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Break Up and it’s effects on Mental Health

Break up, patch up, love, hate, flings, friends with benefits, commitment-phobic, open relationship.. the list goes on. All of these are terms that greatly affect the way the current generation looks at relationships between two individuals. We at MHT India felt that the ‘Psychology of Relationships’ series for Valentine’s Day will be incomplete without mentioning about break-up and it’s effect on our mental health.

break up
Picture Credits – Chicago Tribune

What do we mean by the term ‘Break Up’

Break up can be referred to as the ending of or the termination of any relationship due to any reasons except death. It can be the end of any relationship, not necessarily romantic in nature. Break up from friends, family, work colleagues, school peers, sometimes even a break-up from fictional characters on the Television set. Each can take a toll on one’s mental health and if not taken care of, can be the starting point of different mental ailments.

Warning Signs that point towards a Break-Up

A break-up does not happen in one day and most of the times, is a well thought out act between two individuals. Some warning signals that can indicate towards a possible break-up in the near future are as follows.

  1. Break-Ups and Patch Ups are regular instances in the relationship.
  2. Regular lying is observed.
  3. There is a lack of respect for each other.
  4. There is no proper communication between the couple.
  5. The relationship has started to feel exhausting and draining.

Are Break-Ups really Painful?

A study by a cognitive neuroscientist researcher at Columbia University, Edward Smith conducted research on unmarried couples who had broken up in the past 6 months and tried to map out the regions of the participants’ brains when thinking about a previous relationship.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans, Edward along with his colleagues mapped out the brains of the participants when they were shown a picture of their friend, the picture of their ex-lover followed by a memory of them together and the an actual physical pain in the body.

It was concluded that the areas that lit up while looking at the picture of their ex-lovers was the same area that lit up during the physical pain, namely insula and anterior cingulate cortex, which are known to be associated with painful experiences.

Hence, it was concluded that break-ups are quite painful and should not be taken lightly.

The Effects of Break-Ups on ones’ Mental Health

  1. Emotional Distress – The period after a break-up can be extremely difficult for the individuals as they are experiencing a great shift in their daily routines. Things are not the way they used to be and certain dates, locations, memories.. which earlier gave pleasure.. can turn into triggers for distress and emotional turmoil.
  2. Mood Swings – Sadness, Anger, Disappointment, Vulnerability, Loneliness, Hurt, Grief… are just a few of the emotions that an individual experiences during and after a break-up. All of these need to be addressed and looked at, otherwise, can lead to multiple mood disorders that are serious in nature.
  3. Change in Habits – A change in eating habits, sleep routine, weight fluctuations, physical exhaustion.. all are commonly found in individuals who are going through a difficult time in their relationships.
  4. Birth to Stalking Behaviours – It is seen in many cases that a bad break-up can lead to the birth of stalking behaviours amongst individuals. Trying to get in touch with the partner, continually looking at their social media, purposely going to the same places as them..all are signals that point towards stalking behaviours that can have serious after-effects.
  5. Negative Self Image – Many a time, self-doubt, regret, and guilt can take homage in an individual after a particularly bad break-up which can affect the way one perceives themselves. Thoughts such as “I must be lacking in …” or “I am not worthy of love” can sow the seed of self doubt which would take a long time to be removed.
break up
Picture Credits – The Power of Oneness

What can be done?

Reading all of this can be extremely overwhelming and also make one feel lonely and upset. Break-ups are a difficult place to navigate from and here are some tips that might help in this journey.

  1. Give yourself time – We often have unrealistic expectations from ourselves that it will all be fine and one should bounce back immediately after a difficult time. It is extremely important that we give ourselves time to grieve the loss of that particular relationship and not be too hard on ourselves while doing so.
  2. Detox from Social Media – Social Media has the power to make one feel extremely lonely and not worthy of any love or affection. When dealing with a difficult time, it is best to distance yourself from apps that can make you feel worse.
  3. Reconnect with old friends and colleagues – More often than we know, when dealing with a break up, we tend to isolate ourselves and wallow in self-pity or the lost relationship. In this time, it is extremely important to surround oneself with people who can provide us with emotional support and also offer a shoulder to cry on.
  4. Focus on Career or the next big milestone – Channeling all your energy to the next big positive event can help one feel motivated and driven in all the tasks. The goal is to not let yourself suffer silently but channel all those negative emotions towards a positive outcome.
  5. Give Therapy a try – Processing the entire episode of a break up by oneself can be extremely difficult and also draining, both emotionally and physically. Talking to a professional can help tremendously by helping one understand all the different changes they are going through and also come up with effective ways to handle this emotional turmoil.

Looking for a therapist to help you process your emotions better? Click here to visit the MHT Directory of mental health professionals.


Picture Credits - Better Help
Healthline - When (and How) to Break Up with Someone You Love
Psychology Today - Surviving a Break Up
Picture Credits - iStock

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