The other day I had a 1:1 creative coaching session scheduled with a client. She reached out about 30 minutes in advance of our start time in tears, letting me know she was in the midst of a breakup breakdown, asking if we should reschedule. I gently suggested that this would be the perfect time for us to spend an hour together. And we did.
Over the past 9 years since establishing AllSwell I’ve exerted a lot of energy talking about non-traditional uses for journaling - for greater productivity, creativity, as a tool for better communication in a business setting, for heightened performance as an athlete, and more. I’m eager to challenge the prevailing norms, move journaling away from its angsty associations towards a more scientific approach so that it can meet more people where they are. But at the end of the day, your notebook is very much there for you whenever you need it, including at the nadir of a heartbreak.
Back to my client. We spent the hour talking through the neural and chemical reasons why breakups are so hard. Understanding that dynamic doesn’t necessarily diminish the heartache, but I find it can reframe it. We set her up with some activities to support her through the coming days and did some of these writing exercises in real time together. In case this reaches you (or someone you care about) in the midst of a similar crux I’m offering up some pen to paper prescriptions to heal a heart…
Long-form anguish outlet. The little black dress of journaling, a classic approach. Just write and write and write your heart out. Drop off all the baggage on the page. You may or may not feel immediately “lighter” for having done it, but this is immensely healthy for your long-term well-being. You can process here, say the unsayable. And hey, maybe you wanna rip those pages out and straight up burn them? Be safe in the process but it’s pretty satisfying to watch all that melt away into ether. Buh-byeeee!
One way streets can be your friend. Step away from your keyboard. Channel your emotions into a letter in your notebook instead - one you may or may not share. This is infinitely better than texting the object of your broken affections multiple paragraphs in the middle of the night. Put down the phone, crack a journal and let it rip. Trust me, this is vastly more dignified than offering up half-digested thoughts and feelings to someone who may or may not appreciate them. No vulnerability hangover, you’re taking good care of your own heart.
Get organized. Maybe there are things to say that will help provide meaningful closure. Instead of an unedited firehose approach, write your thoughts down. Get clear on the page. Then share that perspective with your former partner in whatever way/s are most appropriate - in writing, in person over the phone, etc.. But by writing it all down FIRST you’re more likely to have a productive and healing dialogue. You give yourself the chance to regain some clarity around your own narrative.
You rock. When was the last time you claimed your amazingness? A relationship rupture can feel like rejection but not all unions are built to last. Apparently this person isn’t your person for the long-haul. Okay, so be it. Doesn’t mean you’re not loveable (Spoiler Alert: you are loveable). Write down things every day that you appreciate about yourself. They can be big and small. Triple down on self-worth. Start noticing when you veer into negative self talk and when that happens, go back to the list of your awesomeness. This isn’t “I'm fluent in 6 languages and have abs you can bounce a quarter off of” territory. If that’s you, god bless. It sure isn’t me. Hey, maybe you make a damn fine cup of coffee, you parallel park like a boss, you’re a really good listener, you have hand-model hands, whatever! And keep adding to that list on an ongoing basis.
Do dopamine push ups. One of the reasons why breakups are so hard is that romance provides us with an I.V. drip of feel-good chemicals. Whether or not the union was as great as the promise it held, we’re letting go of both companionship and its fantasy. With all that streaming out of your system one of the best ways to build stairs out of the hole is to ideate other things that provide good vibes. (No, I’m not talking about breakup sex.). Make a plan, create a list of things for you to do and then go do them. (BTW: This works any time, not just when you’re going through a heart-mend.) I’ve included some scientifically-proven examples to get you inspired.
- Go outdoors (time in nature is healing including beach walks, planting something / hands in soil, park visits, jump in a lake, watch a sunset, etc.).
- Community (call a friend, make a plan to see a buddy, plan a day trip across town or across the country to spend time with someone who loves you, etc.)
- Mini-adventures (the novelty of the new is a surefire way to help boost mood, even if it’s just a different restaurant, new bookstore, the long way home, etc.)
- Kiddo-style creativity (pick a project - it can be anything - and give yourself the chance to create like a kid without boundaries or rules, go to an art store and see what inspires you, have some fun making a beautiful mess, etc.)
- De-clutter (simple and satisfying, purging as a way of providing a sense of accomplishment, get your Kondo on, pick a drawer, cabinet or a section of your closet, choose a space small enough that you can finish the project within 2 hours or less, etc.)
- Move your body (break a sweat and get instant endorphins, go for a walk, do a yoga streaming video, try the Peloton app or my personal favorite Melissa Wood Health, etc.)
Be grateful. You may feel completely heart-sick but there is always something for which to be grateful, and by focusing your attention in that space you’re helping your brain to counter sadness. Over time a gratitude practice actually increases your baseline happiness setting. If you’re having a hard time thinking of things, get granular. Use all 5 senses: What sights, sounds, tastes, textures and scents can you call up that ring your pleasure center bells? (And no, this is not the place to include anything about your ex. Let’s set our sights in different directions.)
Help someone. This might sound counterintuitive, but the best way I’ve found to feel better in the midst of really lousy times is to help someone else. Write down ways in which you can be of service and go be useful. Spend a little time thinking about (and supporting) someone other than yourself and be amazed at how much better you feel because we’re wired to feel good when we help others. Not sure where to start? One of my go-to’s is Letters of Love.
Is there a magical light switch? Nope. When it comes to heartbreak there’s no way out but through, and pretty much everyone on this planet has felt some version of what you’re feeling right now. That said, with the help of your notebook you can make it to the other side more swiftly, with a lot more grace, new-found self-worth, and an outlook that will have you poised to make good decisions in the future. Because the longest standing relationship you’re going to have in your life is the one you’re already in - with yourself.
Want to support yourself or a friend through this process? Get yourself a freshie and The Deck of journaling prompts, forward this newsletter, invest in a 1:1 creative coaching session to help write your way to feeling better, learning and growing from the experience. Because I believe that’s what we’re all here to do, and sometimes our greatest opportunities come in the lousiest packages. If you wanna really go next level, then join the MOJO series to slingshot your way to a fresh start.
As always, let me know your thoughts and if you need more backup, I’m here for you. And congratulations on reading all the way to the end of our longest newsletter to-date. Here’s a discount code (discount code: “attentionspan” for 10% off AllSwell experiences and products good through October 12th, 2022) to say thanks for your time!
Image Credit: Angela Basset in Waiting to Exhale