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After A Breakup, Self-Care Means More Than Crying Into Your Ice Cream

I’ve always preached the value of self-care, especially during tough times — but that doesn’t mean I’m good at putting it to practice in my own life. Friends will call me after a breakup and I’ll tell them all the “right” conventional wisdom: take time for yourself, do things you love, cut off contact with your ex for a while. But when it comes to tending to my own heart after a breakup, self-care sometimes falls by the wayside. Sure, I can drown my feelings in a pint of Halo Top, but is that really making me feel any better? And if I fill up my schedule with fun activities, am I processing my feelings or just ignoring them? There’s a huge gray area between what’s truly healthy and what’s putting a bandage over a deeper wound.

When a relationship ends, especially when it ends out of nowhere, you’re left with a lot of empty space. Your social calendar is more free, your daily texting patterns change, and your friendships might even shift around a bit. This alone time can be pretty jarring, and at first, it will probably feel like a hole in your heart. Even on good days, the tiniest things can remind you of your ex and send you back into a spiral of nostalgia. To distract yourself, you might trying making lots of plans, stocking up on wine and chocolate, or listening to empowering music to lift your mood. While these can all be helpful in the moment, they may not help you to actually process the root of your emotional pain. To do this, you’ll have to dig a little deeper.

Liz Higgins, LMFT and founder of Millennial Life Counseling, suggests journaling to her clients going through breakups. “I encourage clients to get ‘back to themselves’ by reconnecting to their inner pulse, their internal thoughts and feelings,” she tells Elite Daily. “This could be as basic as giving yourself 10 minutes a day to just write the thoughts that come to you, or to pick structured prompts like ‘five things I'm grateful for in my life’ or ‘qualities I feel I brought/bring to my relationships.’” Writing out your feelings — even if you have no clue where each train of thought is going — can help you discover truths about yourself you weren’t expecting. If you keep coming back to the same key points, like your desire to feel more connected or your frustration with your ex for a particular habit or behavior, you’ll learn what’s bothering you most so you can start to work through it.

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I have a friend who puts this into practice in a very useful way. She knows she has a habit of remembering only the best parts of her past relationships (because hindsight is 20/20), so while the breakup is fresh, she makes a note on her phone of all the reasons she and her ex weren’t right for each other. Then, when she starts thinking of all their fond memories together, she can also refer to the written list to remind herself they weren’t a good fit. She tells me it’s been instrumental in helping her move forward.

It’s important to allow space for grief, even if this feels painful at the time. “Let yourself feel your emotions,” says Dr. Erika Martinez, a licensed psychologist who helps people with breakup recovery. “Too often people bottle up the uncomfortable, difficult emotions that arise from a breakup, with the result that they fester and negatively impact your future relationships.” She suggests spending time on a creative outlet, or having low-key, honest life talks with a friend (not just going out and partying with your squad). And before you entertain the idea of dating again, think about what you can take away from this past experience. “Taking a long and hard look at yourself and the role you played in your previous relationship will help you figure out what you want and don't want in future ones,” Martinez explains.

At the same time, don’t be too hard on yourself. Scrutinizing every mistake you made will only make you feel worse. “Don’t victimize yourself post-breakup,” says behavioral scientist Clarissa Silva. “Don’t think about the things that could’ve been, what they said in the past, what you did in the past, or any aspect that makes you think it could still work.” There’s a difference between reflecting on the past for growth and reflecting because you’re still holding onto the relationship. If you’re clutching tightly to the idea that you’ll get back together eventually, it will be nearly impossible to get over your ex.

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Another personal pro tip here — I’ve found that deleting my chat history with an ex is a huge step forward toward emotional healing. I tend to reread old messages as a way of remembering our time together, but what this really does is keep me firmly rooted in the past. Once I have the strength to literally delete the physical evidence of our daily communication, I know I'm looking ahead rather than behind.

Getting over someone requires not just that you disconnect from them, but also that you reframe your narrative about what went wrong. “You have to be honest with yourself and in defining your truth; you have to come to terms with it,” Silva explains. “People are who they are, not what you want them to be or what you would like to see them become.” It’s easy to create an idea in your head about why things with your ex should have gone better, but try your best not to do this. “The grieving process is a cycle, and the best measure of the length of time you grieve is your self-awareness,” Silva says. “The more self-aware you become, the better you are at coping with a breakup.” Take this past relationship for what it was — a valuable learning experience — and place it firmly in the rearview mirror.

No matter how much time you spend watching rom-coms or online shopping, you can’t move on until you truly love and value yourself. As Selena Gomez so wisely sings, “I needed to lose you to love me” — sometimes the most powerful moments of growth arise from the worst places in your life. Healing will take time, but hopefully, you'll learn to care for yourself in a more sincere and compassionate way.