Congratulations! You have just been broken up with, and you are now the proud owner of a broken heart. Flummoxed as to the care and feeding of this newly crushed organ? (Ice cream bingeing or listless food refusal, which will it be?) What to do about all those pesky feelings and thoughts: Should you send your love a tone poem pleading for reconciliation, or alternatively take a baseball bat to their car? (Beyoncé did it in a video so that makes it OK, right?) We looked to a wide range of experts, scientific studies and also an aesthetic nurse to answer some of the most-asked questions about this new life-stage you’re in…which we promise is growth even though it feels like death.
1. Why Does My Chest Actually Hurt?
First off, know that there are actual physical changes going on in response to your emotional state. One study showed that the same part of a person’s brain that becomes active in response to physical pain also “lights up” when that person is shown a picture of their ex-partner after an unwanted breakup. (Note to scientists: This study just seems excessively cruel.)
Not only that—in some cases, a broken heart can require hospitalization, when you develop something called stress-induced cardiomyopathy, a condition which presents like a heart attack (intense chest pain, irregular heartbeat) but isn’t due to a blocked artery. Instead, part of the heart stretches out and stops working well. It's rare, but take any debilitating pain seriously.
2. I Wasn't Happy in the Relationship, But All I Want to Do is Have Them Back. Why?
This is your brain on hugs: In a 2010 study, scientists showed 10 women and 5 men pictures of their exes and performed an MRI to show which part of their brain was activated. It was the same part of the brain that in-love couples activated. This “regional VTA activation suggests that mesolimbic reward/survival systems are involved in romantic passion regardless of whether one is happily or unhappily in love.” Translation: Even if it wasn't a great relationship, you’re still enmeshed. And your heartbreak is stimulating the same part of the brain that is involved in human motivation and cocaine cravings. Yikes. So, if you’re feeling like a craven addict jonesing for a hit of Mr. or Ms. Wonderful, you’re not crazy. You just might need to create some new neural pathways in your brain, to feel pleasure in a new and healthier way.
3. Why Do I Feel Bad About Myself?
In Chidera Eggerue’s book How to Get Over a Boy, the body positivity movement activist suggests the time of a breakup is the time to strengthen your sense of self, “because what keeps us psychologically chained to them the majority of the time is the validation we receive from men.” She suggests you take some time to really examine your relationship to your appearance and jettison any culturally transmitted beauty beliefs that make you feel bad about yourself. “Wanting to be liked for how you look is the beginning of handing away your power of self-acceptance,” she writes.
4. Is It Bad I'm Thinking About Getting Botox or Another Aesthetic Tweak?
On the other hand, if you feel like a little medical intervention, go for it. Leslie Lee, a Minnesota and Southern California-based aesthetic nurse says “during a breakup, I don’t know about you, but I cry a lot. I feel overwhelmed with sadness and my heart is heavy. I don’t want to do anything. So going and doing something for myself by myself feels empowering and invigorating.” She would “give the green light on a little Botox/neurotoxin, SkinPen or PRP facial” and ideally, find a provider that wants to “not only give you a little aesthetic tweak, but also give you a soul tweak by recommending podcasts, books, or other self-care resources. You will leave feeling refreshed because you will have also had a good talk session, felt seen, heard, and known.” Interestingly, Lee believes that stress can be a factor complicating effective use of filler, so if a grieving patient has never had filler, she might ask them to wait.
5. Should I Start Therapy?
Talk therapy is a contemporary knee-jerk reaction to psychological pain these days, but will it specifically help with heartbreak? According to Southern California-based therapist Sepideh Saremi, the answer is nuanced. “Romantic losses are so profound—they hurt so much because adult romantic relationships are often used unconsciously by people to work through their childhood wounds, by trying to get needs met that weren't met earlier in life. So when heartbreak happens, it's often not just the loss of the person that hurts, but also the reminder of what we didn't get from our parents and never really stop longing for.” Eep. If this is you, it's time to consult a trained professional. “Therapy is helpful because it teaches us what we are trying to get in a relationship with another person and heals some of those original wounds, so that we have a better shot at finding and making the right relationship work, and we are much more resilient when things don't work out,” Saremi says.
6. What About Exercise?
Saremi has innovated a therapeutic practice that combines walking or running alongside her patients—oftentimes on a beachside path near her office—that she says helps speed heartache recovery. “I've worked with a number of people who have used the running therapy to help accelerate their healing after heartbreak and loss, romantic or otherwise. The running therapy allows them to speak more freely, bond more quickly with the therapist, and get clearer, faster about what they want and need in their lives.” Even without a trained clinician alongside you, Saremi recommends exercise. “Running and exercise after a breakup will certainly make a person feel better after a breakup, even without therapy. There are huge neurochemical and physiological benefits that can counteract the symptoms of grief people experience after romantic loss; exercise helps to regulate sleep, digestion, and improve your focus and ability to think well, all of which can be compromised when you're heartbroken. Also, the structure of adding running or exercise to their schedule can give people a sense of control that they might otherwise be missing.”
7. I Don't Feel Sexy At All, But Will Masturbating Make Me Feel Better?
A recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that masturbation to orgasm releases endocannabinoids in humans, that’s the pleasurable reward we feel when we eat, exercise and have social interaction. So, if it’s not followed by a post-climax bout of lonely despair, but instead helps you get to sleep, have at it. And say hello to your new little friend (aka your perfect vibrator, determined by PureWow's top-secret poll).
