Monday, September 7, 2009

12 healthy ways to heal a broken heart

Last week, I spilled my guts all over the screen, telling you about how I'd broken up with my boyfriend and ugly-crying, listening to torturous and depressing music, and considering the pros and cons of rather (ahem) involved goodbyes.What I didn't tell you then is that my emotional pain was manifesting itself physically.

I was so nauseated, I had trouble eating enough. My sleep was restless and I woke many times during the night. I was a big ball of break-up mess. As much as I hated hearing my well-intentioned girlfriends tell me that time would heal all of these wounds (and why must girlfriends always say this?), they were right.

One day, I woke up and felt better. The next day, I ate a big breakfast. The day after that, I didn't shed a single tear. I know that was performing its magic on my broken heart. But I also now recognize that the night before I began feeling better, I'd had an amazing hour-long massage and later went kayaking with friends. Those two things took my mind off of the tough stuff and they also made me tired and hungry. Once I slept and ate and felt a surge of centeredness and energy, I wanted to do more good things for myself. Time played a part, yes. But taking good care of myself was fueling me to keep taking good care of myself.

I made a list for myself of things I could do to keep that self-care going. I was careful to skip all the things I thought should be on the list and instead add only things that felt right and good for me. When I told my girlfriends to stop talking about time and start helping me hammer out healthy ways to make it through my days (and nights), they offered me ideas that I loved. The list of five things soon became ten, and that soon led to more ideas. The more things I wrote down and completed, the more things I thought of to write down and do.

I don't feel obligated to get to each idea on my list. I'm not completing a work project, after all. I'm healing a broken heart and tending to myself. This list is simply a compilation of choices I can make, especially in those moments when I feel fragile, sad, or just lonely. The relationship ending certainly doesn't feel good yet, but this self-care really does. As I can and as I need, I am reminded by my list, proudly Post-It Noted to my bathroom mirror as a reminder that I have this opportunity to be healthier and happier.

I am clearly no expert in the art of breaking up or even in relationships. But I've just been through this -- am going through this -- and it seems like just as good a time as any to share what has helped and is helping. I offer to you my list. And I hope that you will share your own here, too. Until time wipes away every last bit of heartbreak, here's how I am choosing to healthfully get through:

1. Begin and end your day with yoga. I am a big believer starting my day with stretching and poses. Not only does it help me loosen up while building muscle, it sets my intention to take good care of my body and mind for the next 12 hours. When I am particularly stressed, adding a 20-minute yoga DVD or practice of my own to my bedtime routine helps me calm any frantic thoughts that may keep me awake. On those days I question whether I have even 10 minutes to give to yoga, I try to remind myself that those are minutes I choose for myself before I give any time or energy to anyone else. That usually gets back to the mat immediately.

2. Replace the crazy messages with meditations. It's so easy to go to the "I'll never find/meet/love someone ever again" place when you are moving through a break-up. It's also easy to believe any crazy parting words or judgments your ex may have thrown at you. Choose a meditation or a few kind words to replace those toxic thoughts. Train yourself to repeat over and over "I will find love when the time is right" or "I am freaking amazing!" or "Everything will be OK" or whatever words soothe you as soon as you realize the old, ugly messages are spinning out of control.

3. Dig out the self-help books. You know you still have shelves full of self-help books that you've only half-read or have not even cracked open. Why not dig into them now? It may seem cliche, but there could be a chapter, paragraph, or even sentence in one of those books that speaks to you or helps you resist the urge to Facebook profile-stalk every guy you've ever dated. If you can't bear to get overly self-helpy in your weak moments, make it into a wellness game. Open up to a random page. Read only chapter 6 in each book. Compile a list of the most ridiculous advice from each book. Who knows? The game could provide some very good Saturday night entertainment.

4. Add essences to your water...and wrists...and temples. I am a believer in aromatherapy. Even if some big, revolutionary scientific research suddenly reported that smells are in no way linked to easing anxiety, sleeping well, or reducing nausea, I would still stick by my essential oils. I not only have been dabbing my pulse points with my "mental clarity" and "stress relief" mixtures, I've been using flower essences that can be added to water or tea or placed under the tongue. The ritual and sweet scent of these essences instantly ease my mind (sometimes for a moment and other times, for hours). Bach Flower Essences are made for all kinds of healing and their Rescue Remedy tablets and chews are a nice way to counter high-tension times.

