It was Christmas Day night and I couldn’t sleep. Not through excitement for continued Twixmas celebrations, but because I knew I had a difficult and almost certainly heartbreaking conversation ahead of me.
My self-esteem was at an all time low and a situationship of mine had developed into an emotionally torturous interaction. Sex with a good friend meant catching unreciprocated feelings. Despite the friendship, he’d gone quiet and ghosted me during a winter lockdown. It felt terrible. Rotating all possibilities, my mind searched for answers during this period of silence. My inner critic used the situation as a stick to beat me with, evidence of all my shortcomings, proof that I was deficient in other people’s eyes (not just my own).
When he got back in touch to search for guilt absolution, to make sure his reputation remained unscathed in our friendship group, I was confused by his intentions and, I’ll admit, I hoped he’d had a change of heart. Things came to a long overdue head as I sat next to my parents’ Christmas tree sipping a gin and tonic — I knew I needed to end my misery and ask him what he wanted from me. Deep down, I realised the answer possibly wasn’t going to be what my heart wanted, but I needed to be set free from this waiting room of sorrow. My anxiety was mounting to unbearable levels and I knew I couldn’t put off the conversation any longer. So, on Boxing Day morning, I rolled over in bed and awoke to a message from him, apologising yet again for his behaviour. I sighed in recognition of what I needed to do.
After I’d sent the dreaded message, I sat in silence waiting for the inevitable. When his message arrived, the contents weren’t surprising to me — but that didn’t make it any less painful. And though I was free from the turmoil, that’s when anxiety gave way to heartbreak, a feeling that wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped to be dealing with over Christmas, a time of year I usually love. A neverending stream of tears rolled down my face as I sat watching my favourite films with my family. My mum looked at me with pity and concern, as I muffled tragic sniffs on the sofa. It was, as you can imagine, not a great time. And no amount of pigs in blankets or Terry’s Chocolate Oranges would make me feel better (though you can’t say I didn’t try!).
Heartbreak, sadly, doesn’t take a day off when it’s a special occasion.
Heartbreak, sadly, doesn’t take a day off when it’s a special occasion. And the holidays can be particularly difficult when you’re in the throes of a breakup, or the ending of a situationship. As writer Annie Lord, author of Notes On Heartbreak, tells me, “It’s pretty horrible because everyone’s so loved up during Christmas.”
“There are couples everywhere, holding hands at the Christmas markets, looking for rings in shops, and when you turn on the TV they’re still there, kissing in cozy cottages in The Holiday, declaring their love in Love Actually. I think the coldness makes people want to cozy up with someone they love,” she says.
Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you have to put up with it, though. Mashable spoke to psychotherapists for tips on coping with heartbreak during the holidays.
Limit your time on social media
If there’s anything guaranteed to make you want to throw your phone at the wall, it’s seeing endless pics of engagement rings with the caption “so, this happened!” You simply don’t need to see it right now.
Fiona Yassin, family psychotherapist and founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic, says it’s a good idea to limit your social media use so you’re not bombarded with what your friends and internet pals are up to during this period. “When we see others having fun on social media and we feel we are not, it can trigger negative emotions like loneliness and isolation,” says Yassin.
Give yourself time to grieve
The holidays are a time that champions joy. And that can be particularly challenging when you feel, well, pretty rotten. Giving yourself permission to feel sad is important in validating the difficult emotions you’ll be (understandably!) feeling during this time.
“Don’t feel like you’re ruining other people’s good time.”
Dr. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, says, “A big break up is comparable to grief, particularly if that person was very embedded in your life. Instead of rushing out to date again and trying to ‘get over it,’ be gentle with yourself and give yourself time and space to process the loss.”
Also, don’t feel bad for feeling sad. “Don’t feel like you’re ruining other people’s good time,” author Lord says. “You are not a burden. It’s an honour to be able to be there for people when they need it.”
Surround yourself with people you love
Heartbreak is a universal emotion and chances are, everyone around you right now will have gone through it at some point in their life. Opening up to others about what you’re going through can make you feel less alone.
“Speak to your parents or any older members of your family. Most of the time they have been through this before and they survived, knowing this can give you hope,” says Lord. “Christmas means you’re often surrounded by your family and friends. Celebrate the love you get from them, a love that is often less intense or glamorous, but a lot more enduring than romantic love.”
Going home or to safe spaces can sometimes give you an opportunity to reconnect with your younger self. “Going home can be quite grounding,” she adds. “You’re surrounded by all this stuff from when you were younger which can put things into perspective. I remember finding an old diary of mine where I was crying over a guy and though I was now upset about another one, I could still see that I was dealing with it in a much better way.”
Not everyone has access to a support network at this time of year. If your heartbreak is impacting your mental health or if you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, please talk to somebody.
