A painful breakup can cause you to fall into depression. You miss your ex (even if you know the breakup is for the best), you're feeling miserable and crying often, or maybe you just feel numb and empty. You might be second-guessing yourself, feeling bad about yourself, having trouble concentrating at work, and can't sleep or eat normally. My first suggestion is to definitely seek professional help if it feels unmanageable -- most people who get help find relief from their symptoms. When you're ready, ease back into dating by considering the following:
1. The timing doesn't have to be perfect.
When you're depressed after a difficult breakup, it can be really hard to know when it is time to start dating again. On one hand, you need to give yourself time to heal -- you may not be in a great place to date the first days or weeks after an intense breakup and it's okay and completely normal not to want to date. Take some time to reflect on the relationship: What did you learn from it? What do you want to be different in your next relationship? Self-reflection can be helpful, but be aware that too much self-reflection can become ruminating -- going over the same problems or regrets over and over, which can keep you stuck in depression rather than moving forward. Next, recognize that you don't always have to be 100 percent over your ex in order to start dating again. Depression can make you feel helpless, so sometimes getting out and dating again helps you feel more in control of your life. Plus, meeting someone new can be really wonderful.
2. Strategize when planning.
Since you're more vulnerable to feeling rejected or upset if a date doesn't go well, make sure you plan activities with your friends after a date, and don't stake all of your happiness on the success of one date. Make dating a fun part of your life rather than the center of it.
3. Make an effort to focus on your date.
Depression can make you very aware of your own inner pain and suffering -- your focus becomes overly internal. This can make it hard to be truly interested in someone else. And yet to really connect with someone new, there has to be a willingness to learn about them. A good strategy is to stay engaged with your date by asking them questions, and making an effort to really listen when they answer. Not only will this help you connect with them, but it can improve your mood when you're actively engaged in a discussion.
4. Remind yourself that the future does hold possibility.
Depression can make your own future look bleak: It tricks you into believing the future doesn't hold promise for your love life, and keeps you hyper-focused on the negative side of things. You're much more prone to focusing on your own perceived negative qualities, and seeing things generally with more pessimism. While you certainly don't have to pretend that everything is roses, I suggest trying to identify things about yourself, about dating, or about your life that you do like, in order to help you reframe your mindset. Remind yourself of the good friends you have, celebrate when things go well at work, or call to mind past positive experiences you've had in dating. If it's hard to identify favorable things, enlist the help of a friend. Sometimes a friend or family member who knows you well can see the positive things in you and in your life that you may have trouble recognizing. In addition to this, plan things for yourself that help you anticipate and look forward to the future.
5. Remember to be kind to yourself.
Negative self-talk, like "I'm a failure" or "No one wants me" or "Things will never get better" can be so defeating, and you can start to believe all of the negative things about yourself and your dating prospects. So pay attention to these thought patterns. When you notice a negative thought, label it "that's a negative thought" or "that's a depressed thought," and gently let it go.
6. When you're depressed, there's a tendency to excessively seek reassurance when entering a new relationship.
Excessive reassurance seeking means that you are looking to your date to boost your self-esteem by confirming that you're worthy and lovable. You look for signs that the person truly likes you, and then even when you receive those signs, you may question them. How much does the person really like you? Are they really going to stick around? You may repeatedly ask for confirmation of how much they really care for you or look for ways they can prove they care. This type of behavior can be overwhelming and a turn-off to potential partners if you're constantly questioning how they feel about you.
Instead, gently remind yourself that your depressed mood can make you extra sensitive and insecure, and remember that there's a certain amount of trust and faith you need to put in a new person you're developing a relationship with. Remind yourself that asking for reassurance all the time won't really help you strengthen your new relationship, it can hurt it. Instead, focus on giving yourself affirmations -- focusing on your own sense of self-worth. And rather than seek reassurance, you can simply notice how you feel when you're around your partner. If they are treating you well, are interested in seeing you, and are treating you consistently well, then let their actions serve as reassurance to you -- without having to ask for it.
Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD is a clinical psychologist, author and relationship expert. Her new book, When Depression Hurts Your Relationship: How to Regain Intimacy and Reconnect with Your Partner When You're Depressed, is now available. Visit her online at www.DrShannonK.com.
A version of this blog was originally published on eHarmony Advice.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.