Let’s Talk About… Heartbreak

By Jeremy Godwin

What is heartbreak? How do you process and heal from heartbreak in a healthy way? That’s what I’m talking about this week on… Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of practical advice for better mental health.

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This podcast episode was originally released on 6 March, 2022.

Hello and welcome to Episode 121, I’m Jeremy Godwin and thanks so much for joining me!

This week I’m talking about heartbreak and I’ll be covering what heartbreak is, why understanding it matters, and how to heal from heartbreak. So, let’s talk!

Introduction

Alright… so after last week’s special episode where I celebrated over one million plays of my show by sharing tips and techniques for better mental health sent in by listeners from around the world, this week I’m back to my usual structure of looking at one specific topic… and it’s a big one: heartbreak. This is a topic that I’ve been asked to cover quite a lot — mainly the requests have been to talk about breakups — and I think I’ve reached a point where I feel like I’m being told loud and clear by fate or the universe or whatever that I really need to cover it! So before I start, let me just briefly explain why I haven’t agreed to talk about this one until now. 

First, the majority of the requests I’ve had have been to talk about breakups and I’ve been in a relationship for a really long time (26 years, which makes no sense because I’m only 21 but anyway… obviously my degree wasn’t majoring in maths!) and so I didn’t really know what I could possibly say on the subject… and, secondly, I’m actually a bit superstitious (my Mum is really superstitious and a little of that rubbed off on me) and frankly, I didn’t want to jinx things! And considering that quite a few of my topics, which are planned months in advance, have been eerily relevant in my life the week I go to write and record the episode, I just didn’t want to tempt fate!

But the more I thought about it (and the more the requests kept coming in), the more I realised that I might not feel that I can talk about break-ups specifically but I can most definitely talk about heartbreak, because it’s an almost-universal experience that most of us (if not all of us) have experienced at some point in our lives, and probably will again. We often associate the term ‘heartbreak’ with the end of a romantic relationship but it’s also actually a type of grief that is common in a lot of other situations as well: losing a loved one, the end of a friendship, losing your job, loss of identity, missing out on something you were emotionally invested in… these are all things that can leave you feeling devastated emotionally and feeling as though you might never be able to recover. 

So why don’t we start with some definitions and let’s talk about…

What is heartbreak?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term ‘heartbreak’ simply means “overwhelming distress.” That definition keeps its meaning quite broad which is a good thing, because it’s possible to feel distressed by many different circumstances in life. Heartbreak can also be described as grief, sorrow, misery, trauma, sadness or devastation… so, you know, all the not-so-fun emotions.

The thing to be aware of is that heartbreak isn’t just ‘in your head’, because it’s something that we feel in a very physical way at the same time as we are grappling with all of those complex and uncomfortable emotions. According to an article on heartbreak by Healthline, and I quote:

“Though we may not know exactly why heartbreak affects our physical bodies the way it does, the effects are many and can be debilitating… heartbreak can lead to appetite changes, lack of motivation, weight loss or weight gain, overeating, headaches, stomach pain, and a general sense of being unwell. Treating the effects of heartbreak while allowing the person to mourn the loss of a relationship can be a tricky balance… Depression, anxiety, and withdrawal from friends, family, and usual activities are some of the most common emotional reactions to heartache…”

And you’ll find that article linked in the transcript at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes (find it here: https://www.healthline.com/health/what-does-heartbreak-do-to-your-health#the-body).

I mentioned depression there and I want to highlight that ‘breakup depression’ is a very real condition, one that would require a lot more time to cover properly and so it’s not something I’m going to get into today, however I am going to include links in the transcript to two articles by Verywell Mind about dealing with break-ups; this site is one of my go-to ones because their content is written by experts and fact checked with science-backed research, which makes it a lot more reliable than some of the general advice you’ll see out there… so check out the transcript for those if you’re dealing with a breakup (and you’ll find the link in the episode description or just head to the Episodes page on my website). 

Find them here: https://www.verywellmind.com/breakup-depression-4768558 and https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-heal-a-broken-heart-1065395 

So let’s explore heartbreak a bit more and let’s talk about…  

Why understanding heartbreak matters

And it matters because it’s painful… but it’s not permanent; it’s important to find constructive ways of dealing with the inevitable grief and sadness that comes with any type of heartbreak or loss so that you can feel what you need to feel while also not allowing yourself to become consumed by the pain. Frankly, that’s tough to do and quite often it’s not something you should really try to tackle on your own… that’s where a good support network of family and friends can make a huge difference, and it’s also where it might help to work with a mental health professional who can help you to process your feelings over time (and that’s why there’s even a whole specialist field dedicated to grief counselling, because it’s one of the most complicated emotions to work through).

