Most people have experienced a broken heart, and there are multiple possible causes. But whether it comes from a breakup with a significant other or the death of a loved one, heartbreak is never easy.
Unfortunately, there’s no Band-Aid for broken hearts — but there are ways to ease the pain.
Heartbreak can be such an intense experience that some scientists suggest it feels the same as physical pain. A 2011 study found that people had similar brain activity when they viewed a photo of a former love and when they burned their arm.
It might even be possible to die of a broken heart. People who are in the early stages of grief are more likely to experience increased blood pressure and heart rate, which can raise their cardiovascular risk.
A 2018 study found that widows and widowers were 41 percent more likely to die within the first 6 months after losing their spouse. The researchers suspect this was a result of a 53 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
As more scientists confirm the biological basis of love, there may eventually be a treatment for heartbreak. In the meantime, psychotherapist Athena Staik shares three important tips to make it feel a little better.
Understand the past
Take an honest look at what you just went through. “Recall your emotions and thoughts during the romance — from its early stages to when things began to get rough, to when it ended,” Staik recommends. “Think of other past relationships and look for patterns.”
Prepare a self-care action plan
While it’s tempting to lie around in sweats for days on end (we’ve been there) and stock your fridge full of ice cream and pizza, taking good care of yourself now will save you from more struggle later.
“Lift yourself up emotionally, mentally, and physically,” Staik says. “Exercise. Eat super healthfully. Cut out sweets and alcohol as much as possible.”
When we’re used to being around someone 24/7, it can be quite a shock to our system when they’re no longer around. “Practice deep breathing, yoga, and meditation,” says Staik. “Connect with people you trust.”
Losing a loved one is one of the most excruciating ways to obliterate a heart. While there’s no way to bring the person back, there are ways to mend the broken hearts left behind. Psychologist Julie S. Lerner explains exactly how to grieve.
Allow yourself to cry
“‘Be strong,’ a phrase often heard during the grieving process, doesn’t have to mean keeping your feelings bottled up inside,” Lerner says. “It can also mean expressing them in whatever way feels best for you. Remember that no one ever died from crying.”
Make space for the loss
It can be tempting to just try to forget about your loss and move on with the endless distractions available to us these days (alcohol, projects, dating apps, you name it), but you can’t outrun grief for long.
“Don’t fully immerse yourself in work or other activities. Loss is a part of life, so make room and time to grieve,” Lerner says.
“Don’t feel guilty about enjoying life even during the grieving process. Make time to do things that you love and that help you feel good,” Lerner says. “Keep your house organized, buy yourself flowers, take a bath, connect with pets — whatever works for you!”
When it comes down to it, the only true cure for a broken heart is… time. And until you get some space from your loss, there’s no denying the pain (that’s why there are a bajillion songs about it!). Luckily, there aresome tried-and-true methods for coping with heartbreak.
If you notice that grief is getting in the way of your daily life, or you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional. They can be the compassionate ear you need, especially when others just don’t know what to say.
Whether you’re going through a rough breakup or grieving a death, remember these core tenets to help your heart recover: honesty about your experience and your emotions, compassion for yourself, social support, and self-care. After a while, you’ll start to feel like yourself again.