PositivelyBeautiful: How to heal a broken heart
Valentine’s Day is long gone – how do you feel? Kudos for you and your sweetheart if this special day was an authentic expression of your love. For many it’s a commercial holiday, with forced expectations, overpriced gifts and crowded restaurants.
And for those recovering from a failed relationship, it might even feel like torture. Recent studies suggest that romantic rejection can cause physical pain in a way that no other negative emotion — not even anger or fear — can.
I remember the first time I had my heart broken when I was a surgical resident in Seattle. He was my first long-time boyfriend, and we were together for almost four years. We went on ski trips, made nice dinners, talked about surgery cases and, in general, had fun.
I couldn’t see myself marrying him. But I had no thoughts of ending the relationship. He thought otherwise, and I got a brief phone call and that was it. I had been dumped for the fresh-faced OR receptionist, whose 8-hour shifts allowed frequent make-up applications and regular sleep. I could understand that. It was my time in life to struggle through complicated surgeries and shifts that could last for days. A shower was sometimes a luxury not attained, and stress did not always agree with me.
But I was blind-sided. My entire body felt numb for weeks, except for my heart, which felt like it was continually dipped in acid. I was embarrassed and felt like such a loser. Somehow, I made it through the next few days, weeks and months.
I saved for a down payment and found a tiny little house. With the help of a co-sign by Mom and Dad, I moved in and forgot some of my worries by painting and ripping out carpet. I created a vegetable garden with brick pathways and tended 25 David Austin rose bushes. Yet it was years before I fell in love again. I lacked the emotional skills to recover and move on.
Perhaps Bess Myerson said it best: “to fall in love is awfully simple, but to fall out of love is simply awful.”
Here’s what the experts suggest:
1. Go through it, not around it. Therese Borchard, author of Beyond Blue and writer for Psychology Central recommends facing your pain head-on. She says “A person with a broken heart is to stand still and feel the crack.” If you avoid the grief, it will take longer to heal. Take stock of where you are emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally and financially. Your rock bottom will become your springboard.
2. Find things to be grateful for. This may be hard when you are heartbroken, but all those little cracks let the light and gratitude and love in. Vishnu of Tiny Buddha writes “The light is the love already within you. The good news is that you can access the light again by cultivating gratitude and love for yourself. When you see ice blocks of pain, let the light’s heat melt them. Imagine love melting the void.” Slow down for long walks, appreciating the little things, and focus on friendships and self-care.
3. Tap into your spiritual side. Connect with your higher power through nature, meditation or prayer. Anjelica Smilovitis suggests “Get in touch with the inner self and listen to the words that come to you. Seek peace, joy, healing and strength through this time and you can receive it.” My personal mantra was “Jesus, I trust in you.”
4. Focus on your strengths. Write a list of all the strong and impressive things you’ve been capable of over the years. And keep a file with all the wonderful cards and letters you’ve received from friends and family that remind you of other’s high regard of you.
5. Volunteer. It gets you out of your own head and focusing on making someone else’s life better.
6. Laugh. Many studies report that humor can be healing. Laughter releases all kinds of feel good hormones.
7. Cry. Tears help release toxins and also some hormones with helpful properties.
8. Exercise helps work out your grief. The punching bags at Nine Rounds might be especially helpful! Try running, swimming, or dancing. Even a gentle walk helps release feel good hormones like serotonin.
9. Surround yourself with people who will allow you to be you, suggests Smilovitis. Talk to people about what you are going through. It’s what friends and family are for – to help each other out. Do some fun things with friends and groups of people. She writes “It really showed me how I am not alone and I can have fun without a partner.”
Broken hearts can be healed, and most people feel that they come through wiser, and stronger and more themselves that ever before.
Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at email@example.com.