Breaking up is rough, and getting over your ex? Even harder. Along with the agonizing emotions, heartbreak can also impact you physically, affecting your sleep, thoughts, and immune system. However, science may have found a way for you to recover more quickly from a broken heart. A new study tested different cognitive strategies to overcome heartache, and found one promising solution to help you move on.
Researchers from the University of Missouri – St Louis worked with a group of 24 people, ages 20-37. Each person had been in a long-term relationship of at least 2.5 years. Some had been dumped, while others had been the one to end the relationship. Regardless, they all still loved their exes and struggled to move on.
Strategies to recover from heartbreak
As part of the study, researchers had participants try out three cognitive strategies to get over their exes. These were:
- Negative reappraisal: Here they focused on the annoying and unappealing traits of their previous partner (“He always ate with his mouth open!”)
- Love reappraisal: Participants were asked to accept their feelings and read statements of affirmation like, “It’s ok to love someone I’m no longer with.”
- Distraction: Participants shifted their focus to positive things, like their favorite food, instead of their ex.
A fourth strategy — the control condition — had participants think of nothing in particular.
Researchers used photographs to test emotions
Next, the researchers presented each participant with a photo of their former flame – much like what they would experience when seeing an ex on social media.
Researchers then analyzed the emotional intensity each person felt in response to the photographs with an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine. The EEG reading recorded emotional responses, as well as something called “motivated attention” – the degree to which a participant was drawn to the photo.
Which strategy worked best?
All three strategies significantly decreased the participants’ emotional responses to the photographs. However, only one strategy caused people to love their exes less, and that was the negative reappraisal strategy. (Note that the negative thoughts that helped people move on also worsened their general mood, though this was temporary.)
The best science-backed method to get over your ex
Study co-author Sandra Langeslag, director of the Neurocognition of Emotion and Motivation Lab at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, suggests that, once a day, you write a list of all the pet peeves you have about your ex. While your mood may dip from this exercise, it won’t last, and you’ll feel better in the long run, she says.
Other ways to stay healthy and strong during a breakup
Don’t forget that any emotional stress on the body can also cause oxidative stress — an imbalance between the number of free radicals in your body and your ability to get rid of them — which can wear down your immune system. Make sure to care for your physical well-being during a breakup too. Here’s how:
- Take antioxidants which neutralize the oxidative stress in your body
- Practice meditation to keep you calm
- Try this yoga nidra routine to get better zzz’s
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can help you to get over depression you might experience from a breakup
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