11/30/2010 08:50 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Obsessing Over a Breakup? Here's How to Stop

A lot of people wonder how to start feeling better when they can't stop thinking about a relationship breakup or divorce. Some have even used the word "obsessed" to describe the way a divorce or breakup dominates their thoughts. Scientists who study the brain have found that different thoughts and feelings create specific chemical reactions in the brain, and that the more these reactions happen, the more the brain becomes wired to think and feel that way. In other words, if you obsess over the negative thoughts and feelings related to a heartbreak, they can literally take over your brain.

So how do you stop negative post-breakup thoughts and feelings from running your life? The key is striking a balance between proactively dealing with them and distracting yourself from them. The first is necessary because if you don't deal with the breakup of your relationship or marriage, it will likely find a home in the back of your mind and sit, stubbornly festering away.

Distracting yourself is crucial, as well. Let's go back to the brain for a minute: positive thoughts have their own chemical reactions, just like negative ones. That means that just as your brain can become wired to think negatively, it can become wired to think positively.

Now, let's talk about an action plan:

Dealing Proactively with Negative Thoughts and Feelings

If you find yourself simply thinking about aspects of the breakup that depress you, and those thoughts are running the same circles in your head, do something active with them -- write or talk them out. Write in a journal, on a message board, or send a letter to the BounceBack "MyEx Mailbox." Talk to a friend, family member, support group or therapist. The point is to do something with the thoughts rather than just thinking them.

Distracting Yourself from Negative Thoughts and Feelings

After you've given these thoughts and feelings some attention in the ways listed above, work on focusing on anything that distracts you in a positive way. Watch a funny TV show or movie; read a good book or a fun magazine; use guided meditation recordings; spend time with friends and talk about jobs, family or goals; make lists of things you want to accomplish that day, that week, that month or that year; take a brisk walk or go to a yoga class; clean out a closet. The key is to do something that will help you feel amused, relaxed, loved, energized or accomplished -- all of which will create positive chemistry in your brain.

If at the end of the day you find yourself alone with those sad thoughts and feelings again (which is likely), try simply accepting them. Remind yourself that you'd have to be superhuman to not feel sadness after a heartbreak. Congratulate yourself for making a real effort throughout the day to deal with and distract yourself from the sadness. Think about your support system. Remember that tomorrow is a new day.


Mary Darling Montero, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist in private practice in Santa Monica, Calif. She specializes in relationships, life transitions, trauma, depression and anxiety, and is certified to practice EMDR for trauma resolution. She is a contributing therapy expert for