Healing Heartbreak in Simple Steps


Inevitably, we will all awake at some point in our lives feeling like we have jumped from or been pushed off a very tall building to land battered and twitching on the pavement below. No, it’s not a hangover—it’s heartbreak. The symptoms are similar, aching body, throbbing head, that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. The thoughts running through your mind are similar too, “What was I thinking?”, “I don’t even want to look at food.”, “If I just get through this, I’ll never make the same mistake again!”. One of those mornings was the moment I first understood why it’s called “falling in love”.

Steps To Recovery

When all is said and done you will have to (as the old song goes) pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. The symptoms of heartbreak and hangovers are so similar; it makes sense that the same remedies should work for them both. The following are some popular hangover remedies as applied to heartbreak.

Take A Breather — Pilots in WWII claimed that inhaling pure oxygen was a sure hangover cure.

While there are a few oxygen bars around nowadays, the likelihood of one being in your neighborhood is still pretty slim. My solution to this is a bit simpler: pranayama. Pranayama is Sanskrit for (in loose translation) “breath control”. Dirgha Pranayama is “complete breath” and has three parts. It is used in yoga to help focus the body and mind. The best thing about this remedy is that you don’t even have to get up!

  • Part 1: While lying on your back, begin taking long, slow, and deep breaths through your nostrils. As you inhale, allow your diaphragm to expand (your navel should float toward the ceiling), draw the breath deep into your lower lungs. As you exhale through your nose, allow your navel to sink back toward your spine. Repeat several times, keeping the breath smooth and even- never straining.

  • Part 2: Breathe into your diaphragm as in Part #1, but also allow your rib cage and mid-chest to expand. It may help to place a hand along your ribs to actually feel them stretching apart. Exhale and repeat several times.

  • Part 3: Follow Part #1 and #2 and continue inhaling by expanding your upper chest. Be sure to keep your shoulders level and don’t allow them to scrunch up around your ears. Exhale and repeat.

When you combine all three steps into one continuous flow, this relaxes your body and mind, expels carbon dioxide, oxygenates your blood and helps energize your system. What a great way to psych yourself up enough to drag your pathetic heartbroken ass out of bed!

Walk It Off— Exercise increases metabolism, clears the mind, and elevates the mood.

The best thing about exercise is that it’s a healthy way to deal with the aggression, frustration and anger that are usually byproducts of love gone wrong. Find a physical activity you love and lose yourself in it. If you can’t seem to muster the willpower to do this for your own sake, the best thing to keep telling yourself is that the next romance will include a slimmer more toned version of you. Not to mention, running into your ex while looking totally hot can be a fabulous revenge!

Eat Your Heart Out— Start your day off with a great breakfast.

There are actually two ways to go here; the difference is in which type of friend you invite to dine with you.

We usually have one friend who has heard the unedited story and is still more than willing to be our instant support. If you are the “I need a shoulder to cry on” type, call that friend and suggest meeting for breakfast at your favorite restaurant. You can vent uncensored about the demise of A. your relationship and, quite possibly, B. your faith in love at all. Remember that sometimes it is perfectly acceptable to feel hopeless and pathetic, but no one wants to be your pseudo-psychoanalyst for an extended period of time. Leave your wallowing on the table with your dirty dishes, and make sure that only your coffee is bitter.

This second option is better suited for the “Misery Loves Company” crowd. Call up the one person you know who is currently saddled with an absolutely useless mate and throw an invitation to that friend. Let him or her vent, the whole while silently reminding yourself how great it is to be single and what a relief it is not having to deal with the stress of a relationship. If that doesn’t work, you can still take comfort in the fact that someone else is just as unhappy as you are.

When Mementos Make You Gag— Purging actually can make you feel better.

One of the most satisfying parts of a breakup recovery is ridding your space and your life of relationship remnants. It can be very liberating.

A classic purging activity is the Boyfriend Bonfire. Find a photograph of the offending party and a permanent marker. Cover the photo with all of the things that you never wish to see in future partners or relationships. It can be simple adjectives: selfish, controlling, or unfaithful. It can also be phrases like “always left the cap off the toothpaste”. This is your chance to express every little thing that ever irritated you in any way. Gather all receipts, greeting cards, ticket stubs, or notes that are related to the relationship and make a beeline for the nearest fire pit, barbecue grill, or other safe place to burn things. Use the miscellaneous papers for kindling and toss the photo in last. Imagine that you are releasing all the negativity of that relationship and breakup as the flames devour the picture.

No fire-safe facilities available? No problem! Head for the nearest toilet. Follow the same initial steps as in the Boyfriend Bonfire. Instead of burning the photo, tear it into teeny, tiny, micro-confetti-sized pieces and flush the guy out of your life. (We all know some people deserve this particular method more than others.)

As for actual items he may have left behind, box them up and mail them or have a friend deliver them. It’s better to return all of the stuff that was left in your place than to wind up on one of those television court shows debating the sentimental and monetary value of a favorite coffee mug or hockey jersey.

Hair of the Dog— Get a little bit of whatever got you into trouble in the first place.

This English expression dates back to 1546: “I pray thee let me and my fellow have hairs of the dog that bit us last night,” from The Proverbs by John Heywood.

In the world of heartbreak, this means shameless flirting! To flirt shamelessly you need two things: confidence and someone to be the object of your flirtation.

That first one is tricky; as someone who is recently exiting a relationship your confidence may very well be shaken. I could write a whole book on how to fix that, but that would be an awful lot of work, so I have some advice that may be equally effective: Fake it. For example, take whatever compliment you receive, smile a bit, and say, “Thanks. I know.” It can make you seem a bit cocky, but that’s ok. The magic is that once you’ve said it a few times, you might just begin to believe it.

Now for the second half of shameless flirting, the object of it, I have reduced people to drinks. Not what they drink, mind you, but rather what drinks they would be if their flirting personalities dictated it. This system should help you choose which type fits your specific needs. It’s also a good idea to figure out what kind of flirt you are because, as any good bartender will tell you, there are some drinks that just should not mix! For a more objective opinion, run this list past a trusted friend and let him or her point you out.

  • The Rum Flirt: Playful, beachy, reminds you of college spring break.
  • The Vodka Flirt: Cold, but smooth. Mixes well; the all-purpose flirt.
  • The Gin Flirt: Classic, but slightly old-fashioned; definitely not for everyone.
  • The Whiskey/Scotch (or Bourbon) Flirt: Darker in nature, slightly less refined; mellows as it ages.
  • The Tequila Flirt: A little crazy, a little fiery. You know the danger going in, and go anyway.
  • The Wine Flirt: Cultured, inviting, worth savoring—something you might want to roll around your tongue for a while.
  • The Champagne Flirt: Sophisticated and charming; beware of overindulgence.
  • The Beer Flirt: Widely available and utilitarian. This one will work in a pinch.

After choosing which type of person you want to flirt with, the next step is to actually make your move. How you go about this entirely depends on the setting you’ve chosen, but generally you can’t go wrong offering to buy someone a drink or asking about the time. Both are instant conversation starters.

Time After Time

Ultimately we all need a chance to recover in our own way and learn what works for us. Some truly believe “time heals all wounds”: Things will change, seasons will pass and one day you’ll forget that someone stomped on your heart. Others prefer to believe, as Laura Zigman wrote in her book Animal Husbandry, “time wounds all heels”: Things will change, seasons will pass and one day the person who stomped on your heart will be miserably scraping what’s left of his off someone else’s boots while reading this very article.

One thing remains true either way:

The only real cure for any hangover, heartbreak or otherwise, is time.