We know that brains process emotional pain in the same way as physical pain, which is why break-ups can be so painful.
When we’re in love, our brains fill with dopamine, often known as the ‘feel good chemical’. Dopamine supports us to feel joy, happiness and motivation. It’s common to want to maintain these feelings, and in this way, love is often addictive for our brains. When we go through a break-up, our dopamine levels drop. At the same time, the amount of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our bodies increases.
Just like when we quickly stop other things that our bodies are used to, we can experience withdrawal symptoms when these changes happen. These can negatively impact our wellbeing and stop us from feeling good and functioning properly.
Common symptoms of a break-up include:
- trouble sleeping
- increased anxiety and/or feelings of panic
- difficulty controlling our behaviour
- trouble concentrating
- reduced hunger or a change in eating patterns
- feeling unmotivated
- getting tired easily
- difficulty sticking to a routine
- isolating ourselves from others
- weight gain
- physical symptoms such as headaches or stomach aches.
If you’ve recently gone through a break-up, the following information, tips and resources can help you to feel less alone and look after yourself during this challenging time.
10 tips to help after a break-up
- Use breathing exercises to calm your nervous system.
When experiencing stress, your body’s nervous system goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode, which increases feelings of anxiety and makes it hard to stay in the present moment. You can help to calm your body down and feel less overwhelmed with relaxation and breathing exercises such as these from Beyond Blue.
- Set boundaries and rules about your future contact with your former partner.
Depending on the situation, you might choose to stay in contact or not to see your former partner again. Your decision will be affected by things such as whether you have children together, if there was abuse in your relationship, or if you work together or have mutual friends.
- Reflect on your feelings and experiences.
This might be through journaling, talking to a counsellor or trusted person in your life, or engaging in spiritual practices such as prayer. You may also choose to reflect on what you learned during the relationship, what you might do differently, and what you might look for in a future relationship.
- Challenge your thoughts.
After a break-up, it’s easy to look back and only remember the good things about your relationship, or to think negatively about you or the other person. It can be helpful to challenge these thoughts by writing them down or talking to a friend or family member who has a different and impartial perspective.
- Spend time doing things and with people who make you feel good.
Try to remember that your life includes more than your former relationship, and there are many places where you can find happiness. Give yourself time to be busy and distracted, but also time to rest and process your feelings.
- Build new habits and memories.
If you’re missing routines that you and your partner had together, try creating new rituals for yourself. For example, making your morning coffee, texting loved ones with your daily ‘wins’ or making new memories with friends in places which remind you of your former partner.
- Give yourself time to process your emotions.
Unfortunately, there’s no set time for recovering from heartbreak – it's different for everyone. While it can be tempting to ignore difficult feelings and try to speed up the process to move on, acknowledging and accepting your feelings will help your brain to process them. Although it may feel like the painful feelings will never end, we promise you that for most people, they ease in time, and you will feel better.
- Look after your body.
Eat healthy food, drink enough water, prioritise sleep and exercise regularly, even if you don’t feel like it. These things are important for your physical and emotional wellbeing.
- Take time to be single and focus on your own needs and priorities.
Sometimes moving on to a new relationship can seem like a good way to distract yourself from feelings of change and loss. Being single, however, can be a good opportunity to focus on yourself, process your experience and re-connect with things that make you happy.
- Get support.
Recent research conducted by Relationships Australia shows that positive social connections such as with family and friends increase wellbeing and mental health. You may also find it helpful to talk to a professional, such as a counsellor. Family dispute resolution practitioners can also help separating couples to resolve disputes about parenting and property matters.
Please note, we are not a crisis service. If you feel unsafe and need help right now, call 000 (triple zero).
For urgent counselling support, including 24/7 crisis assistance, view our list of external services.
This blog post should not be considered professional advice. It is for informational purposes only.