The end of a relationship can cause uncomfortable emotions, including breakup depression. It is normal to feel sad when a relationship ends, especially if the relationship was serious and the breakup was not expected.
Breakup sadness may be mild and pass with time, but in some situations, it can progress to clinical depression. In either case, there are ways of how to get over breakup depression.
Why are breakups hard?
As experts have explained, breakups are hard because they cause major life changes, such as worsened finances or a new living situation. It is also important to remember that with a breakup, you are grieving the loss of an important relationship.
Even if there were problems in the relationship, the breakup is still a loss.
Following the loss of a relationship, you may also feel lonely. Some other reasons breakups are hard are that you may experience low self-esteem or have an altered sense of who you are.
A relationship is a key part of your identity, and losing that can change the way you see yourself. In some cases, the loss of a relationship can leave you feeling empty, as if you do not know who you are.
In some cases, a breakup may mean that you have to co-parent children with your former partner. This can mean giving up time with your children so that your former partner can spend one-on-one time with them.
You may also suffer from a loss of friendships if the two of you had mutual friends who side with your partner after the breakup. Ultimately, breakups are challenging because they lead to so many changes all at once.
Causes of breakups
Post-relationship depression is one of the side effects of going through the challenges of ending a relationship, even if there was a good reason behind the breakup. Some causes of breakups include differences in personality, not spending enough time together, or being unhappy with the sexual connection in the relationship.
Some couples may breakup because one or both were unfaithful, or there may have been too many negative interactions or just general dissatisfaction with the relationship.
Can a breakup cause depression?
As previously explained, breakups are difficult. They can completely change your life and make you feel lonely. While sadness after a breakup is normal and may pass with time, breakups can cause depression for some people.
A 2018 study found that separating from a partner was associated with depression. In women, breakup depression was associated with the financial problems experienced after a separation. For men, depression after a breakup was a result of losing social support.
Based on the findings of this study, it is reasonable to conclude that the stress and life changes that come with a breakup can trigger an episode of depression. In this case, sadness after a breakup can turn into post-relationship depression.
Signs of depression after a breakup
Post-breakup depression can range in severity from brief periods of sadness to full-blown clinical depression.
It is normal to feel emotions like sadness, anger, and anxiety after a breakup. Still, if these feelings are persistent and lead to extreme sadness, you may be showing signs of depression after a breakup.
According to experts, research has shown that the emotions after a breakup are similar to symptoms of clinical depression. In some cases, a therapist or psychologist may diagnose an adjustment disorder, sometimes called situational depression, when someone is suffering from post-relationship depression.
For example, someone who experiences depression after a breakup may meet the criteria for an adjustment disorder with a depressed mood. Some signs of this condition are as follows:
Experiencing changing emotions and behaviors within three months of a breakup
Suffering from emotions after a breakup that interferes with daily life
Failing to enjoy things that once made you happy
While the above signs of depression after a breakup are associated with an adjustment disorder, some people who are feeling depressed after a breakup may have clinical depression. Signs of clinical depression include:
Feeling hopeless or helpless
Changes in appetite, as well as weight gain or loss
Sleeping more or less than usual
Lack of pleasure from usual activities
Feeling sad or worthless
Having little energy
Thinking about suicide
To meet the criteria for clinical depression, you must show at least five symptoms of depression after a breakup. Symptoms must also occur for a period of at least two weeks.
This means that a brief bout of sadness that lasts for a few days after a breakup isn’t truly clinical depression. On the other hand, breakup depression symptoms that last for weeks or even months can meet the criteria for clinical depression.
If you have just experienced a breakup and are noticing any of the previously mentioned symptoms, you may have either an adjustment disorder or clinical depression after a breakup. These signs of depression after a breakup may occur in stages.
7 stages of depression after a breakup
In addition to the fact that depression after a breakup can reach the level of a clinical mental health condition, there are various stages of depression after a breakup. According to relationship psychology experts, these stages are as follows:
1. Seeking answers
This stage involves trying to figure out what went wrong in the relationship. You may turn to friends and family and justify to them why the relationship didn’t have to end.
During this stage of breakup depression, you set your grief aside and avoid painful emotions instead of putting all of your energy into the belief that the relationship can be saved. You simply cannot accept that the relationship has ended.
The bargaining stage occurs when you determine that you will do whatever it takes to save the relationship and get your partner back. So, you promise to be a better partner and fix what went wrong.
Bargaining is a distraction from the pain of breakup depression.
Because of breakup depression, you may briefly return to a relationship with your partner, only to find that the relationship continues to fail.
Anger during breakup depression may be directed at either yourself or your former partner. You may be angry at yourself because of things you did wrong in the relationship, or you may have anger toward your partner for their role in the failure of the relationship.
According to the experts, anger can be empowering because it can motivate you to begin to move on and seek better relationships in the future.
6. Initial acceptance
At this stage of depression after a breakup, you begin to accept the fact that the relationship is over, but this acceptance occurs only because it is necessary and not because you actually want to accept it.
It is during this stage of post-relationship depression that you will stop attempting to salvage the relationship.
7. Redirected hope
In the final stage of coping with a breakup depression, your hope goes from a belief that the relationship can be saved to accepting that there’s a future without your former partner.
This can create feelings of sadness as you move into new territory without hope for salvaging the relationship, but it could also create hope for a new future.
In the video below, Alan Robarge, an Attachment trauma therapist, discusses how separation affects the brain. He says the foremost rule is you should push yourself to function and keep your routine normal. Learn more below:
How to overcome depression after a breakup
If you find yourself struggling with breakup depression, you are probably wondering how to deal with depression after a breakup. While some negative emotions after a breakup are normal, there are tips for how to stop being sad after a breakup.
