How to get over a breakup (the scientific way)
Once you’ve listened to all the albums recommended by your best friend, eaten all the ice cream flavors ordered by your older sister and burned all the photos and mementos of your former love in accordance with the ritual provided by your strange aunt, maybe it’s time to see what science has to say on the matter. In this article, we offer some breakup advice that is grounded in the scientific method.
In the past few decades, science has developed a growing picture of the kind of neurochemistry that goes into a breakup, with comparisons being made to drug withdrawal. However, a recent study from the University of Missouri-St Louis has gone a step further and put a number of coping strategies to the test to see if they can provide some science-based methods for getting over a breakup.
The study looked at three main strategies for getting over that certain someone. Participants were asked to follow one of each of the strategies and then underwent an EEG brain scan while looking at a picture of their ex to see if there was a marked difference in their neurochemical state.
1. Negative inventory strategy
The first strategy tested aims at stripping away the rose-tinted glasses completely by doing an inventory of all the ex-partners worst aspects. So, for instance, focusing on their annoying habits or recalling every time they missed something important.
2. Acceptance strategy
The second strategy utilized statements and mantras in order to integrate the emotions and feelings experienced post-breakup in a healthy and natural way, statements such as ‘it is okay to love someone I am no longer with’.The idea is to accept one's emotional state as something that must happen and thereby reduce negative feelings by eliminating unhelpful feelings of guilt or judgement.
3. Distraction strategy
The third strategy involved the use of distraction, whereby participants were asked to focus their mind on something positive and unrelated, such as a favorite film or hobby.
After the scan, participants using the negative inventory strategy showed a reduction in feelings of love for their ex, though they reported an overall increase in negative feelings in the short term. This would indicate that this strategy is a good long-term aid, but you might not want to give it a go on a day that is already going badly!
Participants using the distraction strategy did elevate mood levels, but did not seem to reduce feelings of love in the long term. This would suggest it is a good band aid solution for one of those really tough days.
Participants using the acceptance strategy to reconcile their feelings through the use of statements and mantras did not feel less love for their ex or an elevation in mood, but did show a reduction in their emotional reaction to their partner's photo.
One way to look at the results of this study is not in terms of which strategy is the best, but rather as a different kind of tool that can help you through the worst of it in different ways.
There are several different kinds of natural ingredients that science has shown can have a positive effect on your mood during a breakup. For instance, Turmeric is a great addition to your diet when you are feeling down. Studies have shown that an active ingredient of turmeric, curcumin, can help to reduce inflammation which has been consistently linked to depression. A 2012 study of 64 participants published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine showed that Ashwagandha also has a dramatic effect on cortisol (often term the stress hormone) levels in the body. This makes it a worthy ally in the fight against breakup stress.
In general, anyone going through a breakup should aim to maintain a healthy diet filled with a balanced blend of fruits and veggies. Breakup stress can lead to weight loss due to loss of appetite, so it’s important to keep an eye on your intake of vital nutrients.
The ‘rebound relationship’ is a common occurrence in the aftermath or a particularly intense breakup. This is because the disruption of our brain chemistry that is caused by a breakup can result in very real pain, which can be relieved by finding someone who activates or stimulates our neurostructure in a similar way. In other words, a new love interest or sexual partner can indeed help to relieve the pain of it all. However, caution should be taken as the desire to relieve pain can affect judgement-- so think twice about your motivations before entering into a new relationship.
It sounds incredibly cliché, but the science is irrefutable when it comes to the ability of time to get you back to your old self. In many ways, love resembles the neurochemistry and physiology of a drug addiction. As time passes, however, the body and mind return to their normal state. In the meantime, you can try to apply some of the solutions given above while avoiding some of the old traps of excessive consumption of alcohol and junk food, which can exacerbate feelings of depression rather than reducing them.
While the physiology and neurochemistry underlying breakup stress is similar in all humans, this is not to say that there is any such that as a 'normal' or 'standard' breakup. Each person's process and experience will be different and you should always aim to give yourself the time, space and leeway to get through yours in the best and most healthy way possible.
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Chandrasekhar, K et al. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study Of Safety And Efficacy Of A High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract Of Ashwagandha Root In Reducing Stress And Anxiety In Adults. 2019.