The Art and Science of Breaking Up

You feel it, don’t you? The tight squeeze in your chest, the emotional turmoil between “eff that” and missing their arms around you…. Your heart hurts, you’re angry, and you feel both lost and stir-crazy.

You aren’t crazy, sweet one. And, you’re definitely not alone. There’s actually some science to explain why you are feeling the way you are.

First, heartache is actual pain. In 2011, there was a study done where researchers used MRI scanners to look at subjects’ brain activity as they looked at photographs of their exes. What they found was that areas of the brain that are often associated with pain lit up, much like brains of those who are experiencing cocaine withdrawal.

Tylenol for pain relief. Another study published in 2010 found that both physical and social pain may rely on some of the same behavioral and neural mechanisms that register pain-related affect. They found that tylenol/acetominophen, while typically used as a physical pain suppressant, acts through central neural mechanisms (rather than peripheral) and may also reduce both behavioral and neural responses to social rejection…aka breakups.

Will Tylenol cure the pain? No. Do we recommend you take all the tylenol to try to numb the pain? Also, no. Because quite frankly, you can learn to live without the guy, but learning to live without your liver is a whole different thing.

Time to Detox. More research has found that people in long-term relationships tend to regulate each other’s biological rhythms. If you’re a woman, you know this in other ways like how cycles can sync. Well, our other biological rhythms can link up, also. So, after a breakup, you may be physiologically out of whack. Which means, it’s extra important to take care of yourself by eating right, supporting your immune system, exercising, and giving yourself a break.

Also, after a breakup, your serotonin and dopamine levels drop. In plain speak, you’re basically going through withdrawal. If you’re willing to cut off the emotional tie COLD TURKEY (as in, no texting, calling, stalking, or wallowing), it’ll take approximately 8 weeks for the serotonin and dopamine to level out.

And, now for the ART of breaking up…

People are constantly searching for “how to make my breakup not hurt.” The bad news is that it’s going to hurt…unless you’re a sociopath. The good news is that if it’s hurting, you aren’t a sociopath. But, also, there are ways to use what we know from science to hurt a little less. So, here I present to you, the art of breaking up:

  1. CLEAN. I mean, scrub. Take all of your frustrations out on the dirt, grime, and mess. My house is always much cleaner after a breakup! This serves several purposes. First, you are channeling energy into something positive. Second, you are cleaning your space which will also help your brain feel less cluttered. Third, you are clearing out his/her things that remind you of him/her. One of the first things I do is scrub down any area they frequented. I launder the sheets, make the bed, clorox the nightstands, clorox the bathrooms, vacuum and shampoo the living room, etc. And, then I trash things with memories. COLD TURKEY.
  2. Block their number, block them on Facebook and all social media, delete mutual friends for now(block them if they are gossips or meddlers. You can add them back later. Feel free to even message them prior if you are close with them and just tell them you need to do this for now. Or…deactivate your FB!), and don’t go to any place he/she frequents for 2 months. Trust me on this. After 2 months, you can do what you want, you’re free like a bird. But, you need to DETOX chemically. Keep in mind, if your ex is toxic, you might need to keep things locked down longer so that you aren’t pulled back in to chaos. Do what’s healthy for you.
  3. Create playlists. I recommend three different playlists: Breakup playlist, Inspire playlist, and Happy playlist. (Have a song you recommend? Add it to the spotify breakup song list!).
  4. Get rid of or transition everything that reminds you of them. That t-shirt of his you love? Trash it. Seriously…I know it’s soft and it feels awful to throw it away, but I promise you it’ll make you feel worse in the long run. That series you used to watch together? Either find someone else to watch it with or stop watching it. Savage advice, I know, but I’m telling you from experience.
  5. Find someone to talk to. It can be a therapist, a friend, or whomever. Most of us let our boyfriend/girlfriend in on things we would never tell another soul. They become the person we tell things to after long and hard…or good…days. Sometimes it’s the loss of our friend that hurts deepest.
  6. Make lists. Make a list of things you hated/annoyed about them. Make a list of how you were great together (most of the time, you’ll find this list is often much shorter than you thought it’d be!). Make a list of qualities you want in a future significant other. Make a list of things you need to work on, personally, to be a better significant other.
  7. Each morning, do a thought dump. This is where you grab paper first thing and just write for 10-30 minutes every little thing that passes through your brain. I recommend doing this on loose leaf paper and hiding it and burning it later. We aren’t writing it to reread it. We are writing to get it the heck out!
  8. Focus on YOU. For the next 8-12 weeks, understand that you will feel crappy. And, that it’s OKAY. Have a plan so that you don’t backslide. Eat the ice cream. Eat the chocolate (research shows chocolate is actually beneficial in times of stress and pain!). Get your nails done, read your Bible, go for that run or sign up for that pilates class, get your hair done, do that body detox, take that class. Whatever it is you’ve wanted to do, here’s your chance!
  9. Re-tell the story. Tell your story to a few people you trust. Get it out. Now, take a good, hard look. Does this story serve you? Maybe the little shit is a cheater. Maybe he two-timed you and lied to you and everyone else about who he is or what he was doing. Maybe you feel like the biggest idiot on the face of the earth for trusting a man who used you. Fair enough. But, does this story serve you? If not, re-frame it. You aren’t letting him/her off the hook. You are simply deciding that this part of the story isn’t going to tear you down. You’re stronger than that. This story is going to be made into a brick to BUILD your house rather than knock it down! So, re-frame the story. What did it teach you? What did you realize about yourself? How can you use this knowledge in positive ways in the future?
    For example, I learned that my intuition is right most of the time.
    I learned that I can trust my own gut.
    I learned that I don’t have to put up with toxic behaviors, that I am strong.
    I learned that I don’t have to settle for a future that I don’t want.
    I learned that others’ lies not only don’t have a place in my story, but that they can’t destroy me, either.
  10. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I know. Groan. Cliche. But…it’s true. The things we go through, if processed in a healthy way, can make us more RESILIENT. So, trust the process, take a couple of tylenol or have a glass of wine, relax, and dream up that new life you want…and, go for it!
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