Boot Camp for the Broken-Hearted

Having trouble getting over your broken relationship? Here’s a look at the stages of a broken heart — and some tips on mending your heart and moving on to a better and healthier you.

Boot Camp for the Broken-Hearted

Understanding What’s Happening

Falling in and out of love is a chemical reaction. When we fall in love, our brains generate certain chemicals (e.g. dopamine and norepinephrine), which give us a euphoric-like feeling, temporarily blinding us from most anything that may be construed as negative about our paramour (that’s why they say, “Love is blind”). After a while, however, our bodies generate smaller amounts of those chemicals, which lead to a decline in that tingly feeling and sense of excitement. Usually, it can take anywhere from one to three years before these chemicals naturally lessen, but if your romance abruptly comes to an end, these levels can plummet and you feel as though your rose-colored glasses have been ripped off!

Your heart is sick — much like your body can be. Just like getting the flu, your heart can get sick and your spirit can take ill, so take care of them as you would your physical body. So take it easy. Don’t put too much responsibility on yourself for a while. You’re on an emotional roller coaster and, unfortunately, with all of that comes a process. Like mourning the death of a loved one, while grieving the loss of the relationship, you may experience any or all of these seven stages of grief:

You may also experience physical and psychological symptoms as well. Your body can feel tired, almost stiff, and may be resistant to any activity. Also, studies show that depression can lower your immune system, which can make you susceptible to colds and even disease. Mentally, you may feel confused, forgetful, and scattered. You may be unable to concentrate, and following simple directions can feel overwhelming.

Change is not easy. Use this time for self-reflection and goal-setting. When we experience something that is potentially devastating, our minds tend to protect us from memories which can be too overwhelming or upsetting. For this reason, we may not always be able to accurately remember the facts about certain events. We may forget how irritating or cruel or controlling the person was, or imagine them to be more loving, desirable, or kinder than they were in reality.

Mental Conditioning. Let the Healing Begin

Now that you’ve gotten a better understanding of what’s going on within you, let’s examine ways to help you to begin feeling better. Instead of spending all of your time thinking about your ex, going over and over everything that happened in your mind, and just plain wallowing in your misery, it’s time to take control over your thoughts and start focusing on you! Below, you will find a chart describing things to rely on in order to get yourself moving in the right direction. Practice these suggestions as often as you can, and if you slip up, it’s okay. Chock it up to a bad day, let it all out, and start fresh the next day.

Heart Mending

What to focus on to help you get over a broken heart:

Yourself Don’t think about what your ex is doing; keep your mind on you.
The Present Concentrate on what you’re doing in the moment.
Friends and Family Let people who love you listen to you and help you.
Structure Keep to your normal schedule as much as possible.
Your Spirit Say prayers, affirmations; think positive.
Goals Decide what you want, make a plan, and go for it.

What to do to help you get over a broken heart:

Have Faith Believe in yourself and that you will be okay. Relinquish control over everything. Leave yourself in the hands of your Higher Power.
Keep a Journal Write down everything — both good and bad thoughts. If you write your thoughts on paper, it will help you get rid of all the anger, confusion, and heartache you have inside you.
Practice Self-Control Keep yourself focused on your responsibilities as much as you can by allowing yourself to get upset or dwell on your ex only at certain and limited amounts of time.
Exercise/Move Around When you’re feeling overwhelmed, get up and move your body. It has been scientifically proven that changing the location and position of your body can break your train of thought. You may feel stiff and weak, but physical activity will help clear your mind.
Eat Right This is not the time for a strict diet, nor is it a time to indulge in all the ice cream sundaes you can eat. Some foods containing sugar, caffeine, or alcohol can make you anxious, so be aware of what you’re eating and drinking.
Keep to a Schedule When you’re feeling bad, there is a tremendous temptation to just stay in bed and lay around the house — but don’t do it. Cruise on automatic pilot for a while. Right now, your only tasks are to get yourself up and go to work.
Read Everything that’s a Positive Reinforcement Review old books that inspired you. Seek out stories or articles that are uplifting, funny, and insightful.
Smile/Laugh It may sound peculiar, but studies have shown that when we smile, our faces send messages telling our brains that we are all right, and soon we feel better. Laughing also relieves stress and improves our immune system (at first you may break into tears, but keep on smiling)!
Volunteer or Do Something for Someone Else You’d be surprised how much helping someone else actually helps you! It takes your mind off of your problems for a while. You shouldn’t commit to anything long-term just yet, but try doing something nice for a relative, friend, or neighbor. Whether you believe in karma or not, positive energy is a powerful thing and I believe what you give out, you get back.

If you are having trouble falling asleep during this time, try this visualization.

Lie in bed and close your eyes. Think of all of the people and issues that are worrying you. One by one, picture each of them and then shrink them until they are really tiny and can fit in the palm of your hand. Then pick one up at a time and place them on your night table — pick up your ex, your boss, your mother, the bills — whatever — and place them on the nightstand next to you. Picture this little group standing together now, waiting patiently for you to address them again in the morning.

Worrying about things and rehashing events over and over does you no good — it just keeps you from getting a much needed good night’s sleep. By (literally) taking them off your mind, you allow yourself to get much needed relaxation without the fear that your problems will go unaddressed.

Besides getting enough sleep, it’s also important to make yourself feel comfortable during this time. Wear your favorite clothes, snuggle with your softest blanket, eat your favorite foods, then take a tub and put on your pajamas! Think of yourself during this time as being under the weather, and treat yourself kindly.

Planning Future Missions

Think about what you want and set some goals: Fear, procrastination, and/or laziness are the only things stopping you from having what you want. Basically, there are three steps to achieving your goal.

  1. Figure out what you want,
  2. Take steps toward your goal every day, and
  3. Focus on it and don’t give up.

Now ask yourself these questions: What do you want for your future? What have you denied yourself? What have you put off? What’s important to you? What do you dream of being and/or doing? List your replies and write down the actual steps you can take to make it happen. For example:

Become a paralegal Find a school or training Get brochures; choose Get financing; work out details Go to class and study Graduate!
Go to Paris Get brochures Save money Book with travel agent Pack and go! Enjoy pictures!
Buy a Condo Save some money Talk to an agent Get qualified by the bank Look at properties Move!


  • Understand what’s happening to you, both emotionally and physically.
  • Allow (and help) yourself go through the whole “process” of ups and downs.
  • Be gentle with and forgiving of yourself.
  • Keep up with your normal routine as much as possible.
  • Take time to examine your choices, and do what’s best for you.
  • Review what you’ve learned from your experience.
  • Set some goals, and make your first move!

Hopefully, you’re now feeling a little more optimistic and believe that life will go on after tissues, tantrums, and talk shows.

This article has been edited and excerpted from Boot Camp for the Broken-Hearted (New Horizon Press, 2008) by Audrey Valieriani. Based in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, Valeriani is the creator of, which provides relationship coaching.

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