Because I do need to flag here that there’s no specific timeline for getting over heartbreak and it can take anywhere from months through to years; I think that with a lot of grief, we’re left with emotions (like love) that have nowhere to go and so we’re trying to process all of this stuff and it can be overwhelming. Personally, I think a lot of the time it’s more about learning how to live with the loss rather than getting over it, because it’s impossible to un-learn what you have learned. 

Loss is loss, and it has real consequences which go beyond just the initial shock; many heartbreaks turn our lives upside-down and the event itself ripples throughout nearly every aspect of our lives, far beyond just the specific thing that did or didn’t happen.

I said a few minutes ago about how there are lots of different things that can contribute to heartbreak, not just relationships breaking up, and I mentioned ‘loss of identity’ which is definitely something I can relate to personally: when I had my breakdown in 2011, then severe depression and anxiety, it changed every single aspect of my life in ways I could never have imagined and it also meant I was unable to work — which, quite frankly, was a total shock to my system. I was genuinely heartbroken. For years I had defined myself by what I did for a living and I thought that my job title and salary gave me purpose, and to an extent it did (in that there were times as a manager and trainer where I was able to make a tangible, positive difference for people I worked with) but, for the most part, it was actually more about going through the motions and doing work that didn’t really matter in the big scheme of things (to me at least; I’ve said very openly here many times that corporate work may not be for me but that doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful or that it’s not right for some people… I am just not one of them). 

Now, I’m someone who fought very hard to rise above the circumstances I was born into (like poverty), and so suddenly to feel like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet was devastating and… well, I had no idea who the hell I was. I am not exaggerating when I say it took years to figure out what to do next, because it’s really only been in the last couple of years that everything has kind-of fallen into place. I’m grateful that I decided to do a degree at university while I was figuring it all out, because that gave me the foundation I needed to forge my own identity and build something new from scratch, but I was honestly just muddling along in the dark trying to do whatever I could to feel like I was keeping my head above the surface. 

And the surprising thing for me is that when I sit here and reflect on everything that has happened over the past 10 years, all of the heartbreak and pain, I don’t think I’d change any of it — even the ugly stuff — because that is what led me to where I am today. Being able to look all of that stuff in the eye and say, “you have no power over me anymore!” really does serve to help you heal from your heartbreak and to become a stronger person because of it.

And so with that in mind, let’s get into the how-to part of today’s conversation and let’s talk about…  

How to heal from heartbreak

Alright, so I have lots of how-to items this week so get ready! Let’s start with the biggest one, which is… 

Feel what you need to feel — your feelings are valid and don’t let anyone or anything tell you otherwise. We all feel things in our own unique ways, based on our individual wants and needs, and so nobody has the right to tell you how to feel about something and, at the same time, you need to give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel! It’s like with the pandemic; we’ve all experienced loss in many different shapes and forms over these past two years, whether that’s losing a loved one or feeling the loss of our ability to get on with life without constantly looking over our shoulder or worrying about our exposure. There is a very vocal minority of people who seem to think we should all just shut up and get on with life, and those people are very welcome to practice their own advice and shut the hell up. Human beings have feelings and our feelings are based on our wants and needs (which I discussed in Episode 28, about feelings), so if you’re feeling heartbroken over something or someone then that’s nobody’s business but your own! Which leads to my next point…

Process your feelings — because just ignoring them doesn’t work! Take the time to work through them; you might find journalling helpful as well as talking with people you trust, and as I said earlier it would also be very helpful to work with a professional, like a counsellor or therapist, to explore things in a more objective way (friends and family are lovely and wonderful, but they can never give you 100% objective advice because they care about you on a personal and intimate level). And that actually leads to the next point…

Look at your feelings objectively — because often we focus on the situation and our ego makes it all about us (something I discussed in Episode 68, about ego) whereas most things that other people do are about them, not you. For example, if someone broke up with you, that’s about them and their needs and choices.  It’s very likely not actually about you. Of course it might feel personal, but trust me it’s not; think of a time in your own life where you’ve needed to make a change… how much of it was because of what you wanted or needed, versus how much was about the other person? Honestly, it’s probably not about you so let it go. OK, next…

