How do you mend a broken heart? Moving on and moving up!
For a few drowsy moments you remain in a blissful dreamy state, oblivious to your situation. But you wake. You remember. You want to go back to sleep.
Dealing with a breakup takes time. Bess Myerson once wrote that “to fall in love is awfully simple, but to fall out of love is simply awful.” There is no easy way out. While the author of this piece would love to be able to propose some magical formula, some anti-heartbreak elixir, or even a simple stop-gap solution, sadly it is not possible.
What we can do, however, is examine what it is that causes us to feel that way after a relationship breaks down, especially if we actually wanted it to continue. There are various steps that we can take to ensure that the path away from heartbreak is a steady, gentle and progressive one.
Pain is pain, be it emotional or physical
The feelings we experience when dealing with a breakup can seem very similar to physical pain. Even the expressions that we use to describe emotional distress are rooted in physicality. “He ripped my heart out”, “I’m emotionally scarred”. Well, biologists Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown have discovered that there really is a link between physical and emotional pain. Both are handled by the anterior cingulated cortex, a portion of our brains responsible for various cognitive functions, such as decision making, empathy and regulating pain response in terms of blood pressure and heart rate.
So how does knowing the link between heartache and, well, just ache, help us move on? We can’t very well apply a plaster or painkiller to emotional pain. Originally, humans developed social structures and relationships with friends and lovers as a means of survival. We were less likely to be killed if we stuck together. Our brains are still hard-wired that way, so just as our physical pain receptors react to touching a hot coal, meaning that we will try to avoid doing it again; our bodies also react to break-ups or other emotional pain, so that in the future we will try to achieve a more desirable outcome. We are more likely to survive, and reproduce, if we are not alone.
Surround yourself with those who matter to you
There is a medicine, of a sort, for emotional pain. When separated from loved ones, our bodies experience an increase in the hormone cortisol, and a decrease in the hormone norepinephrine. This imbalance is what chemically disturbs us, causing a major stress response, and gives the feeling of heartbreak.
In order to counteract this, surround yourself with friends and family. It may seem obvious (although at the time we often feel like being alone) but it also redresses the balance of your hormones, bringing your body back toward chemical alignment. So there is a scientific reason why surrounding yourself with loved ones can help you deal with tough times, and eventually mend that heart.
Prof Naomi Eisenberger, a psychologist lecturing at the University of California, agreed that an overlap in the neurobiology of physical and social pain makes perfect sense. "Because social connection is so important, feeling literally hurt by not having social connections may be an adaptive way to make sure we keep them. Over the course of evolution, the social attachment system, which ensures social connection, may have actually borrowed some of the mechanisms of the pain system to maintain social connections."
Denial is unhealthy, with acceptance comes inner peace and clarity
Often our response to a parting of ways with a loved one is to try to avoid any sight, mention or thought of them afterwards. While this may seem a sensible option, and you are probably best off not actively seeking out or contacting them initially, you should not block the relationship out of your mind. You must go through the problem, not around it. Hard as it is to do, contemplation of what went wrong and why will eventually lead to you being a stronger person, meaning it is easier to deal with the breakup. If you have unresolved issues, resolve them. Dr Athena Staik, relationship psychologist, says that it is important to make an effort to understand the past: “Recall your emotions and thoughts during the romance – from its early stages, to when it ended. Think of other past relationships and look for patterns.”
Healthy body, healthy mind
Dr Staik also recommends avoiding reaching out for the red wine, instead focusing on a healthy diet and taking as much physical exercise as possible. This helps on a physiological level, because exercise stimulates brain chemicals that foster the growth of nerve cells, and increases the activity of serotonin – the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. Not only that, but on an emotional level you will feel that you are taking charge of your body and mind, becoming the master of your world.
Good news for chocoholics though – dark chocolate (within moderation) is also going to help. Dark chocolate is good for your heart, skin and overall health and, thanks to andamine and other chemicals that help it stay longer in our systems, it also does wonders for the mood: a delicious and enticing way of dealing with a breakup!
Moving on: The sweet blossom of a new romance
One of the saddest things that we can do after suffering a bitter breakup is to close off our hearts. It is important to still believe that a lasting relationship is possible, to still take the risks that put your emotional well-being into another’s hands.
Henri Nouwen once wrote:
“The more you have loved and have allowed yourself to suffer because of your love, the more you will be able to let your heart grow wider and deeper. When your love is truly giving and receiving, those whom you love will not leave your heart even when they depart from you. The pain of rejection, absence, and death can become fruitful. Yes, as you love deeply the ground of your heart will be broken more and more, but you will rejoice in the abundance of the fruit it will bear.”
Succinctly, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. When you feel ready to step back into a relationship, consider letting friends show you how to move on by suggesting you people that you might be interested in, or try an online dating website. Matchmaking services such as EliteSingles give you the opportunity to meet people that you would not have otherwise, and when you are still feeling vulnerable it can be easier to pace yourself through first communicating online rather that jumping straight into a meeting as you would through meeting someone in a more conventional fashion.
Joining a dating site will not mend your broken heart, but it can be one of the most positive steps you can take to tell yourself and the world ‘I’m moving on.’