How to get over your ex – according to science

For most people, a break-up usually involves some degree of pain and shock. The trauma can affect you deeply and leave you with feelings of depression, anxiety, exhaustion, and even insomnia.

This whirlwind of emotions could make you feel like nothing will ever be the same again, in the worst possible way. This may be true, but consider the opposite: could this change be for the better?

Strategies for getting over your ex can range from listening to your favourite song for weeks on end, or hopping on to a dating app to perk yourself up with a rebound. While those may bring you short-term satisfaction, science offers some other solutions.

Getting over it

Researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis looked at three strategies people use to move on from a recent break-up. The research was based on 24 subjects, aged 20 to 37, coming out of relationships that lasted about two years. People were split into four groups that focused on different coping mechanisms plus a control group.

  1. The first group was told to think negatively about their exes.
  2. The second one was asked to accept what had happened and acknowledge that the love they feel for the person is a normal part of the process.
  3. The third focused on things unrelated to their exes.
  4. The fourth group wasn’t asked anything in particular.

Participants were given a questionnaire and the team measured their emotional attachment to their exes. Afterwards, the subjects were shown pictures of their exes while undergoing an electroencephalogram (monitoring method to record the electrical activity of the brain) reading.

The research team found that all three strategies worked to reduce their emotional response toward their exes in the short-term.

  • The first group felt less love, but they also ended up in a worse mood.
  • The second group didn’t feel any better and their love for their exes didn’t change.
  • The third group felt happier overall, but the approach didn’t change how in love they were with their exes.
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The study shows that these are all effective ways to feel more in control of your feelings, particularly if you’re lost after a break-up. These shouldn’t be seen as long-term solutions though, as getting over a relationship can’t be done overnight.

Help at hand

Cut all social media ties
According to research, looking at a picture of an ex who recently dumped you is enough to activate areas of the brain linked with physical pain. To truly get over someone, you should go cold turkey and stop keeping tabs on them through social media.

Remind yourself of the person’s bad points
When you’re trying to move on from your ex, concentrating on their negative qualities is more effective than remembering their positive traits.

Work out!
Exercise can improve your mood and help reduce feelings of depression, thanks to mood-boosting endorphins. Don’t wallow in those feelings – go run or walk it off.

Don’t hook up with your ex
Sleeping with an ex can increase symptoms of psychological distress which will do more harm than good as it slows down your recovery process.

Go on holiday
Find your Zen. Take a journey of self-discovery (if you can get away) and find what you really want outside of the hustle and bustle. This will help clear your mind and think more logically.

Wait out the pain
The more time and space you get after a break-up, the more you heal emotionally.

References