5. Shed some skin. I scheduled a micro-dermabrasion and peel appointment as a metaphor for sloughing off the past and starting anew. These treatments certainly aren't for everyone, but doing a little at-home exfoliation might serve you just as well. Whether you have an aesthetician peel your face off or you use a beauty gadget or facial scrub, there's no need to get all Joan Crawford on yourself. Be gentle. Be very, very gentle.

6. Soak it up. Once I started seeing the guy, I stopped taking as many baths. I was too busy picking out the perfect shoes to wear to dinner or hiding piles of clutter before having him over for a drink, so I didn't really have time to luxuriate in long, hot baths. Since the break-up, I've reclaimed my time in the tub. I even splurged on expensive bubble bath, dug out the aromatherapy oils, and piled up a bunch of gossip magazines next to the tub so I can get the most out of my time there. I think blogger Brett Blumenthal is right that bathing can help your body detox and relax while also soothing your spirit. Plus, she says it is key for healing injuries. And if a broken heart isn't an injury that is soothed by bubbles, candles, and uninterrupted soaking, I don't know what is.

7. Get it out. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to talk, talk. If you need to journal it out, get out your pen. Even after you're past the point of tears, have used up all your cell minutes getting advice from your girlfriends on the phone, and have maxed out your Facebook status with boo-hoo updates, you may still have thoughts and feelings to release to the universe. Sometimes writing down a single word or keeping track of how you are feeling on a scale of 1 to 10 will solve that. Other times, you may need to write some really bad poetry like you did as a teenager. That's OK. This is what journals are for, my friends. If you are missing your ex, it might help to leave yourself a voicemail message or text yourself with whatever you want to say. It sounds cheesy but it will purge the thoughts so you can move on with your day.

8. Get a massage. We talk often about the health benefits of spa treatments. If your break-up is all balled up in your shoulder and back muscles, getting a massage may release some of the physical and emotional tension. My massage therapist also does energy work that may seem like hoodoo-guru stuff to some people but I swear helps calm me before she's even put a hand on me.

9. Pound it out. Whether you are angry, upset, confused, or all of the above, exercise will help put your emotions at ease and work your body in the best kind of way. Walking has been the best way for me to work all that out. Other friends of mine have really needed to kick-box, run, lift weights, and salsa the stress away. Activity will help you sleep, boost your endorphins, and make you emerge from that pile of Kleenex and archived IMs. Once I decided my quivering lip was a sign I needed to get out and do 5 or 15 laps around the park, I felt more in control. Plus, even 10 minutes can get you to a better place.

10. Crank it up. I am an over-thinker, and most of the women I know are as well. We are all so used to multi-tasking, planning, and taking care of details of everyday living for our whole families that we have a hard time turning off. Lately, I've chosen to stop worrying about turning off and instead just drown out my thoughts, worries, plans, and projections with music. Loud, heavy, cranked-up music. I play it in the car. I blast it through my ear buds. I nearly melt down my laptop whenever I need to not-think. You know what? It works. I mean, who can be wacky, sad, or lovelorn when their booty is shaking?

11. Put it off. My biggest challenge has been abstaining from contact with the former boyfriend. Facebook is not making this any easier. To help myself really make the break, I have been procrastinating contact. If he texts or calls me, or if I feel the urge to be in touch with him, I simply make a deal with myself that I will contact him in an hour (or more). As the hours tick off, I feel more and more triumphant, self-assured, and fine with the silence. If you doubt this is effective, know that one friend told me she put off returning a call to a former friend for a whole year this way. Those hours led to days and then months until -- ta-da! -- there really was no reason to be in touch anymore at all.

12. Make plans. Lots and lots of plans. If your calendar seems devastatingly empty, take the opportunity to reach out to your friends to make dates to go to the movies, flea markets, brunch, a new class. Although I've missed my romantic dates, I've really had fun catching up with friends I haven't seen in...well, since the romantic dates started. As tempting as it might be to use booze to get through your break-up, do consider how much worse you will feel if you add a hangover to your heartache. Meet up for a drink or two (not 12). Even better, go to a show, for a bike ride, or to do something where the companionship and laughs are the focus, not the vodka and Red Bulls.If you're not up for company or your friends are all caught up in their own lives, make plans to do all those projects around your place you've neglected. De-cluttered closets, organized drawers, folded laundry, framed photos, baked pies and complicated casseroles, completed scrapbooks, and potted plants can all be incredibly healing.Ahh, now don't you feel better already? After several weeks of abiding by this list, I certainly do.What has helped you get past an emotional end to a relationship?

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