Published December 17, 2012
Feeling heartbroken? Put down the pen and back away from the diary. Journaling can make it harder to get over a breakup, according to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science.
In a study of 90 recently divorced or separated men and women, researchers from the University of Arizona asked participants to journal for 20 minutes a day for three consecutive days. Researchers instructed some of them to “really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts;” others to tell the story of their failed relationship as a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end; and the rest to keep an emotionless log of their daily activities.
The researchers assessed the participants’ emotional states—including how reflective they were—before the journaling began, and then followed up with the three groups 8 months later. They found that the people who were the most reflective had made the least progress getting over their breakups when they had journaled emotionally for three days. Those who wrote daily logs, however, had made the most progress. People with less ruminative personalities made similar progress despite how they journaled for the three days.
“For people who are ‘very in their head,’ journaling about a breakup can effectively amplify their distress,” says lead author and psychological scientist David Sbarra. “When journaling, they begin brooding on how bad they feel, reflecting on how bad the breakup sucks.”
It becomes a bit of an echo chamber. By focusing on daily activities, however, people can better engage in life, determine how they want to spend their time, and find definition outside of the relationship, he says. It forces them to think practically, rather than in impractical what-ifs.
Not sure how to get over your guy now that journaling’s out? Here, eight healthy ways for anyone—even dwellers—to get past a breakup:
Limit Your Wallowing
Breakups suck, and it’s only natural to feel miserable (even if you don’t take your feelings to pen and paper). The key is to limit the amount of time you let yourself think about the breakup every day, Sbarra says. “Tell yourself, ‘I can think about it for 30 minutes or an hour a day,’ or ‘I can only think about it when I’m at home. But when I leave home and shut the door, I have to shut the door on those feelings, too,’” he says.
Drawing the line (even if you cross it from time to time) will allow you to process your feelings while still making moving on a priority. (Splitting from your partner isn’t only hard emotionally--it can also lead to physical pain. Learn What Happens to Your Body When You’re Heartbroken.)
Ditch the Reminders
See your ex everywhere you look? Get him out of your head by tossing his toothbrush, pictures, and anything else that reminds you of him, says marriage and family therapist Paul Hokemeyer. Research has also shown that staying connected to an ex on Facebook can stunt your breakup recovery, so drop whatever virtual connections you still have. (Remaining Facebook friends in itself isn’t a problem, but checking his profile daily sure is. Learn more about Why You Should Unfriend your Ex on Facebook.)
Break a Sweat
Fight the urge for quality time with your couch and get at least some physical activity daily, Hokemeyer says. During a breakup, your brain pumps out cortisol, epinephrine, and other stress hormones that can cause headaches, tense muscles, and tummy troubles. Exercise, however, triggers the release of mood-boosting endorphins, relaxes muscles, and eases digestion to help you feel like yourself. (Stay grounded and reconnect with yourself by trying these Yoga Moves to Help You Get Over Heartache.)
Keep a Gratitude List
“Every day, write down five things for which you are grateful. Use the list to ground yourself when you start to get overwhelmed by anger, fear, or sadness,” Hokemeyer says. Research shows that writing down what you’re thankful for can increase gratitude and feelings of wellbeing.
Help others to help yourself. By increasing empathy, which makes you appreciate the good stuff in your own life, volunteering can boost your happiness, he says. Try not to smile when you are getting covered in puppy kisses! Whatever your interests, you can find a way to get your warm and fuzzies on at volunteermatch.org.
Schedule Girls’ Nights
You and your boyfriend might have broken up, but you aren’t alone. Spend time with your friends and ask for support when you are feeling down, he says. Besides helping you reengage in other non-couple activities and boost your self-esteem, research shows the simple act of hanging with friends can up your levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin.
Write yourself notes with positive affirmations like “I am perfect the way I am.” “The physical act of writing them will enable you to shift your emotional state,” Hokemeyer says. Put them up in your home, office, and car as constant reminders of how great you are—beau or no beau.
Eat for Your Mood
While a pint of ice cream and buttery popcorn can seem like the perfect post-breakup friends, research shows they can actually drag down your mood through the release of stress hormones, according to a 2012 study published in the International Journal of Obesity. However, foods rich in vitamin D, folate, and omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to promote mental health and cut rates of depression. (Back away from the ice cream and reach for one of these 7 Mood-Boosting Foods.)