
Allowing yourself time to feel sad can help you move through the emotions, but don’t let it get to the point where you’ve lost interest in all the things that used to make you happy.
Your pals can be great for weekend trips and happy hours, but they can really come in handy when stuff hits the fan.
If you feel that talking about your breakup will help you make sense of your feelings, lean on your friends to hear you out. And if you’d rather skip the deep analysis, that’s totally fine — just be sure not to cut out the people you know and trust.
Does seeing that your ex watches your Instagram stories spark joy? Does reading their Tweets help your healing journey? We got bad news sis. Most likely, social media is just complicating your recovery and clouding your ability to move on.
Consider a social detox by opting out of the apps for a while, and if you need to mute or unfollow your ex in order to really move on, then do what works for you — if they don’t respect your space or need for distance, then consider your breakup a good thing.
We talked about those terrible post-breakup bangs. But besides unfortunate haircuts, a lot of people fall into a self-criticism spiral following the deterioration of a relationship and start looking for ways to “fix” what they assume caused things to go wrong.
Remember there’s nothing wrong with you and nothing to “fix” — and seriously let that message sink in. If a relationship didn’t work out, it’s because that person wasn’t meant for you — someone else will fit the bill, if that’s what you want, and they’ll love you just the way you are.
It’s so easy to look back on a failed relationship and only remember the positives.
But really spending some time to focus on the imperfections may help you find peace faster. Sure, they had a cute smile, but remember how rude they were to waiters? Yes, they were awesome at cuddling, but they were also super dismissive about your work wins.
And let’s never forget their horrid Spotify playlists.
The birthday card they got you, the tickets from your first movie date, that sweater you “borrowed” and never gave back?
Time to do some emotional house cleaning and eliminate the stuff that makes you sad, brings back a flood of memories, or in any way keeps you stuck in the past. Donate what you can or give particularly sentimental items to friends for safe keeping.
When you’re deep in your wallowing stage, listening to super sad, extra emo songs can be one way to get through all the heartache (Alexa, play Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me”). But once you’ve had a brief musical mourning period, use tunes to help your healing (Alexa, play Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”).
Singing karaoke in your kitchen or screaming lyrics in the confines of your car can lift your mood, remind you how much fun you can have on your own, and maybe even make you smile.
Paid time off exists for a reason, and that reason doesn’t have to be an immobilizing illness or family emergency.
If you think you’ll spend the majority of your workday crying in the bathroom stall, consider skipping the office or working from home. But if you feel like a solid eight hours at your desk will help temporarily take your mind off things, go for it.
Do this: You deserve to take a personal day or two to sit with your feelings and gather yourself before going back out into the world.
Whether your relationship lasted six years or six weeks, you likely got very used to being attached at the hip to another human. It’s time to do the thing you always wanted but never go to do. We’re talking bigger than hobbies. Go for the once-in-a-lifetime stuff like skydiving, a solo trip to another country, or backpacking in the woods!
Bonus points if the activities you decide to do are ones that your ex would’ve absolutely hated.
When you’re swept up in a romance, it can be tough to remember that relationships come in all shapes and sizes — they don’t always have to include make outs and hand holding. Forge a new kind of relationship with a plant, a book, a pet — anything that lights up your heart in a real way.
We’ve already covered the possible risk in glorifying the past with your ex, but reflecting on all the awesome moments of your life that had nothing to do with that person can help remind you what a kick-ass person you were and will be without them.
Look back on some of your favorite moments and when you felt happy, safe, and supported before your relationship. Or during! The key is noticing why these warm and fuzzy feelings happened.
Often, it’s not because of the person but what they did, because we’re not trying to wallow too hard here. It’s about clarifying what you want in your next relationship.
Sometimes the best way to get through a tough time is to take the focus off yourself entirely or explore a totally unfamiliar skill.
Volunteer with an organization you care about, take random classes, join a sports league — do anything that gets you out of that dreaded comfort zone and opens your eyes to new horizons. Maybe you’re an expert basket weaver and you don’t even know it?
We’ve gotten a lot better as a society when it comes to talking about mental health, but there can still be some stigma and misunderstanding around therapy. The truth is, talking with a trained professional can help you expedite your healing and really process the tough emotions.
Not to mention, signing up for therapy doesn’t mean committing to a lifetime of weekly sessions — sometimes you just need a few appointments to gather the necessary coping tools. Everyone’s situation is different but being open to therapy can have a major impact on your healing.
Keeping up with workouts and sticking to other healthy habits can help keep you on track and out of a long-term wallow fest but try shaking things up and integrating a new day-to-day schedule.
Your mornings and nights may have revolved around your ex, but now you’re an independent badass who calls the shots. Establishing a new routine — whether that means taking a different route to work or finding a new bar for trivia night — will help you start fresh and remember that your life is — and will continue to be — awesome.
There’s no guidebook to heartbreak recovery, but there are a few post-breakup don’ts that are pretty universal:
- don’t have breakup sex with your ex
- don’t have rebound sex with someone else (unless you know it works for you — just be safe!)
- don’t have an immediate rebound relationship
- don’t talk only about your old relationship with friends
Remember, they have lives too and honestly, you’re so much more interesting than who you were dating.
Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based journalist, marketing specialist, ghostwriter, and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumna. She’s written extensively on health, body image, entertainment, lifestyle, design, and tech.