How To Handle A Breakup: Healthy Ways To Move On

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There are many reasons that one or both people might decide to end a romantic relationship, from differing life goals to a dysfunctional dynamic to simply growing apart. Whether you initiate the breakup or your partner does, coping with the aftermath of a breakup can be challenging. After all, this person likely was likely involved in your daily life for however long you were together, so parting ways often represents a significant life change. Plus, many breakups are characterized by conflict, distance, or other factors that can exacerbate the pain. Whatever the situation may be, you can read on to find some tips on healthy ways to work through a breakup and move forward.

Are you having trouble moving on after a relationship?

Difficult emotions in the wake of a breakup

After you’ve found the answer to, “How should I break up with her / him / them?” or have been on the receiving end of a breakup, you’re likely to feel a variety of difficult and even conflicting emotions. You might experience sadness, confusion, frustration, shock, anger, relief, guilt, or other emotions that can result in distress.

Research suggests that the pain of rejection activates the same parts of the brain as physical pain does, so it’s not unusual for people to experience an emotional low point after a relationship ends.

Even if you initiated the split, you may still feel the hurt often associated with two peoples’ paths diverging. Simply being aware of this fact may help you validate your own feelings rather than judging or trying to change them, and that’s often a good place to start on the road to healing.

Tips for healing from a breakup

There’s no one answer to the question of how long to get over a breakup, since it can vary widely by individual and by situation. Though the timeline can vary, the method is often similar. In other words, there are certain healthy coping mechanisms that have been shown to help many people through this type of situation. If you’re looking for relief as you navigate a breakup in your life, you might try some of the strategies below. Remember that patience and gentleness with yourself are often key as you move through this time.

Set healthy boundaries

Deciding on and then communicating boundaries that are healthy for you after a breakup may support your recovery. First, you might choose to set boundaries with friends or family who want to know the details of the split. If you’re not ready or willing to share them, you can communicate this gently but firmly. Second, you might also choose to set limits on communication with your ex-partner. Many people choose to implement a “no-contact” policy with their ex, whether it’s for a month, six months, or even for the foreseeable future. Or, if you still have to see them regularly—such as at work or school—you might offer up parameters to guide your interactions, such as no hugs or physical affection, no non-work or non-school conversation, etc. 

Journal about your feelings

Recent research indicates that writing about your feelings after a breakup may have positive effects because it helps the writer engage in cognitive processing. In other words, writing about your feelings encourages you to become aware of and maybe even examine them, which is often the first step toward processing and working through them. 

Getty

The study referenced above also indicates that although some people may at first use journaling as an opportunity to vent, it can be more helpful to use it to focus on the positives of the situation. This may not be possible to do right away when your feelings are still fresh. However, the study reports that “positive reinterpretation of the break-up experience” through written reflection is more likely to lead to positive breakup outcomes than venting, so it could be something you might try engaging in after some time has passed. 

Take care of yourself

When going through an emotionally difficult period, it can feel challenging to maintain healthy routines; however, engaging in these habits may actually help you recover. Creating or sticking to a physical exercise routine, for example, can help boost your mood because it’s associated with the release of endorphins and other feel-good brain chemicals.

Eating well could also help you feel better emotionally. A 2019 review of research on the topic suggests that a diet that’s rich in nutritious foods like fresh fruits and vegetables may be associated with “psychological benefits following stressful periods'' like breakups. Remember that it’s typically recommended that you consult your doctor or nutritionist before making significant changes to your eating habits.

Mix up your routine

Many couples fall into routines together, meaning they become likely to engage in the same activities and spend time with the same people regularly. A breakup can represent an opportunity to diversify your life after being in a routine with someone, and there can be benefits to seizing it. For example, it could be valuable to try joining clubs, picking up hobbies, volunteering, or otherwise getting exposure to new activities and new people after a breakup. Experiences like these could potentially increase your self-esteem, expand your social support network, allow you to discover new sides of yourself, and help you find joy after the often-difficult and draining experience of a breakup.

Reach out for support

Finally, leaning on your social support network can also be helpful during this time. As reflected in a 2022 study, having adequate social support may help increase our levels of resilience during stressful situations. Family, friends, and community members can offer their time, care, encouragement, and a listening ear, all of which can be helpful to an individual who is trying to get back on their feet emotionally after experiencing the end of a relationship. If you don’t have a strong social support network, putting yourself out there to meet people and try new things as described above may help you form new connections.

Finally, seeking the support of a therapist is something that many people also choose to do after a breakup. A qualified mental health professional can provide you with a safe, nonjudgmental space in which to express and process your feelings about your past relationship. Since research suggests that reflecting on a breakup may aid in emotional recovery, sessions with a therapist can be especially valuable in this way. If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety after a breakup, they can also help you address these.

In-person therapy sessions are not a convenient or affordable option for everyone. That’s why an increasing number of people are turning to online therapy. You can log on to these sessions from anywhere you have an internet connection, and the costs are generally lower than for in-person care since providers have less overhead to pay for. If you’re interested in exploring online therapy, you might consider a platform like BetterHelp. You can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing from the comfort of your own space. Research suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-person sessions in many cases, so you can feel confident in choosing whichever format that feels best for you.

Getty
Are you having trouble moving on after a relationship?

Takeaway

Going through a breakup can be difficult, regardless of how long you were together or who initiated it. Setting boundaries, taking care of yourself physically, journaling, and leaning on loved ones can all help you move through this challenging time. If you find yourself looking for another outlet or needing support in addressing related symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, you might consider meeting with a therapist as well.

Build healthy relationship habits with a professional

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started