Breakups can be hard to cope with. You have a barrage of emotions to process: sadness, anger, loneliness, guilt or even relief. Whether you initiated the breakup or not, it’s still a loss you have to come to terms with.
You also have practical details to deal with. You have to sort out belongings and maybe living arrangements. You might need to divide up your property or finances. You have to navigate the change in your relationships with any mutual friends.
Most importantly, you have to figure out who you are now that you’re no longer part of a couple. It’s a rough process even in the best of circumstances. It often takes several months for your life to return to some semblance of normal.
But nothing is normal right now, is it? The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the entire world and affected almost every aspect of our lives. You may be a healthcare worker or other essential worker having to do your job while worrying about the spread of the virus. You may be stuck at home, trying to work or looking for work. Even if you’ve escaped any effects on the job, you’re limited in where you can go, and let’s not even get started on the toilet paper situation.
So how do you cope with it all? Your world has been turned upside down now in two different ways. We don’t have a roadmap for how to navigate a pandemic. And we certainly don’t have a roadmap for dealing with a breakup in the midst of a global pandemic.
The typical suggestions for how to cope with a breakup don’t really factor in governmental orders to stay at home. “Go someplace you’ve never been” or “meet some new people” sounds great until you remember you’re not supposed to go anywhere that isn’t essential. We’re all in uncharted territory.
First of all, let’s just acknowledge that the pandemic itself has put a strain on everyone. For some people, it’s literally life and death. For others, it’s mostly worrying, inconvenience and uncertainty about the future. Wherever you fall into this spectrum, it’s natural to feel stressed.
Let’s also acknowledge that your emotions over your breakup are just as real and valid. You may feel like there are bigger things to worry about and you shouldn’t be sad or angry over your breakup. The truth is, you still experienced a loss. You still need to grieve or get mad or feel that weird, ambiguous sense of missing your ex while being glad you’re not fighting with them anymore. Whatever your feelings are, you still have to work through them.
And finally, let’s acknowledge that social distancing makes any strategies you have for dealing with breakups far more difficult to implement. Going out with friends, taking your frustrations out at the gym, trying new activities, or even just going to the store to get a pint of ice cream is suddenly complicated or even impossible.
In spite of all the craziness, the most important thing to remember is that you will get through this. It may not be easy or overnight, but you will come out the other side better than before. Let’s look at some ways you can cope with your breakup while following all the safety guidelines we’re living with right now.
1. Think of physical distance rather than social distance.
When you go through a breakup, your support system of family and friends plays an important part in helping you work through your feelings. You probably can’t spend physical time with many of them right now. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk or spend time together.
Phone calls, video chats and connecting through social media may not be quite as good as being together in person. However, they can still help you get the support you need.
You can even have fun with it. Skype, Zoom and other video chatting applications let you have a virtual party with a group of friends. Whether you’re talking through your feelings or distracting yourself from them, spending time with friends and family can help you cope.
2. Keep a routine.
If you’re feeling depressed after your breakup, it’s tempting to let your daily responsibilities go. You may not feel like doing much other than sleeping or cuddling on your couch with a blanket and the TV. If you’re used to leaving the house for work and can’t right now, that can make it even harder to keep up with your normal home routine.
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with taking a nap or having a good wallow in front of your favorite series. However, you’ll feel better in the long run if you don’t let that become your new normal. Following your typical daily routine as much as possible will help your brain feel like things are closer to the way they should be.
As a bonus, doing ordinary tasks that don’t require much attention, like taking a shower or folding laundry, can help you process your thoughts.
3. Delete your contacts with your ex.
Remove that number from your phone. Delete that email address. Unfriend, unfollow, unlike. It’s all too easy to reach out in a moment of weakness or excess alcohol.
This is good advice even during normal times. When you’re having to spend more time alone, it’s even more important. If you need to talk to your ex, only do so after careful thought and only when you’re in a good emotional space. It shouldn’t happen when you’re lonely or have had too much to drink. Remove the temptation.
4. Use your extra time to write a letter.
This sounds like it’s contradicting the previous advice, but it’s not. The idea isn’t to send a letter. It’s to write one.
Think through and write out everything you want to say to your ex. If you’re angry, say so. If you’re sad, say that, too. If you’re glad they’re gone, tell them. Get your thoughts and feelings out on paper or in an email.
The act of figuring out what you want to say helps you sort through your emotions. Putting those emotions somewhere outside your brain, whether it’s on paper or a computer, helps you to release them.
When you’re done, you can shred or burn the letter or delete the email. Make it an act of letting go.
5. Create something new.
As you’re working on figuring out who you are without your ex, it’s a good time to try something new or resurrect something you used to love.
Since we’re all keeping our social distance, that’s likely to mean something you do at home. You might try rearranging your living area or bedroom, especially if it’s somewhere you spent a lot of time with your ex. Giving your personal space a make-over can be a great signal to your brain that it’s time for a fresh start.
If you like your space as-is, think about activities or entertainment that you enjoy but that your ex did not. Cook a new dish your ex would never have eaten. Watch a series on Netflix or play a game your ex would have found boring. Take up a solo hobby that you stopped or never started because you were spending time with your ex. Enjoy the chance to do something because you want to, not because it pleases anyone else.
As you’re working through these steps, keep in mind that the emotions you’re dealing with aren’t logical or predictable. You may go through stages of sadness, happiness, calmness, anger, and even points where you don’t know what you feel. You may be fine for a few days and then slip back into sadness or despair.
These feelings are normal, and they all get better with time. Be patient with yourself. Use your social distancing time not just to stay physically healthy, but also to heal emotionally.
Editor’s note: Some breakups are so painful that we often need professional assistance in order to heal. However, the COVID-19 Pandemic has made access to traditional face-to-face psychotherapy more challenging. Fortunately, online counseling exists and is an excellent alternative. We recommend both Talkspace and Betterhelp, (affiliate links), both of which offer access to your very own licensed therapist for a low monthly fee. Sessions are conducted via phone, video, or chat – whichever venue puts you most at ease. The links above also grant new users discounted rates. Get started today!