Coping with Depression After a Breakup
Breakups can be incredibly difficult to deal with, leaving us feeling lost, hurt, and alone.
The end of a relationship can be a traumatic experience, and the process of recovery can take time and effort. Sometimes the period of recovery can be longer than expected, triggering anxiety or depression which can hard to shake off.
Healing is certainly possible, and there are pathways towards easing the pain and moving forward. In this article, we’ll explore some of the strategies for overcoming depression after a breakup.
How does a breakup cause depression?
Relationships give us a sense of safety and belonging. We get used to having someone close by to reach out to when we’re in need.
So when that person is suddenly not there, the feeling of being on your own can be devastating.
Romantic partnerships are complicated, and a breakup can have an impact on many levels. Your partner may have been taking on more roles than you were previously aware of. Perhaps helping you to organise your social life. Or helping with finances, or giving you support when you’re feeling low.
If you were prone to depression or low self esteem before entering a relationship, you might have found it disappearing once in one. While you can certainly grow in a healthy relationship, there’s also the possibility your partner was compensating for your low self esteem by providing a sense of validation.
When this happens, once you’re on your own again, you’re left to cope with those difficult feelings of not being good enough. This can cause a collapse into depression, which needs to be worked through before you’re ready to enter into your next healthy relationship.
Mourning a breakup
But it’s important to remember that mentally healthy individuals can be prone to depression after a breakup as well. A breakup is a loss, just like a bereavement or losing a job.
You might find yourself living on your own again, or cut off from your ex’s family, who once felt like your own. You might lose mutual friends, and feel desperately lonely, visualising a bleak future ahead.
Your world has changed, and you’ll have to go through a period of adjustment, coming to terms with your new situation. As you experience different emotions, it’s good to allow yourself to feel them.
The process is different for everyone, but you might feel a numbness from the initial shock, or a sense of denial, perhaps anger, and sadness around the loss.
Symptoms of depression after a breakup
Many people fully recover from a breakup over weeks or months, but sometimes the feelings of sadness just don’t go away. They might be accompanied by other symptoms that we associate with depression, such as feeling teary a lot for no reason, or losing interest in things you once found exciting.
There can be physical symptoms too – a lack of energy, moving and speaking slowly, and developing annoying aches and pains in your body.
“When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.”Elizabeth Gilbert
8 Tips for Coping with Depression after a Breakup
If you think you’re suffering from depression after a breakup, I suggest reading through the following tips, and think about which ones might apply to you.
1. Feel your feelings
Give yourself permission to allow all the feelings which come to you after a breakup. There can be so many – shock, numbness, anger, sadness, loneliness and more.
Feelings come in waves, sometimes when you least expect them. It’s natural to want to suppress some of those feelings, they can feel really uncomfortable, and pop up at inappropriate times.
Whenever you notice you’re avoiding your feelings, spend time alone to really be with yourself. Ask yourself where you experience the feelings in your body. Connect with that part of your body, and let go into the feelings. Stay with them until they pass – this is how you can process your grief.
2. Develop your ex’s best qualities in yourself
The qualities we find attractive in a partner are often dormant qualities we have in ourselves. Make a list of the qualities you admire in your ex, and consider how you might be able to develop them in yourself.
Many of these qualities might seem unattainable at first, but think about those first steps you could take to make yourself more complete and independent.
If you need more confidence, you could enrol in a workshop. Or if you want to take control of your finances, look at a beginners course in accounting. You’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll be able to develop qualities that only seemed possible for others.
3. Revisit your old interests
All relationships involves a degree of compromise to work well. But now that you’re single, you don’t have to make any compromises – take a look at what you might have been neglecting.
Are there things you used to do that you’ve put on hold? Or things you’d like to try but couldn’t because your partner wouldn’t have approved? Maybe you’d like to visit more art galleries, dress up for theatrical nights out, or turn your kitchen into an art studio.
Sometimes we use relationships to stop us from doing things we’d really love to do. It can be easier to blame someone, and imagine that it’s them stopping us, when really we’re just too scared.
