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Heartbreak and Healthy Coping Habits: Ways to Avoid Substances to Deal with Grief

Overcoming the end of a relationship can be one of the most challenging experiences we ever face. Those who have gone through this kind of grief know it can be one of the most painful emotional processes in our lives. These powerful emotions can often be felt physically, like a deep, throbbing pain in the chest, which some people say feels like their heart is being torn in two. Many people struggle with finding healthy coping techniques after a breakup. This guide offers strategies for working through your grief in healthier ways. Bear in mind that you probably won’t stop feeling the pain of the loss right away, but you will be able to look ahead through the grieving process and stay focused and motivated on the brighter days that come after the storm. Some helpful tips include:

  • Accepting your emotions
  • Talking about your feelings
  • Avoiding trying to be friends with your ex
  • Starting a journal
  • Making self-care a priority
  • Focusing on the benefits of being single
  • Giving in to some indulgences
  • Avoiding trying to get revenge
  • Staying confident


Accept Your Emotions

A breakup often feels like a roller coaster of sadness, anger, confusion, fear, and regret. Trying to suppress these uncomfortable emotions will only exacerbate your heartache, and potentially get you stuck in a cycle of negativity and sadness. The best way to cope is to try to identify these feelings and allow yourself to experience them. As uncomfortable as that may be, your situation will be worse if you try to deny or avoid the pain of loss, especially by turning to alcohol or substances to dull the ache. Remember, it may seem right now that there is no end in sight, but these feelings will lessen over time. One way to move in that direction is to talk about how you feel with trusted friends and family.

Talking About Your Feelings

Sharing how you feel is another powerful way to manage your emotions. Talking through your feelings with compassionate friends can reveal new insights, perspectives, and understandings — about ourselves, the ex and the relationship. New insights can help relieve some of the pain. At times, holding it in is necessary, such as in public, but don’t let that turn into isolation or withdrawal.

Don’t Try To Be Friends Too Soon — or even at all

No matter how close you were, your ex is not your best friend. He or she is not the best support person to rely on as you work through your complex emotions after a breakup. You may be tempted to call them and talk through your emotions because that’s who you were used to relying on. But it is a lot harder to get over a romantic relationship if you try to maintain a friendship. You aren’t working through any of the emotions or moving past the relationship by continuing to see or communicate with your ex-partner. If you try to do this, you will eventually realize that your focus is on the other person or the relationship, and not on your healing.

Start A Journal

Psychological research shows that journaling stressful events help you come to terms with the emotions involved with them. Keeping a journal of your journey through the breakup can often give you insights about moving past it. Journaling can help you realize that many dating relationships will eventually end, and allow you to focus on the lessons you can learn from this particular type of ending. When you feel devastated, write about the benefits of this relationship ending. You can even use journaling to analyze the way you are handling your emotions. For example, if you have a drunken night out or feel like you are relying too much on substances to work through the pain, you can write about how this makes you feel and come up with other ways to work through your emotions instead of relying on alcohol or drugs.

Make Self-Care A Priority

You might be tempted to spend a week in bed watching movies and eating ice cream, or every night at the bar drowning your heartache in pint after pint. But the last thing that you want to do is give up on your self-care routines. Part of recovering means making sure your basic needs are being met, like eating, sleeping, showering, cleaning, working and maintaining responsibilities, while avoiding poor coping habits — like alcohol and other substances — that can get in the way of maintaining these routines. Even though you may feel so distraught that you aren’t hungry or tired, you should still push yourself to take care of these necessities. In fact, you may want to add a few more healthy self-care strategies. Start a fitness routine like going to the gym, attending group workout classes, running or biking. Exercise is known to release endorphins which can help you feel better emotionally and has also been shown to increase positive thinking and self-esteem.

Focus On The Benefits Of The Single Life

Although you may not have chosen to become single again, take time every day to recognize the benefits of being independent. Then, take advantage of at least one or two of them. You can:

  • Take care of one of the needs that you often put aside for your partner. For example, maybe you are a vegetarian, but your ex often ate meat. You can go to a new vegetarian restaurant or try out new recipes at home.
  • Enjoy an activity that you may have neglected while you were dating your ex. Hop on your bike and go for a ride, visit a friend that you may have lost contact with, or pick back up a hobby that you didn’t have time for in your relationship.
  • Compliment yourself on something that your ex used to be critical of.
  • Go out and enjoy places and events that your ex used to keep you from. Just remember if these places involve alcohol to be mindful of your emotional vulnerability, and not develop a habit of using alcohol to avoid dealing with your pain.
  • Try something new! Take advantage of this time that you have to meet new people and explore new environments.

Go Ahead — Indulge A Little. Or A Lot!

Now is the time to be kind and compassionate to yourself. There is no harm in doing something to pamper yourself, like:

  • Getting a massage.
  • Getting a new haircut.
  • Taking a spa day.
  • Taking a trip to a place you’ve always wanted to visit.
  • Visiting an old friend who lives out of town.
  • Signing up for a class to work on developing skills that you’ve always wanted to have.
  • Taking a friend or a family member out to a nice, fancy dinner.

After a breakup, you might not be able to function at full tilt for a while — and that is normal. It is not unreasonable to give in to a few whims that will be joyful and distracting. However, make sure those are still healthy coping choices. Don’t overspend or over-consume to try to fill a void — you’ll only feel emptier.

Revenge Won’t Make You Feel Better

You’ve been broken up with, and you have a right to feel angry. Maybe your ex has already started dating again, helping you realize that you were harboring hope for a reunion. The idea might pop into your head to get revenge. It’s certainly a tempting thought, but in reality, another person’s pain will not make you feel better and may have unpredictable consequences. In all likelihood, you’ll wind up doing something mostly harmless that you’ll regret, but in some extreme cases, revenge could lead to criminal charges, especially if you damage their character or their property. Revenge often seems like a good idea when our inhibitions are lowered due to alcohol or other substances. Not only do we run the risk of becoming dependent on these substances to manage our pain, but we might engage in activities that we regret when we sober up — like acts of revenge. We wrongfully think that revenge can help us gain closure or control. In reality, retaliation only makes us feel worse. This can prolong the process of dealing with the breakup and can even propel us backward in all the progress we’ve made.

Remember — You Can Handle This!

It’s important after a breakup to remember that you were on your own before your ex entered your life, and you will make it on your own now that relationship has ended. You had your own life before the relationship and where a strong, capable person before you came to rely on your former partner to feel complete. You may not feel so confident at first, especially as you make your way through the grief of heartache and feelings of despair. Healthy coping skills can keep you strong against the temptation of unhealthy habits like using drugs or alcohol. The key to successfully moving through these emotions is to remember that you can stand on your own two feet — and you don’t need anyone else to hold you up.