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Dealing With A Breakup: 7 Healthy Ways To Cope With Post-Split Stress

06/15/2013 11:01 am ET
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Whether the relationship lasted three weeks or three years, breakups can leave us feeling heartbroken, lost and even physically ill. While there's no magic formula to do away with the pain of a split, having healthy coping mechanisms in place is essential to getting over your ex and moving on with strength and grace.

Ending a relationship has very real effects on the mind and body: A 2010 Northwestern study found that breakups cloud our sense of self -- and the more serious things were with your ex, the more of an identity crisis you're likely to experience.

"Even if the relationship wasn't great, you're still starting at ground zero," Sheri Meyers, marriage therapist and author of "Chatting or Cheating" told the Hufington Post. "The first thing you need to anticipate, no matter where you are in the process, is that there is a grieving [period]. There is a sense of abandonment, there is a sense of terror about the future, there is disappointment... There is a process of going from we back to me."

Treating yourself well during the post-breakup period -- whether you initiated the split or were on the receiving end -- is a must. While it's true that time heals all emotional wounds, you can speed up the process of moving on by taking control over your health and well-being.

To help you on your way, we've rounded up seven simple, expert-approved strategies for coping with breakup stress:

1. Write Or Talk It Out.

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Although suppressing unpleasant feelings is a natural impulse, avoiding your emotions will ultimately prevent you from moving past them. There are so many emotions involved in a breakup -- anger, sadness, loneliness, feelings of rejection and uncertainty about the future -- and it's essential to confront them head-on. Particularly in the early stages of a breakup, try let yourself feel what you feel, without judgment. Writing out your thoughts in a journal, having a good cry, or talking to a therapist can help you process and gain the clarity you need to see why the relationship didn't work -- and why you'll be better off without your former partner.

"You've gotta feel," says Meyers. "If you feel like crying, cry. If you're pushing your feelings down, they're just going to make you calloused or afraid."

2. Take Care Of Your Body.

Going on a "breakup diet" may sound like a good idea -- we often think of looking our best as a way to get revenge on an ex -- but it can easily become a way to punish yourself, reinforcing feelings of rejection. (Not to mention encouraging you to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.) Instead of restricting calories, eat nourishing whole foods that are high in fiber, protein and nutrients to boost your mood and energy. A balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits, greens and stress-busting superfoods can help counteract the physiological stress of the breakup, says Meyers.

Another important thing, Meyers notes, is to avoid mindless eating and try not to turn food as a coping mechanism. Don't worry about indulging a little, but try not to keep too much junk food around, as foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt can actually contribute to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

3. Get Active (But Don't Over-Exercise)

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Getting your endorphins pumping through cardio exercise is often prescribed as a way to get over a breakup, and for good reason: Going for a run or hitting the elliptical can lower your stress levels, improve cognitive functioning and boost your mood -- in addition to providing a healthy distraction from your worries. Even if exercising is the last thing you want to do, the act of simply getting out of your head and focusing your awareness on your body can be helpful.

"After a breakup, we tend to want to sit and cuddle and huddle and cry, and talk to our girlfriends and feel bad about ourselves," says Meyers. "So getting out and moving is really essential because it's almost the opposite of what we feel like doing, which is shutting down and feeling sorry for ourselves."

But be wary of over-exercising: Like over-eating or excessively dieting, exercise can become a compulsive behavior. Get active in a way that you enjoy and that doesn't feel like a punishment, whether it's early-morning jogs in the park, zumba or hot yoga -- all the better when accompanied by friends.

4. Remind Yourself Of All The Great Things In Your Life.

"It's so easy to see the loss as everything, and then it starts overwhelming the good in all of your life," says Meyers.

Painful breakups can cloud your thinking so that it's almost impossible to look beyond the immediate feelings of pain and loss. You may have trouble remembering all the things you appreciate because you're so focused on the negative. Practicing gratitude can help to even out your moods and get you get back into a more positive headspace. Studies have shown that listing things you're thankful for can boost your well-being and brighten your outlook on life.

Meyers suggests keeping a gratitude journal to help turn your attention to the positive. You may initially have to force yourself to think of things you're grateful for, but as you repeat the process, the bad won't feel so all-consuming anymore. (And you might find yourself feeling thankful that you no longer have to deal with your ex's bad habits!)

5. Do Things YOU Love.

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After a bad breakup, it's hard to get excited about the things you loved pre-split -- but the only way to start enjoying yourself again is to force yourself to get out and do them anyway. Treat yourself to something that make you feel good, whether it's a cup of coffee with a friend or a massage. Self-care is essential to the healing process, and doing things that make you smile can help you heal, says Meyers.

Try going to the movies to check out a new comedy or inviting your friends over to marathon-watch "Arrested Development": Laughing has been shown to boost mood and improve overall health, and the support of your friends will help ease feelings of loneliness and isolation.

"Laughter helps us speed up healing, both emotionally and physically," says Meyers.

6. Try An 'Obsession Diet.'

Obsessing is a natural reaction to the end of a relationship -- but only for so long. Most of us have had to deal with a friend who can't talk about anything but her ex for months after the breakup, and it's not pretty. You don't want to get to the point where your BFFs have to stage a friend-tervention to get you off the couch and out into the single world. To push yourself past the "constant agonizing" stage, Meyers recommends putting yourself on an "obsession diet" (not to be confused with the aforementioned, and unadvisable, breakup diet). For five minutes per hour, she explains, you can obsess, write and indulge in self-pity all you want.

"But when the timer goes off -- enough," she says. "You have to wait for the next hour."

The next day, reduce the time to four minutes, then three minutes, and so on.

"It's giving yourself permission," says Meyers. "If you're trying to break the habit of thinking about your partner, giving yourself five minutes a day helps you to realize that you can control your thinking. It's a way to channel the urge and also feel the sense of control."

7. Give Back

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Performing acts of kindness towards others has been shown to improve well-being and help relieve depression. Giving back can be a powerful way to "rechannel the love," as Meyers puts it, that was previously funneled into the relationship.

"Do something where you are helping others, because that gives you a sense of empowerment and it's also opening your heart," she says.

What are your best post-breakup tips? Let us know in the comments or tweet @HuffPostWomen.

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