This could be a good time to explore some of the interests you may have been holding yourself back from.
4. Educate yourself about psychology
Use the breakup as an opportunity to learn about yourself.
There’s many self help books on relationships and psychology which can guide you through the process of a breakup. With your new self knowledge. you’ll find yourself better prepared for any other losses you encounter in the future.
You can also learn how successful relationships work. The importance of being honest, and how to ask for what you want, while also being supportive. You can also learn about the work you need to do on yourself to attract the sort of partner you’d like into your life.
5. Put a self care routine into practice
It can be tempting to keep yourself busy with anything that takes your mind off the breakup. This is fine, as long as you also put together a self care routine to aid the healing process.
If you’re not already exercising, this is a great time to start. Take it gently with walks around the park, or try a beginners’ yoga or pilates class. Your yoga centre might offer group meditation sessions, or you could book a short course in mindfulness.
Aim for doing something emotionally or spiritually nourishing everyday. It should preferably involve leaving the house, to make sure you’re maintaining a healthy connection with the outside world.
Make sure you get enough regular good quality sleep. That might mean learning about sleep hygiene, or using an app to help you relax before bedtime.
Take extra care to eat foods which are good for you. We all have our own requirements, but it’s always a good idea to avoid fast foods or anything over-processed.
6. Write your breakup story out
It can be helpful to write down the story of your relationship, from the perspective of an outsider. How you met, what attracted you to each other. What went well, the good times, and what didn’t work and led to the breakup.
Looking from an outside perspective can give you some distance, so you can examine your role more clearly. You’ll see where things went wrong, and what you might need to work on before your next relationship.
It’s an opportunity to see yourself more objectively, how you relate to others, the type of people you attract, and how you behave in a relationship.
7. Maintain healthy boundaries
Once you or your ex has made the final decision that you’re no longer together, make sure you stick to it.
It’s always tempting to ease the pain by arranging little meet ups, texting late at night or sending messages. But this will just prolong the breakup, and hinder the natural grieving processing.
The healthiest option is to go ‘no contact’ with your ex. It’s a case of maintaining healthy boundaries which might seem cold and abrupt, but it makes sense for the long term.
8. Talk about your breakup
Sharing your feelings with someone who’s good at listening can be one of the most cathartic processes in the aftermath of a breakup. Just having your story heard, without looking for answers, is deeply healing in itself.
Reach out to someone you can trust, and ask them if you can talk to them about the breakup. If there’s no one around, book some time with a therapist or a counsellor, as they’ll be trained to listen empathically, and help you process your grief.
“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”Joseph Campbell
Grief vs Depression after a breakup
The symptoms of grief and depression are similar, and when talking of ‘mild depression’ both terms can sometimes refer to the same thing. But there’s a distinct difference between grief and clinical depression, which must be diagnosed by a doctor.
Grief is a natural response to a loss. You might find yourself overcome by a wave of longing when someone mentions a place you used to go to with your ex, or if an unexpected memory surfaces.
Grief can affect your mental state, your emotions, your body and your behaviour. It gets better over time, and tends to be triggered by memories or associations with the loss.
Depression is a more pervasive state which lasts much longer than grief. Many of the symptoms are similar, but they’re not necessarily tied to memories or associations with the loss. Instead of longing to see your ex, you might not want to see anybody.
You might feel worthless all of the time, and have a sense that there’s nothing you could do to make things better. You might start developing morbid thinking about suicide or self harming. This is when it’s time to speak to a mental health professional or your doctor or GP.
Read more about depression therapy here.
If you think you have depression after a breakup, you can either visit your doctor, or a qualified mental health professional such as a therapist or counsellor. It can be difficult seeking help, especially when you’re in the throes of a deep depression.
But it’s important to make that first step.
Whether you’ve left a long term marriage, an intense affair, or a long distance relationship has come to an end, just book an appointment and present yourself. Therapists are trained to work with people who don’t know where to start, or are feeling overwhelmed by what they’re going through. They’ll listen to your story with compassion and support you through your depression.