You can reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988; the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET, or email (email protected). If you’re based in the UK, contact the Samaritans (116 123). If you don’t like the phone, consider using the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Chat at crisischat.org. Here is a list of international resources.
Try some grounding techniques
As a practical daily means to cope with heartbreak, Yassin recommends equipping yourself with some grounding techniques, which can be helpful for people to manage and work through emotions they wish they weren’t feeling. Grounding techniques are exercises or activities that help you refocus on what’s happening in the present moment, distracting yourself from triggers, anxious feelings, or difficult emotions.
“By using grounding techniques, we are not saying that we will not deal with or process the emotions and sensations, but we are saying that right now, at this moment, this is not going to intrude in what I’m doing,” says Yassin. “Walking can be really good to bring you back into the moment. When we walk and put one foot in front of the other we are actually stimulating both sides of the brain in a process called Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) which can feel soothing for some.” Here are six free grounding meditations to help you get started.
Repetitive activities like cross-stitch or crochet can have a soothing effect for some, while others like to keep themselves in motion. “Journaling or watching a good movie can also be effective grounding techniques,” says Yassin. Touroni also recommends journaling as it “helps get difficult thoughts and feelings down on paper so you can gain greater clarity and a new perspective.” Check out Mashable’s non-intimidating guide to journaling to get started.
Look after your physical needs
When you’re feeling low, it can be difficult to muster the energy to look after ourselves. Taking care of your immediate physical needs can be a way of making yourself feel a little better, despite not being able to shift the difficult emotions that come with heartbreak. Make sure you’re hydrated, eating, and getting plenty of rest.
“Make sure you’re doing activities that keep you both physically and mentally healthy e.g. regular exercise, eating healthy, nutritious meals etc.,” Touroni says. “Avoid turning to substances to numb any difficult thoughts and feelings. They might provide relief in the short-term but are likely to make things harder in the long run.”
Don’t rush into another relationship
Heartbreak can also be accompanied with feelings of panic, especially if you have been contending with anxious thoughts about “running out of time.” If you can resist some of these feelings and try to reassure that anxious voice in your head, know that you are allowed to take time to heal, and that you are enough on your own.
Yassir advises against rushing into another relationship straight away— often referred to as a “rebound”. “People that rebound tend to be those who are already struggling around interpersonal relations and relationships. Build a relationship with yourself before having a relationship with someone else. It’s unlikely a rebound relationship will be healthy if you don’t give yourself the time and space to be able to work out what you’re feeling.”
Don’t read into their texts
As the queen of reading-into-text-messages, I feel highly qualified in saying that it’s completely natural to want to search for signs of hope in any contact you might have had from the heartbreak-inflicter. But this habit can also prolong your agony and make it difficult to accept what’s really happening.
“If they message you ‘Happy Christmas’ don’t start thinking it signals anything.”
“If they message you ‘Happy Christmas’ don’t start thinking it signals anything,” says Lord. “They’re probably just trying to be polite. At the same time if you’re the one who ended the relationship don’t send a text, it will confuse your ex.”
A good rule of thumb is to assume that there is never a hidden meaning to their messages. If a person wants something badly enough, they’ll find a way to make sure their meaning and intention are fully understood. Tell yourself that if they want to communicate something important, they will likely do so in an explicit manner.
Cut yourself some slack
When you’re feeling sad, the last thing you need is another voice inside your head telling you what a misery you are. Your inner critic can rear their annoying head during this time to convince you that you’re bringing down the vibe, but most people understand that heartbreak truly is the worst.
“Be really kind to yourself,” advises Lord. “Don’t get annoyed if you don’t get off the sofa for the entire day, that’s what Christmas is for and everyone’s doing it too. It might feel like in doing these things you’re going backward, but you’re not you’re getting somewhere because stewing and feeling miserable is all part of the process.”
Talk to someone
If you’re really struggling, don’t suffer in silence. Speak to a mental health professional if you can. Shout is a 24/7 free mental health service in the UK (Text SHOUT to 85258). If you’re in the U.S., text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741.
“If you find yourself stuck in the same recurring relationship patterns, it could be a sign to dig a little deeper,” Touroni advises. “Negative early life experiences can sometimes impact the types of relationships we form — and choose —in later life. If you suspect there are things in your past that you haven’t dealt with, therapy is a great place to start this process.”
Lean on your support network and don’t bottle up your feelings. “If you’re struggling, reach out to friends and family,” Touroni adds. “These are the moments when we need their support the most, and the right people will want to be there for you.”
If you’re nursing a bruised or shattered heart this Christmas, know that you’re not alone. And know that it won’t be forever. Take care of yourself.
This article was first published in 2022 and republished in 2023.