How to Get Over a Bad Breakup

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Breakups can be hard, some more so than others. A bad breakup can be very painful and elicit an intense emotional response, which can include feelings of rejection, betrayal, uncertainty about the future, and loss of control, says David Klemanski, PsyD, MPH, a psychologist at Yale Medicine. 

The emotions you experience and the intensity of your response can depend on several factors, such as how long you were with your partner, how serious the relationship was, and the circumstances of the breakup, among others.

This article explores the effects of a breakup on your mental health and suggests some strategies to help you get over a bad breakup.

Impact of a Bad Breakup

“Breakups can impact mental health in myriad ways, especially depending on how the breakup occurred,” says Klemanski. Below are some of the effects of a bad breakup on your mental health.

Stress

Breakups, particularly if they’re unexpected, can cause a stress response due to a surge of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones send your body into fight-or-flight mode, which is a constant state of high alert, where your body is prepared to protect itself.

Acute or prolonged stress can lead to physical and mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, heart disease, and diabetes, among others.

Grief and Depression

Breakups can also cause us to feel like we are grieving or depressed. This can be situational in the sense that it may occur for a few weeks, or it may last much longer and signify that a person is having a hard time adjusting to the breakup or possibly even developing depression.

For those who might already be dealing with mental health difficulties, a breakup could exacerbate those symptoms.

Negative Emotions and Behaviors

The effects of a breakup will depend, of course, on the circumstances and one’s own individual reactions, but it can lead to unexpected and intense emotions that one is not used to experiencing or managing.

Some people might let those emotions guide their behavior. For instance, they may withdraw and isolate themselves from others, eat too much or too little when they feel sad, not sleep or sleep too much, or not keep up with work.

David Klemanski, PsyD, MPH

Breakups, especially bad ones, might require us to learn new ways of coping so that our emotions don’t control us.

— David Klemanski, PsyD, MPH

How to Get Over a Bad Breakup

Klemanski suggests some strategies to help you get over a bad breakup and move on:

  • Seek support: Seek support from trusted friends and family, particularly those who have been through something similar. Social support can buffer some of the negative effects of a breakup. It can help reduce the time you spend alone, feeling miserable. Instead, you will be around others who can offer advice, perspective, or ways to cultivate or increase positive emotions amidst a sea of negative ones.
  • Reframe the situation: Breakups can be painful and it can be hard to imagine a future without that pain, but it can be helpful to recognize and acknowledge that you will eventually feel better. Also, when you’re in the proper mental space, it’s important to think about the ways that you grew from the relationship and try to view the breakup as a lesson.
  • Maintain distance from your ex: Strategically give yourself and your ex some space from one another.
  • Don’t avoid negative emotions: While you don’t need to welcome negative emotions all of the time, you also shouldn’t avoid them all of the time. Suppressing emotions, whether it's anger, frustration, betrayal, grief, or sadness, can lead to physical stress on the body. Allowing yourself to be present with your emotions, even for short bursts, can help you process them and work through them so that you can skillfully manage them, instead of letting the emotions manage you.

Thoughts and Behaviors to Avoid

Klemanski also lists some negative behaviors and patterns to avoid on your journey of getting over a bad breakup:

  • Self-blaming, or taking on the full burden of the breakup when that likely isn’t warranted
  • Not asking for help from others for emotional support, to talk things through, or even to get some time away from your own thought processes
  • Self-medicating with too much alcohol, medication, or drugs
  • Isolating, withdrawing, or avoiding others
  • Not taking care of yourself (e.g., not eating or eating too little, over- or under-prioritizing sleep, not performing basic self-care, etc.)
  • Swearing off dating or maintaining an unhealthy perspective about future dating and relationship possibilities
  • Not being open to learning about the experience

A Word From Verywell

Going through a bad breakup can take a toll on your mental and physical health, leading to stress, anxiety, depression, grief, and negative emotions and behaviors.

It’s important to reach out to friends and family for advice and support as well as to process your emotions and learn from the experience. If you are not able to get over the loss of your relationship, you can reach out to a mental healthcare provider for help.

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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Five things you should know about stress.