Getting over breakups isn’t easy. When an important relationship ends, people experience a lot of painful emotions as a result of the loss and major changes in their daily lifestyle. Even though some people are able to get through a relationship breakup rather easily, let go, and move on quickly, others have difficulties overcoming a breakup. Often, it decreases psychological well-being and leads to severe mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Even more. Sometimes a breakup can cause physical symptoms such as chest pain or headaches as well.
Sometimes people believe that the negative effects of a breakup will lessen over time. Indeed, anger, sadness, or bitterness fade away as time passes by. However, that doesn’t happen so easily if a breakup has already caused depression, anxiety, or other serious mental health conditions. Consequently, receiving therapy is common practice among people who have gone through a relationship breakup. Today, mental health professionals use various techniques in order to help people overcome severe emotional conditions after a difficult breakup.
In this article, we will look at the psychological impact of a relationship breakup on our mental health, as well as how therapy can help and which therapies are used after a breakup.
Dealing with a Breakup
Romantic relationships are usually accompanied by significant changes in a person’s lifestyle. Couples make commitments to one another. Sometimes they move together, spend a great deal of time together, and make future plans. According to social psychologists, couples invest so much energy and emotions in each other and become psychologically connected. Considering this, a breakup, regardless of the reasons, leads to significant changes in our lifestyles and affects our psychological well-being.
One of the most important reasons why dealing with a breakup is hard is that sometimes our brain reacts to breakups in a maladaptive way. Specifically, our brain perceives extreme emotional pain as physical pain. Therefore, a breakup leads to similar physiological changes to physical pain. In fact, research shows that regions of the brain that are activated during the physical brain get activated after a breakup as well (Ross et al., 2011). As a result, people who’ve gone through a breakup feel like they are experiencing pain.
This complicates dealing with a breakup, making people vulnerable to developing mental health problems. Stress and anxiety are some of the most common reactions to a breakup. However, if an individual experiences excessive stress, it might trigger pathological conditions (Yaribeygi et al., 2017).
How does a breakup impact your mental health?
Being in a romantic relationship has plenty of benefits for our mental health. First of all, love eases anxiety, helps us overcome stress, and increases psychological well-being and happiness. The reason is that when we love someone hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin are released in our blood and brain, which have a positive effect on our mental health.
The exact opposite happens when someone goes through a breakup. After a relationship ends, people experience negative emotions and stress hormones such as cortisol are released in their bodies, which leads to stress and decreased well-being. A breakup also has a significant influence on our mood, lowering it and making us feel depressed.
The main reason for this negative impact on mental health is related to our social perception. In fact, people often lose their identities when they’re in a relationship and construct a perception of “we” instead of “I.” As a result, after a breakup, they feel like they have lost part of their identities, which makes coping harder. Consequently, they tend to use maladaptive coping mechanisms such as emotional numbing, substance use, procrastination, rumination, and sometimes even self-harm.
Some of the risk factors for developing mental health issues after a breakup are:
- Having a history of depression or other mental health conditions.
- Having a history of substance addictions.
- Lack of social support.
- Experiencing loneliness.
- Being prone to anxiety.
How Can Therapy Help?
Studies prove that perceived social support is a significant predictor of relationship well-being, having an impact on both physical and mental health (Blair, 2012). Considering this, having social or emotional support from friends and family members can help you get through a breakup and move on. However, sometimes the support from our loved ones isn’t enough. For instance, your family might find it difficult to give you objective advice or you may lack social connections. In this way, getting professional help could be the most optimal choice.
Therapy is a safe place to explore your emotional pain after a breakup. During therapy, a counselor helps a client identify maladaptive coping strategies and develop more adaptive ones, such as problem-focused coping, self-reflection, or practicing relaxation techniques. As a result, a client learns to focus on self-growth, deal with a current situation, and use these effective strategies for future problems as well.
The purpose of a counselor is to help the client understand the negative emotions they’re experiencing, change irrational thoughts, set future goals, and define strategies to achieve those goals. While friends and family members can’t always provide a neutral perspective, mental health professionals try to help the client understand who they are, what they want in their lives, and how to increase their self-esteem after a breakup.
Therapies used after a Relationship Breakup
Today, there are several therapies that professional counselors use after a client experiences a relationship breakup. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are some of the most widely used types of therapies worldwide. However, the choice of therapy depends on the specific problems the client is experiencing.
For example, if a client perceives the entire relationship as trauma and feels posttraumatic stress after a breakup, counselors often choose eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) in order to help them deal with trauma and enable them to heal from emotional distress from this disturbing relationship.
If a breakup made an individual feel bad about themselves, decreased their self-esteem, and led to depression or anxiety, using CBT might be the best idea to restructure maladaptive thought patterns and redefine future goals. And if he or she can’t get over grief after a breakup, group counseling might be the optimal choice of therapy as it will give them a chance to listen to other people’s stories, share their trauma, and feel they’re not alone.
In addition, you can also receive online therapy in order to define your goals and choose the most suitable type of treatment for your current problem.
When do you need a therapist?
If you feel that a breakup has impacted your everyday functioning and doesn’t let you focus on daily activities, if you’re withdrawing from others and can’t stop romanticizing the past relationship, you should think about receiving therapy from mental health professionals. Counseling provides an opportunity to move on from your relationships and return to everyday life.
So, if you’re struggling to move on after a breakup, reach out to the licensed therapists at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids. Our therapists will help you overcome your bad experience and focus on growth.