Healthy, meaningful relationships can be wonderful, but as most of us know, it can devastate us if/when they end. But here’s a handy secret: you can actually use science to get over a breakup…
Symptoms heartbreak can include loss of appetite, insomnia, weight loss, an extra dose of sadness, loss of interest in things that one would normally love doing, crying, frustration, anger and even depression and suicide. Such symptoms can negatively impact both your mental and physical health. All of us wish we could get over breakups at a breakneck pace. But the time it takes one to feel ‘normal’ again depends on the person and the circumstances surrounding the breakup. Having said that, there are some scientifically proven strategies that can help expedite the healing process.
(Spoiler: It is not ice cream and chocolate!)
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Dr. Helen E. Fisher is another scholar who approaches love and relationships with a scientific perspective. A renowned anthropologist, Fisher concludes something we probably all suspected: “Romantic love is an addiction.” She goes on to say, “When you’ve been rejected in love, you have lost life’s greatest prize, which is a mating partner.” This is how your brain sees it, anyway. She also contends that after a breakup, “This brain system becomes activated, probably to help you try to win this person back so you focus on them and crave them and try to get them back.”
So if you treat post-breakup feelings of love as an addiction rather than romanticizing the whole affair, you can wean yourself off the other person a whole lot quicker! However, this begs the question, how do we wean ourselves off the addictive drug that is love?
A recent scientific study looked at three strategies for helping people move on after a breakup. They studied individuals who were in long-term relationships prior to their breakup. They tested how these strategies changed “love feelings” for, and the amount of time spent ruminating on, one’s ex. From that study came the following suggestions getting over someone:
- Re-appraise your ex negatively. Here you forget those lovey-dovey feelings. Instead, focus on all his/her annoying habits. Perhaps they left their socks on during sex?
- Re-appraise your feelings of love for your ex. Accept that this how you feel and are going to feel for a while.
- Distract, distract, distract. Here you re-focus your mind on something else. Something you love, something creative, or perhaps a sport/fitness activity in which you can immerse yourself.
In the study, participants who were suffering from a breakup performed the above strategies. Afterwards, they were shown a picture of their ex while recording their brain activity. The researchers discovered the following:
- Negative reappraisal decreased love feelings but made the participant feel more unpleasant.
- Re-appraisal of feelings of love did not change how in love participants felt.
- Participants felt better with a distraction but it did not change their love feelings for their ex.
All three strategies decreased a participant’s motivated attention for their ex. The research article suggests this is helpful in dealing with memories of an ex; memories you might get stuck on or can’t seem to forget.
So overall, if you want to decrease your love feelings for your ex, negative reappraisal seems like the way to go. But if you’re the sort of person who prefers to move on in a more positive manner, distracting yourself, while increasing how good YOU feel after the break-up, can be an effective plan. So perhaps take your mind off your ex by learning to box or taking a weekly class? That way you can focus on all those feelings of personal achievement, rather than ruminating on your former flame.
When it comes to breakups, it doesn’t take a miracle to move on. Instead, let science be your saviour.