broken heartYou’ve just broken up with your boyfriend or girlfriend – either they dumped you or you dumped them or someone cheated or who knows what. But here you are, in a world of hurt. What do you do?

It feels like the world is ending. One minute you are sad, the next you are furious, or you are both at the same time, with a bunch of other emotions mixed in for good measure.

This is all completely normal. The first thing you need to do is give yourself time to process what’s happened. Express all those emotions – don’t deny them. Expressing emotions is healthy.

Let me qualify that – expressing emotions like fury and misery is very healthy behind closed doors at home! Shut yourself away and cry or shout or whatever you need to do. Don’t have a punching bag in your apartment? Well, punch a pillow. Let that anger and frustration out. Just don’t do it in front of other people, especially your ex.

Don’t waste a lot of time right now trying to figure out why you broke up, or what you could have done differently, or how to get revenge, or how to win back your ex. Plenty of time for that later, after you’ve gone through all these toxic feelings you need to process. I guarantee you will feel differently than you do right now in a week, in a month. In a year you will be a completely different person. [RELATED: Should you Try to Make Your Ex Jealous ]

Exercise is a great way to vent your emotions. Go for a run or long bike ride, or head to the gym for a good, sweaty workout. Exercise has the great advantage of pumping endorphins into your system and making you feel better right away. I don’t mean you’ll instantly eliminate sadness or anger, but you will feel a little better about yourself as a person. It is important to slowly remind yourself that you have an interesting, positive, valuable life regardless of whether you are in a relationship or not, and with whom. Exercise is like flossing – every time you make time to do it, you are subconsciously reminding yourself that you are worth it, that you are worth taking time for.

Woman Lifting WeightsIt’s important, whether you were the dumper or the dumpee, to maintain radio silence. This means no communication with your ex for at least a month. Both of you are upset right now and need time to calm down and clear your minds. Whether you will be friends again, or lovers again, or cut off all contact forever depends on both of you being able to think clearly, and right now neither one of you can trust what your brains are telling you. [RELATED: Why Your Ex is Sending Mixed Signals ]

After a couple days of venting or crying or whatever you need, I advise that you get rid of things in your home or office or car that remind you of your ex. If this is stuff they may want back someday, just pack it in a box and hide it somewhere. Don’t leave it out where you’ll constantly be reminded.

My post-breakup philosophy is all about focusing on yourself during this difficult time. You may have all sorts of weird and frightening feelings after a breakup. You may think you’re defective and somehow doomed to be single forever, that you’re not worthy of being loved. Everyone has feelings like that sometimes, and it’s really important for you to gradually let go of them and begin rebuilding your faith in yourself.

I’m willing to let you spend 48 hours or so in a dark room crying or screaming to let those toxic feelings out. But after that, it’s time to get out and start living your life again. Just like exercise, sunshine actually changes the chemical balance in your body and makes you feel better. So get outdoors, take a walk or read a book on a blanket in the park. Have some fun with your friends, but don’t spend all your time with them talking about your breakup.

Stimulate your mind. Go to the library, go to a museum, or sign up for a class or join a club. Community clubs, or extension-type courses at your local college or university are great for two reasons. First, you are doing something social and intellectually stimulating, whether it’s contra dancing or chess or ceramics. It diverts you from your misery over your breakup and it also reminds you that you’re smart and you’re able to have fun. Second, these are social situation, where you meet many different people, including possible future boyfriends or girlfriends (although it’s much too early to be thinking about that now).

happy manGive yourself the gift of fun, stimulating, social activities. But don’t expect your sadness, anger, or confusion about your breakup to go away quickly. You will certainly still have episodes of emotion that may be uncomfortable. Remember not to suppress your feelings – just find a safe way to express them. Some people like what’s called “freewriting.” Get a cheap spiral notebook and sit down, write a page or two as fast as you can, just scribbling out whatever is in your mind. Get it all out and on paper. When you’re done, tear up the paper and throw it away.

This really helps. There was one famous novelist – I forget which one – who started every day by typing “I am a terrible writer” over and over until one page was filled with it. Then they ripped up that page and started writing on their novel again.

Expressing your negative emotions directly to your ex is less likely to be helpful, unless you decide to go into some sort of couples therapy where you have a referee to keep things safe. So don’t write nasty or maudlin letters to your ex, or, if you do write them, don’t send them. Just destroy them when you’re done.

Time heals all wounds, they say, and you’ll find it certainly helps after a breakup. Give yourself the gift of time.