8. What About Adopting a Pet?
This is an intuitive step that’s backed up by science—spending time with a pet or taking the plunge and adopting one can make you feel better. The Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University has published studies in which military veterans with PTSD create less of the stress hormone cortisol when they are accompanied by an animal. And children with autism sweat less when they’re next to an animal. Also, military veterans and people with physical disabilities have a higher quality of life than those without service animals. Additionally, a University of Missouri-Columbia study showed that levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, increase when petting a dog. (In a fun control, the study included the results of petting a robotic dog, which caused serotonin levels to drop.)
9. Will a Weighted Blanket Help?
You know that feeling of comfort when your partner rested an arm or leg over you? DIY that sitch! Put your autonomic nervous system in rest mode without anyone else around by using a weighted blanket. Bonus: a blanket never wakes up with morning breath. There are models with cooling technology for warm sleepers and attractive tailored designs available.
10. Can You Recommend Any Books?
Here's a collection of our favorites. They have real talk, so read 'em and weep, but remember—the only way to get over heartbreak is to go through it.
WHEN THINGS FALL APART: HEART ADVICE FOR DIFFICULT TIMES BY PEMA CHODRON
For some breakups, a pint of Chubby Hubby and watching Bridget Jones’s Diary a few times is sufficient. Others are so earth-shattering that you need the help of an actual Buddhist nun to help you put the pieces back together. And Chodron, who was married with children before becoming ordained, has been there. Through the story of her breakup, and meditative practices to incorporate into your own life, this book is the literary equivalent of a month-long spiritual retreat.
How to Get Over a Boy by Chidera Eggerue
Activist Chidera Eggerue (aka the Slumflower) has blunt advice for heartbroken women: Stop treating men like the prize and start treating yourself like one. When you take the reins and gain control of your relationships, you get to decide how much power he has (or doesn’t have) over you.
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS BY CHERYL STRAYED
Strayed’s popular advice column (and subsequent podcast) Dear Sugar is officially retired, but her sweet words live on in Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection her best, most heartfelt wisdom. Not all of the advice seekers are writing in for breakup help, but Strayed’s patient, sympathetic guidance is like a hug from your best friend. (Well, if your BFF were extremely smart and absolutely incredible with words.)
THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING BY JOAN DIDION
Let us guess: You could use a good cry right about now. Grab a box of tissues and dive into Joan Didion’s opus on grief and loneliness, written about the sudden deaths of her husband and daughter. It’s not exactly uplifting in the traditional sense, but there’s nothing like it if you need a good wallow.
DEAR MR. YOU BY MARY-LOUISE PARKER
The Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe winner knows a thing or two about devastating breakups—her ex-boyfriend Billy Crudup famously broke things off while she was seven months pregnant. Because she’s classy, she doesn’t actually mention Crudup by name in her book of unsent letters to the men in her life, but an emotional chapter called “Dear Mr. Cabdriver” shows her at her most vulnerable. We hope she found it as cathartic to write as we did to read.
GIRL, WASH YOUR FACE BY RACHEL HOLLIS
Sometimes, you want to gaze longingly at the Instagram accounts of a bunch of gorgeous models whose unattainable lives you’ll never live up to. (And then five minutes later, you feel like crap.) For those other times, there’s Rachel Hollis, your instant best friend who repeats the mantra, “We are all falling apart,” more than once in this down-to-earth survival guide every woman—breakup or not—should read.
THE UNTETHERED SOUL: THE JOURNEY BEYOND YOURSELF BY MICHAEL ALAN SINGER
If a rough breakup makes you want to wander out into the forest and ponder the meaning of life, toss this philosophical read in your backpack. Spiritual teacher Michael Singer’s book isn’t about breakups, per se, but as you explore what it means to be truly conscious, it might help you realize that your crashing and burning relationship isn’t such a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
DEAR FUTURE BOYFRIEND BY CRISTIN O’KEEFE APTOWICZ
Let’s face it: When your eyes are bleary and your nose won’t stop running, sometimes you can only get through a couple of pages at a time, even if it’s a really great book. This quick collection of early poetry by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is just what the breakup doctor ordered, including the sweet and sad “Places I’ve Never Been Kissed” and “Ex-Boyfriend,” which includes the gem of a line, “I want to kill you with gasoline and cheesecake.”
HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER BY SLOANE CROSLEY
If reading about other people’s awkward breakups brings you joy, look no further. Crosley’s most recent essay collection—especially the parts about her exes—rings true. "Every restaurant suggested was one I'd been to with Ben," she writes. "Horribly insensitive friends marked their own birthdays with celebrations, re-signed leases in his neighborhood, used words with vowels that he also used." So been there, Sloane.
THE POWER OF NOW BY ECKHART TOLLE
Existential types, this one’s for you. We’ll try not to blow your minds here, but for the uninitiated, Tolle’s book is an exploration of consciousness—he proposes that the only thing that’s real is this present moment. When you focus on the past and the future, that’s just your brain trying to play tricks on you. We’ll let you sit with that for a second (and if it sounds intriguing, give it a read).