Don’t let yourself become lost in your feelings — and that’s a nice way of saying ‘don’t wallow’, because if you completely lose yourself then it can be hard to pull yourself out of it. Give yourself time to sit and process your feelings, preferably with support, and then push yourself to take positive steps to move forward a little at a time. Which is related to my next point…

Look after yourself — and this really is the time to go all-out on those bubble baths or whatever else floats your boat in the self-care realm! I talked about self care back in Episode 6 however here are a few simple ways to look after yourself:

  • Make healthy choices — because cheap wine and an all-day Housewives marathon won’t make you feel any better about yourself (I mean, it might for a bit but then when you look at yourself in the mirror you’re going to feel WAY worse!); remember, all things in moderation so by all means treat yourself every now and then, but focus on healthier choices the majority of the time
  • Write it out to get it out — because if you bottle your feelings up then they stay bottled up, so channel them out (and you’ll find a paper and pen works better for this than your phone, because it’s a physical way of releasing that energy) 
  • Move your body — because exercise and physical movement also helps to release some of that energy 
  • Get outside — because fresh air and big skies can help to clear out the mental cobwebs you might be feeling
  • Create new routines — if your old routines are painful, mix it up and create new ones to complement the old (you don’t have to reinvent yourself totally, and in fact I don’t think that’s healthy either… it’s about mixing it up); and…
  • Do one thing every day that makes you feel good — try new things and learn new skills, read a book, plant a tree, do one random act of kindness no matter how small… whatever it is, do something that is just for you that makes you feel good

Alright, so moving on from self care my next point is…

Don’t torture yourself or play “what if?” — and this one is probably mainly about breakups but it applies to a lot of heartbreaking situations; it can be so easy to start going over and over things in our mind and trying to identify what we could have done differently… but that won’t change anything. ‘What if?’ doesn’t get you anywhere because what’s done is done, and the only healthy option is to make your peace with it so you can move forward. Oh, and if you are dealing with a breakup (and that includes friendship breakups) then please do not torture yourself by repeatedly calling or texting, or sitting for hours and scrutinising every tiny little detail of their social media… instead, use that time to do my next point which is…

Focus on moving forward rather than moving on — learning how to process heartbreak and loss isn’t a race and it isn’t something you can just tick off your to-do list once you’ve followed a set of specific steps… sorry, but human beings just don’t work that way! Moving on means trying to get over something, and I don’t like that expression because it feels like it misses the whole point of loss: to process it and accept it, because that is what helps you to move forward having learned whatever you need to learn from what did or didn’t happen, and that is how you grow. And, of course, that takes time which, funnily enough, leads to my next point…

Give yourself time — because grief has no timetable, so you have to give yourself time (something I discussed in the grief episode, which was Episode 26); you need to let yourself grieve so that you can integrate the loss and the changes associated with it into your life, and that takes time. You can’t rush it either; when I was researching this episode there was a ridiculous article on how to hack heartbreak and frankly it made me so annoyed because you can’t hurry grief just like you can’t hurry love (or at least that’s what The Supremes told us). One of the best ways to deal with it is my next point…

Talk to people you trust — because, quite frankly, what most of us want in life (whether we realise it or not) is to be seen and valued by others, and when we’re dealing with heartbreak (especially when it’s related to the end of a relationship) it can be tough to feel valued… and so that’s where your support network comes in (something I’m mentioning a lot this episode, because it’s very important). Forget about being humble and independent; this is the time when you need that loving relative to tell you how wonderful you are or for your best friend to come to your house and throw darts at a picture of your ex while you eat takeaway food and vow that you will be stronger than yesterday (like Britney Spears told us all to be). And I’ve said many times in this show that other people cannot read your mind, so let them know what you need and don’t be shy about asking for help, whether it’s physical or emotional or both. The people who genuinely love you will be happy and honoured to be there for you in whatever way they can (obviously recognising that we all have commitments so they might not be able to drop everything!). Ask for what you need. Alright, next…

Remember it’s OK to not be OK — and this relates to my earlier point about feeling what you need to feel, but it’s important that I kind of gently (or not-so-gently) beat you over the head with this one again because the fact is this: heartbreak sucks and it takes time to heal from it, and healing doesn’t just happen in a straight line which means that you’ll have good days, average days and downright awful days… that’s part of the process and it’s OK to not be OK all the time. Let yourself grieve and let yourself heal (however I will say that if those feelings are intense for a prolonged period of time — for example, 12 months or more — and you don’t feel like you’re making progress, it really is time to talk to a professional because there is a condition called Complicated Grief which affects a small proportion of people; I’ll include a link to an article on the subject by the Mayo Clinic in the transcript so if you think you might be dealing with that condition then please read it and consider what your next steps will be in terms of seeking treatment — find it here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/complicated-grief/symptoms-causes/syc-20360374). OK, and so speaking of letting yourself grieve and heal, my next point is… 

