The brokenhearted are the bravest among us—they dared to love.
- Brené Brown
Everywhere you turn, love is in the air. The top hits on Spotify are queued with songs crooning about love. In cafes all across the nation, strangers are meeting for first or second dates. Even on The Bachelor, every exit interview reveals a raw glimpse into how it seems we’re all searching for love. Why? As one of my favorite chick flicks as a teen hypothesized, “Love is the closest thing we have to magic.”
Yet despite the great magic and universal experience of loving someone, love is also dangerous. It’s vulnerable. When you love someone, it’s inevitable you have or will experience heartbreak at some point. And heartbreak doesn’t just have to be romantic, or a result of a breakup or divorce. For all the kinds of love we experience (the Greeks estimated there are as many as eight different types of love), there is a counterpart to its loss. Heartbreak can also come in the form of the death, someone you love moving away, letting you down, or simply the perceived loss of friendship.
Processing heartbreak externally may look like a lot of tears and Ben & Jerry’s for momentary comfort, but processing heartbreak well internally is what makes a difference down the road. Psychologist Brené Brown writes that heartbreak is always connected to love and belonging. When that love is lost, it inevitably leads to grief, which Brown says “is probably the emotion we fear the most.” So how do we rise strong after heartbreak?
Owning Our Stories of Heartbreak
In her book “Rising Strong,” Brown mentions that some common themes of heartbreak include loss, longing, and feeling lost. Loss can imply a loss of normality, what could be, and what we thought we knew or understood. Longing refers to not a conscious wanting, but rather an involuntary yearning for wholeness, for understanding, for meaning, or simply for the opportunity to regain what we’ve lost. As for feeling lost, grief requires us to “reorient ourselves to every part of our physical, emotional, and social worlds.”
One of the hardest parts of heartbreak can be losing a future you imagined with someone. And while reminiscing on memories can be a practice of gratitude, getting stuck in the cycle of reliving those memories may not be the healthiest habit.
Owning our stories of heartbreak is step one. Whether you believe in God, the universe, or something in between, sometimes processing heartbreak just comes down to acknowledging the brokenness and that in some cases, the situation was simply out of our control. However, Brown notes that the more difficult it is for us to articulate our experiences of loss, longing, and feeling lost to the people around us, the more disconnected and alone we will feel. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and ask for help as you process. Healthily acknowledge that you are experiencing heartbreak, and accept the associated thoughts and emotions that come with that.
Practicing Assisted Mindfulness
Research shows that people who are able to accept reality with an open heart and learn to love themselves are the ones who can truly rise strong and move on in life with resilience, compassion for others, and increased self-worth. Mindfulness is important in all aspects of life, but processing a breakup through guided and intentional creative outlets can be an incredibly mending experience.
In addition to leaning on family and friends during heartbreak, doing restorative yoga classes such as yin and nidra yoga help you stay in tune with your body and your emotions. Frequently, we store up anxiety, stress, and hurt in different tension points in our body, so being aware of how heartbreak manifests itself physically—and then letting go—is a transformative experience.
Another mindful way to process heartbreak is through reading poetry, whether that’s through faith-based literature like Psalms (Psalms 34 is a heavily referenced one), Islamic poet Rumi’s literature, or through modern poets such as Morgan Harper Nichols and Danielle Doby’s beautifully-illustrated words of grace and encouragement. Often, reading and listening to music help us articulate emotions we’re not sure how to express ourselves. They remind us that we are not alone, nor are we the first to go through this painful experience. In turn, we are able to put our own pens to paper through mindful journaling to freely process our heartbreak. It’s often surprisingly cathartic how much you have to say or need to ruminate “out loud” once you start writing.
For those who are less inclined to old-fashioned methods, Silicon Valley doesn’t disappoint with apps designed to help heal heartbreak. Here are just a few:
Mend is a self care app for heartbreak that guides you through a breakup with activities based on science-rooted research, including a journal, self-care log, and audio trainings written by mental health and wellness experts. Mend also hosts an in-person healing retreat called Self that gathers together women from all corners of the world (the next one’s in Barcelona!) to help them reconnect with themselves and rebuild after heartbreak. It’s an entire month long—a healthy block of time set aside with just one intention: healing.
Headspace is a guided meditation app with a whole suite of 100+ topics you can pick to meditate on, including how to process through heartbreak and anxiety. Choose your own length of meditation, from five minutes to twenty minutes, and fill the silences with your thoughts.
Rx Breakup is another app designed specifically to get you through the first 30 days after heartbreak to process your thoughts, with guided activities to keep you busy and focused.
Simple Habit is an app perfect if you’re having insomnia at night—the time when you’re alone with your thoughts and often the heartbreak hits hardest. Not only are there over 2,000+ guided sleep meditations (as well as meditations to reduce stress during the day), Simple Habit even comes with a playlist of different sleep sounds so you can lull yourself to sleep to the sound of rain.
Embracing a New Normal
It’s cliché but true that time heals all wounds. The sooner you are able to incorporate specific habits, routines, and mindsets into your “new normal,” the easier it will be to move on. If you used to FaceTime your mom on weekday evenings, but she’s since passed away, find an alternative weeknight plan that won’t allow you to dwell too much in that sadness.
No matter who or what caused the heartbreak, you are your first priority in this time of healing. No matter what past you are grieving, remember that you are the architect of your own future. You alone can set expectations of how you want to live your life moving forward. You are the CEO of your destiny. What learnings can you take away about yourself, either about what’s important to you in a relationship, or how you simply fall in love? Can you celebrate what love did exist, and acknowledge that it was just “meant to be” for that period of time? Will you walk away appreciating how much stronger you’ve become through the process?
Though it may hurt to face your emotions head-on, processing heartbreak in a mindful way and rising strong in the aftermath is key to leading a thriving life. As Brown says, going through heartbreak can be like surfing. On some days, it will feel like you’re standing up and conquering the waves. On other days, it will feel like the surf is crashing down on you and pushing you underwater. Be kind to yourself, give yourself time, and know that it is up to you to pave the path forward. You are loved!
Alice is a California-grown writer thinking on the things shaping urban living, the modern woman, and living a conscious life of impact in light of a bigger world. A graduate of Northwestern University's j-school, she spent time abroad working with a microfinance project in Peru before transitioning into a 9-5 in the global development sector. When she's not daydreaming about opening a social impact coffee shop, you can find her traveling, plié-ing at the barre studio, or curled up with a good book. Follow her latest creative endeavors and musings at The Kind Citizen or on Instagram at @alice.zhng.