Experts recommend the following strategies for coping with post-relationship depression:
You may initially feel too sad to be productive, but tackling projects around the house or taking on a new activity can prevent you from dwelling on your emotions after a breakup.
Start a journal
According to experts, studies show that writing about what you are feeling is an effective coping strategy for breakup depression.
Spending time with friends or developing social support networks, such as online support groups, can help you to overcome depression after a breakup.
Establishing strong connections with friends or with others experiencing similar situations can help you to stay socially engaged as you lose a key relationship. This can make it easier to cope with a bout of breakup depression.
Remember to take care of yourself
Caring for yourself with plenty of sleep and proper nutrition can make it easier to cope with breakup depression. When you take care of your health, you will feel better, which lifts your mood.
Make time for exercise
According to research, exercise boosts the mood just as well as some antidepressant medications, and it can increase your sense of wellbeing. Getting up and moving can, therefore, be an excellent coping strategy for recovering from breakup depression.
In general, taking care of your health and finding opportunities to try new activities and connect with other people are important ways of how to deal with depression after a breakup.
When to get professional help
While there are ways of how to deal with depression after a breakup on your own, in some cases, depression may be severe and persistent, requiring professional help.
It is typical to experience some degree of sadness after a breakup, but feelings of depression will typically subside over time, especially if you practice self-care.
On the other hand, it is time to get professional help when breakup depression is ongoing, does not improve with time, and leads to significant problems with daily functioning.
For example, if you are so distraught over the breakup that you are unable to fulfill duties at work or keep up with bills or housework, professional help is warranted.
If breakup depression is persistent and does not improve over time with healthy coping strategies, you may have developed clinical depression or an adjustment disorder. If this is the case, sadness after a breakup may require therapy.
According to experts, if you are still feeling just as sad a few months after a breakup, you should consult a psychologist or therapist for treatment. Two specific types of therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are effective for treating breakup depression.
For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy can help you change obsessive thoughts about what went wrong in the relationship so that you can develop healthier ways of thinking.
While therapy on its own may be effective, sometimes, you may need to take medication to cope with breakup depression.
Your therapist or psychologist may refer you to a doctor who can prescribe antidepressants to boost your mood and make symptoms such as sadness, loss of interest in activities, and feelings of helplessness less severe.
If you are unsure whether you need help for breakup depression, it can be helpful to take a quiz to learn whether you are suffering from clinical depression or are simply unhappy with the breakup.
5 ways to avoid depression after a breakup
While treatment for depression may be necessary in some cases, there are strategies for avoiding serious breakup depression that requires treatment. Here are five tips for preventing breakup depression symptoms:
1. Stay socially connected
You may be tempted to stay at home and sulk when you are struggling with sadness after a breakup, but it is important to stay connected with other people.
Social isolation will just make you feel worse. Make coffee dates with friends, attend your usual activities and events, or reach out to others online for support.
Building and maintaining social connections can help you to relate to other people and fill some of the voids that develop at the end of a romantic relationship.
2. Take care of yourself
The mind and body are connected, so when you are not taking care of yourself, your mental health is likely to suffer as well. To avoid slipping into depression after a breakup, remember to follow a nutritious diet, get plenty of sleep, and practice healthy habits.
It may seem appealing to indulge in alcohol or savory foods or neglect your health when you are feeling lousy after a breakup, but poor habits will only make you feel worse in the long term.
3. Focus on your strengths
The loss of a relationship means major life changes, such as moving or worsening your financial situation. Breakups also mean a feeling of identity loss since so much of who we are is tied to our relationship with a significant other.
This can lead to a loss of self-esteem and a poor self-image. To avoid falling into breakup depression, remember to focus on your strengths. For instance, put your energy into new projects or goals at work.
Or, if you have a strength in music or fitness, you may focus on competition or events where you can be successful. This will allow you to develop an identity and a sense of self-esteem outside of the former relationship.
4. Make time for exercise
Not only does exercise allow you to take care of yourself, but it can also boost your mood and prevent depression after a breakup.
In fact, a research report in the scientific journal Brain Plasticity shows that exercise is an effective way to regulate moods. It reduces not only negative moods but also increases positive moods, and the effect is almost immediate after a bout of exercise.
Regularly heading to the gym or going out for a run can boost your mood and prevent you from falling into depression after a breakup.
5. Acknowledge your feelings but don’t dwell
It is important to remember that some sadness after a breakup is normal. You are going through a major life change, and accepting that sadness is normal can be helpful.
That being said, it is important not to dwell on your sadness or to let it consume you. Take time to process your emotions with a close friend, or write about them in a journal, but then allow yourself to experience happy moments as well.
Takeaway: Key points on breakup depression
Sadness after a breakup is generally normal, but in some cases, it can become breakup depression. There are strategies for coping with sadness after a breakup, such as practicing self-care, taking time to exercise, and reaching out to others for support.
Using these strategies, setting goals, and taking on new activities can prevent a serious bout of breakup depression. Sometimes, even when you use these methods of how to deal with depression after a breakup, your sadness may continue.
When breakup depression does not get better with time, it interferes with your ability to function in daily life, and comes with symptoms such as extreme tiredness, loss of interest in activities, and thoughts of hopelessness or suicide, it is probably time to seek the help of a professional.
A mental health professional can provide therapy to help you learn how to overcome depression after a breakup. A doctor may be able to prescribe medications to boost your mood. If you think you may have clinical depression after a breakup, it is important to reach out for professional help.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Rachael Pace is a noted relationship writer associated with Marriage.com. She provides inspiration, support, and empowerment in the form of motivational articles and essays. Rachael enjoys studying the evolution of loving partnerships and is passionate about writing on them. She believes that everyone should make room for love in their lives and encourages couples to work on overcoming their challenges together.