Be kind to yourself — because a lot of different types of heartbreak, from the end of a relationship through to the loss of a job, can do a lot of damage to your self esteem and sense of self worth; instead of spending all of your time beating yourself up over whatever did or didn’t happen, choose to learn from it and also choose to recognise that ups and downs are a natural part of life… if the world were sunshine and rainbows all the time, flowers wouldn’t grow and we wouldn’t have anything to eat because, you know, food and eco-systems and all that stuff. You cannot have the light without the darkness, so be kind to yourself and really nurture yourself as you heal. I’ve covered a few topics that might help you with that: I talked about self esteem in Episode 43, self worth in Episode 78, self respect in Episode 96 and healing in Episode 97, so check those out for more on the topics. 

Alright, so now I want to cover off on a few things to consider after you’ve begun to heal and you can feel yourself moving forward. Here are four things I want you to think about for the future: 

  1. When your feelings are less raw, focus on the good times instead of just the loss — because it’s so easy to just hone in on the last few weeks or months, especially when it comes to breakups, but that actually means that we’re not celebrating the good and that really does deserve to be honoured. 
  2. Consider what can you take away from this experience — because every situation or event has something to teach us, so look for the lesson which can serve to make even the toughest of times feel a bit less pointless than they might otherwise.
  3. Take calculated risks, instead of never putting yourself out there again — all experiences are valid, even if they hurt, and so it might be tempting to not want to let yourself be hurt again but when you do that you actually wind up making yourself miserable in the long term. Life is risk, and it involves taking chances to make bold advances (or at least that’s what Mel & Kim told us). And…
  4. Remember that one experience does not define you — and that you are worthy of experiencing love and joy again in the future. You will be OK with time, effort and perseverance. 

And so then this is a general piece of advice that I’ve said a few times today, but I’m going to say it again: get support from a professional if you need it. Heartbreak can be really devastating and it can do a lot of damage to your mental health and wellbeing if it’s left unaddressed, so if you’re struggling to do it on your own then get some help from a grief specialist or a general professional.

Summary and Close-Out

Because when it comes to heartbreak and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: When your heart breaks it can feel like the end of the world, and it can feel as though you might never love or laugh or experience joy ever again… but you will. Of course it’s not a great thing to have to go through but we all go through it at some point or another, for a range of different reasons, and with time you will emerge feeling stronger than ever. Choose to give yourself time to feel what you need to feel and be kind to yourself, so that you can slowly begin to heal little by little.  

The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today? 

Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by an unknown author, and it is:

Sorrows are our best educators. [We] can see further through a tear than through a telescope.”

Unknown

Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about people pleasing. In my February update to my Official Supporters on Patreon I had a bit of a laugh about the fact that I have had so many requests to talk about breakups and then finally decided to cover it, and just happened to slot the topic in the week before I had planned to talk about people pleasing (although I’m definitely glad I talked about heartbreak today because it felt quite cathartic!). Anyway the point is that sometimes we can find ourselves giving in to what other people want or need from us even when it isn’t necessarily in our best interests, and it can be something that’s quite common for people who had challenging childhoods or who just find it generally hard to say no or be assertive (two topics I’ve discussed before, in Episode 105 and Episode 45 respectively). I’ve definitely got some people-pleasing tendencies so I want to dig into the topic and try to better understand it, so next time I’ll be talking about what people pleasing is, why understanding it matters, and how to manage people pleasing tendencies in a healthy and balanced way.

I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 13th of March, 2022. 

And catch my latest YouTube video on Wednesday over on my Better Mental Health channel; take a moment to subscribe to my channel using the link in the episode description or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my mailing list for my free weekly newsletter (and you’ll find my website also linked in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on).

And, as always, find me on Instagram at @ltamentalhealth where I post extra content throughout the week.

Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!

Jeremy 🙂

Let’s Talk About Mental Health is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com

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Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Simple ideas for better mental health.

Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2022 Jeremy Godwin.

The information provided in this episode is for general awareness on the topic and does not constitute advice. You should consult a doctor and/or a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll find additional information on the Resources page of this website.

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