When you think of a broken heart, you might imagine a post-breakup scene, someone listening to The Cure while eating Ben & Jerry’s straight from the container. The end of a romantic love can definitely leave one broken-hearted — but so can many other life changes.
According to Diane MacKinnon, a master certified life coach in New Hampshire, any kind of loss can yield heart-fracturing results, like the loss of a pet, not getting into a first choice college, losing a job or a friend moving away.
With all of the potential for sad tidings, you may wonder if there is a way to defend yourself against a broken heart.
“The only way to avoid a broken heart is to avoid caring about anything,” MacKinnon said. “If we’re here on the planet, we’re going to get our hearts broken.”
Defend through preparation
Accepting the fact that heartbreak is a part of life doesn’t mean you can’t think about what you can do once it comes. One of the best ways to prepare for — and work through — a broken heart is by taking care of yourself, which may sound simple, “but we have a hard time with it,” MacKinnon said.
Getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy and spending time with people who are a comfort to you are vital and help set the foundation of support you need to heal a broken heart.
Ways to cope
When it comes to common suggestions for moving on — like getting a new haircut, going on a spontaneous trip or buying that jacket you’ve had your eye on — MacKinnon said to make sure you aren’t just finding excuses to avoid the pain.
“I think [of that] more of like a distraction, which is more resistant,” she said. “But that's fine as long as you do come back and deal with it.”
Citing the work of Brené Brown, MacKinnon noted that emotions can’t be numbed selectively.
“If you distance from the pain you also distance from the joy,” she said. “The thing to know is we can survive all our emotions.”
One way to work out your grief is by voicing your feelings to the right listener. Avoid those who will tell you to suck it up and move on, because internalizing is not the answer. You also want to avoid those who will jump right in and try to fix it for you or get overwhelmed listening to another’s grief.
“You just need someone who can listen without getting upset or without trying to fix it,” MacKinnon said.
Other outlets could be walking through the woods or writing in a journal, both of which provide the space to process emotions.
“Sometimes giving yourself permission to really focus on it for a period of time and then putting it away sort of mentally … helps you be able to function in your life but also honors the grief,” she said. “And if you do that you'll develop trust that you’re accepting of your feelings, but you're not going to fall apart at work.”
A useful exercise MacKinnon suggests is thinking of a really good thing that happened in your life, then thinking of a bad thing that happened just before it.
“Whatever the bad thing that happened, that's what allowed the good thing to happen,” she said.
This shows the patterns of a life and perspective that sure, bad things will happen, but good things always follow.
“It makes the next bad thing that happens not quite so bad,” she said.