How To Mend a Broken Heart

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Pink hearts, latex balloons, red roses and cherub-covered candy boxes signal the season for lovers.  For those suffering the recent loss of a relationship February feels like the loneliest month of the year.  On television, happy beautiful people accept extravagant gifts with giant red bows and enormous shining smiles.  Everywhere you look you see beaming, cuddling couples with dopey looks on their faces.  Sometimes it hurts so badly to feel like the only one in the world who doesn’t have a mate.  You think, “Will I ever find love?  What’s wrong with me?  Why can’t I find someone like that?”  You might get angry at others or dive into some serious self-criticism like, “I’m too old, grouchy, poor, fat, unattractive, neurotic, sensitive for love.”  If you’ve suffered a recent break-up you might hear his/her negative words echoing in your head, “You let yourself go.  You’re not fun anymore.  I found someone else.”  The numbing grief after a love dies can trigger thoughts like, “I’ll never love like that again.” 

After the loss of a relationship we traverse a tricky period of grief.  Tears, anger, sadness, depression sometimes combine with restlessness, irritability or emotional deadness making us feel off-balance and alone.  This grief period varies significantly from person to person.  Some feel the loss of love in the chest, or other parts of the body.  The heart aches because our body senses the loss of affection and attention.  Like a drug addict suffering from withdrawal symptoms,  the loss of natural love chemicals in our brain, such as oxytocin, can make us feel physical pain.

When we hurt emotionally and physically we tend to isolate from others and conserve energy.  This tendency to isolate can feed the feeling of loneliness, making it last longer.  Using less energy prevents the production of pain-relieving brain chemicals, endorphins, that can help us feel stronger and happier.  If we stay isolated too long we can sink into a serious depression requiring counseling and sometimes medication.

After more than 25 years in the business of helping the lonely heal,  here are a few proven tips to help you mend your broken heart:

Supportive Self-Talk

Pay attention to how to talk to yourself.  After a loss we exaggerate the importance of things.  Instead of thinking, “I’ll never find someone who will love me.”  Say, “If I stay open to meeting new people, I will likely find someone to love.”  You’re not qualified to predict the future.  Logically, the more people you meet, the more likely you will meet your match.  Try these exercises to stimulate more hopeful, healthy self talk:

  • Write a love letter to yourself. Cut it out and paste it onto red construction paper in the shape of a heart.  Post it where you can read it every day.  Start with this prompt:  Dear Self, The thing I love the most about you is…
  • Make a collage that depicts your skills and what you esteem.  Are you a good plumber?  Put pictures of plumbing supplies.  Do you love to dance?  Paste images of dancers gliding across the floor.  Good sense of humor?  Paste pictures of your favorite comedians.
  • Compliment  Brainstorm.  We all receive compliments from others.  Often we forget them.  Think back in your life and list as many compliments as you can recall.  “You’re really a fun guy.  You have great taste.  Thanks for being such a great friend.”

Love Your Body

Feelings follow behavior.  When we neglect our bodies we start to feel worthless.  If we invest effort in the care of the body we’ve been given, we start to feel better.  Instead of skipping dinner to curl up with a quart of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Hubby or Jamaican Me Crazy, go to the market and buy fresh, wholesome ingredients for a healthy dinner.  Make something delicious and comforting, like Grandma used to make.  When you put effort in caring for yourself, feelings of self-worth follow.  Here’s a recipe for cold sesame chicken with noodles that I love.  You can freeze the leftovers and it’s really good warm too.  Don’t know how to cook?  Now is a good time to learn.  You can find free lessons on youtube on everything from grilling steak to roasting a turkey.  In addition to healthy food you can improve your mood by:

  • Step-up your personal grooming.  Trim beard, clip and file nails, get a manicure/pedicure, keep hair neatly cut, and your clothes cleaned and pressed.  When you invest time into grooming you feel more confident and better prepared to meet new people.
  • Move your body.  Even suffering from the fatigue of grief, you can perform light exercise like walking, gardening or riding a bicycle.  Exercise  improves brain functioning, reduces the negative effects of emotional distress and boosts mood.
  • Medical and dental check-ups.  Get a physical exam,  regular dental cleaning and check-up.  This self-care gives your body the message that you really matter.
  • Meditate. Sitting quietly in meditation helps calm the worried mind.  Check out this Wonderful Moment meditation and Ease Your Worried Mind.

Meaning in the Madness

Sometimes life seems like a crazy ride through a bad horror movie.  We feel stripped of hope and optimism.  During times like these we need to find attachments that give our life meaning.  Is there a larger issue, organization, community that you care about?  Can you connect with other lonely individuals in search of companionship?  If you feel so lost that you don’t even know what you care about JUST PICK SOMETHING:

  • Explore a bookstore, community center, church or social club.
  • Look  for volunteer opportunities.  Do something to help others.  These behaviors help you get involved with life again.
  • Try something new.  Novelty stimulates the mind, makes us feel happier, promotes energy.
  • Keep a journal.  Title it Lessons Learned. Fill it with important things you’ve learned about life and people.

Remind yourself that everyone must go through seasons of loss in life.  Like all seasons, this one will pass.  If  your tree looks bare and your heart feels icy cold, remember the pending warmth of spring.   Soon you’ll notice fresh buds of growth and the sweet promise of new love.

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