Why break-ups make your brain go crazy…and what to do about it

When we are faced with what seems like a life changing event, such as a break-up, we get stressed and anxious about the future. How stressed and anxious we get is determined by how dire our future has all of a sudden become, right? Wrong! During stressful events we often experience what is known as the Durability Bias. This is an inbuilt mechanism that makes us believe the future is going to be far worse than is actually likely. It also makes us believe that the hypothetical ‘devastation’ we face will last much longer than is likely. Researchers such as Kahnemann have discovered that, ‘people are surprisingly poor judges of their future emotional states. We tend to overestimate the intensity and the length of both positive and negative emotions.’
Here is how it works:
First I want you to close you eyes and imagine how your life would change and how happy you would feel if you won the lottery tomorrow. Go!
Now, I want you to imagine how bad your life would be and how unhappy you would feel if you were in a car accident that rendered you paraplegic tomorrow.
How does it feel?
What if I were to tell you that a study by Brickman in 78′ found that both lottery winners and paraplegics are, on average, no more or less happy 12 months after their life changing event. Brickman found that at 12 months both groups experienced similar levels of happiness and derived similar levels of pleasure from daily tasks. This is the Durability Bias in action.
We could go much deeper into how it works, but that seems like a waste of time considering that I have hopefully already convinced you of the power of the bias. So instead, let’s look at how you can reduce its effect to feel better.
When you experience what feels like a life changing event, such as a relationship break-down, a job loss or something unexpected, there is a 3 step process to help you reduce the stress and anxiety you feel. These 3 steps are loosely based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques, which is what psychologists often use with their clients. Now, I am by no means a psychologist, but I have found these techniques to be very helpful in dealing with my own challenges and stresses.
Step 1 – Recognize the bias in action
This is an important step because it takes away the stigma of how you are feeling. The only thing worse than being stressed and anxious is being stressed and anxious about being stressed and anxious. By accepting that ‘it’s normal to feel this way’, you can start to work on a solution, rather than falling into the stress cycle. It also helps to depersonalise the feelings. Rather than saying, ‘I am stressed,’ try to tell yourself, ‘stress is being felt.’ If you can detach yourself from the feelings they tend to go away quicker.
Step 2 – Challenge your thoughts and change your language
The language you use, even inside your own head, makes a huge difference to how you perceive events. Using words like disaster, catastrophe and tragedy make you believe that the event is worse than it is. After all, why would you lie to yourself, right? Is this really a ‘disaster’? Would the TV news (who are notoriously bad at blowing things up) describe it that way? Also, using words like ‘never’ and ‘forever’ will make you believe that you will always feel this bad. This is simply not true. The old adage, ‘time heals all wounds,’ is actually based on a principle called Emotional Adaption, which is the way our brains eventually adapt to make us feel normal again. This is what the lottery winners and paraplegics experienced. After 12 months they had adapted to their new lives and experienced the same happiness as before. Ask yourself, will your heart ‘never’ mend? Are you going to feel shitty ‘forever’? The answer in most cases is, ‘no’. Countless others have recovered from broken hearts and so will you. During this step, remind yourself, ‘its normal to feel this way’. Now add, ‘these feelings will pass’.
Step 3 – We-write the ending
It may sound too easy to simply choose a new ending to the story in your brain, but it actually works. Once you have accepted that it’s normal to feel this way, and that these feeling will pass, you can start to build a new mental version of the future for yourself. What are the sliver linings? Is this an opportunity to re-imagine yourself? What new freedoms could this change afford you? Forcing yourself to consider the upsides, which are just as likely as the downsides, will help you to get excited, which in turn balances out your stress levels. In fact, when you combine stress with excitement, what you get is anticipation.
This simple, 3 step process is a great way to help you reduce your stress and get your brain back on track after a big event. If you found this article helpful, you’ll love our FREE eBook The No-Bull Pathway to Happiness. Pop your email below and we’ll send you a copy right now.

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