Health / Expert Advice

How to Stay Healthy Through a Breakup

Aaptiv trainer Jenn Giamo shares the healthy habits that helped her through heartbreak.

Whether you were together for ten years or ten days, breakups are tough. No matter the circumstances behind the end of our relationships, we all go through a similar, difficult aftermath. It usually involves some heart-wrenching music, a bit of social media obsessing, and a general mix of sadness, anger, frustration, and emotional numbing. It’s all normal. You’re grieving the loss of your relationship, after all. And, whether we realize it or not, the impact of a breakup is more than mental and emotional—it can be physical, too.

Trust me, I’ve been there. But I got through it with the help of a healthy lifestyle and a lot of self-care. Let’s explore how heartbreak may affect your health—and how prioritizing wellness can actually benefit you through a breakup.

Mental and Physical Effects

The emotional trauma of a breakup can often lead to mental and physical repercussions. The stress we feel can manifest in body aches, nausea, or heart palpitations. We also aren’t thinking clearly and therefore tend to make poor decisions regarding our health.

Challenging situations and difficult feelings can cause us to lean on unhealthy habits. Some reach for food as a way to comfort and calm emotions. Others may feel too upset to eat. Sometimes we drink too much. We sleep too much or not enough. In some cases, we remove ourselves from social situations and become isolated. Previously healthy practices such as exercise are non-existent because we’re too exhausted to leave the house.

Chances are, if you have been through a breakup, some or all of this may sound familiar. As a health and fitness professional, I never thought the day would come where I lacked the motivation to get out of bed. I’m someone who almost never misses workouts and I didn’t even have the energy to walk my dog. Fully aware of the importance of nutrition, days passed before I realized I hadn’t eaten a meal. I was caught in the trap of destructive behavior despite my predilection towards wellness.

Connecting with Meditation

As with any life transition, you often have a desire for connectedness. You feel alone, you struggle to make sense of why this happened to you. Instead of questioning what’s wrong with you, take some steps to process your emotions with mindful meditation.

Meditation is more than just a way to calm our thoughts and lower stress levels. Research shows that our brain processes more thoughts and feelings during meditation than when we’re just relaxing. To be mindful is to have a moment to moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions without judgment.

This comes more naturally to some than others. But with daily practice—even five minutes at a time—you’ll be able to reach a more mindful state. Studies show that meditation improves emotional health and anyone can benefit regardless of a perceived natural ability to be more mindful. So, even if you have a harder time getting into meditation, it’s worth it to try because the benefits will come.

Benefits of Cardio Exercise

Whether it’s going for a long run or taking a spin class, intense cardio sessions are great for relieving stress and anxiety. High-intensity activity triggers the reduction in cortisol and adrenaline levels in our bodies. Plus, the endorphins released by the brain also contribute to a boosted mood. Both of these hormonal changes that result from physical activity can help you deal with the sadness that comes with heartbreak.

When the heart is strong, it pumps more blood as it contracts. This leads to a lower resting heart rate and reduced blood pressure over time, which equals a more relaxed body when you’re not exercising. And we can’t ignore the physical results of increased fitness. You may see that your arms and legs are more toned or your waistline is a bit tighter. These physical benefits combined with your endorphin-enhanced mental state can be a major confidence boost—necessary when we’re feeling rejected after a breakup.

Don’t Skip Strength Training

Feeling strong and empowered is so important when you’re going through a life change like a breakup. You may find yourself feeling especially weak and vulnerable. Strength training can give you back your personal sense of control and power. If you haven’t already started, incorporate strength training—bodyweight exercises, dumbbells, etc.—into your routine. If you’re already a fan of strength workouts, try adding more reps or set goals to work up to heavier weights. As you grow stronger physically, you’ll start to feel stronger mentally, too. Plus, since you’ll be focusing on your form and movement patterns, you won’t even have time to think about your ex.

Don’t Forget the Food

Post-breakup, you’re probably tempted to run into the arms of Ben and Jerry. And, while a few evenings of indulgence are totally fine (and necessary!) here and there, make sure the bulk of your diet isn’t at the mercy of your emotions.

Always think about how certain foods make you physically feel after you eat them. Fast forward to that moment when you’re in a food coma, feeling bloated and fatigued. The sugar high only lasts until your next binge. This cycle can be hard to break. Try to maintain a balance between your comfort foods and your regular healthy diet.

On the flip side, many of us are non-eaters during stressful or sad times. It’s hard to muster an appetite when your stomach is in knots. This is also a dangerous habit to fall into as our brains and bodies need fuel to function properly—especially during difficult times. Do your best to maintain a somewhat regular diet and focus on filling foods. If it’s really hard to eat, try homemade smoothies packed to the brim with ingredients rich in good carbs, healthy fats, and protein.

Give Yourself Time

The unfortunate reality is that a traumatic event took place and you’re grieving a loss. Breakups take time. And some of us never truly get over it. That’s not to say that you’ll never feel okay again, but it’s safe to say you might never be the same—which can actually be a great thing.

The breakdown of a significant relationship can really shape who you are going forward.  Healing is not linear. You’ll make progress and you’ll feel like you’ve slipped backward. But always remember that you are going forward. Honor your feelings because there isn’t a time limit on grief. The journey can be rough but staying mindful of each stage can ease you through the transition. Focus on your physical and mental health and you’ll come out of your breakup stronger—in every way.

Expert Advice Health

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