Ah, Valentine’s Day. A made-up greeting card holiday that arrives in mid-February determined to bring a swirl of emotions, expectations, romance — and for most, disappointment. Though most people would subscribe to the idea that you should tell people you love them daily, not just when cupid tells you to, Valentine’s Day can be even more complicated for those who are recently single. Last year, you were sipping on fine champagne and snuggling up to watch a Netflix movie. And now, you’re alone, nursing the wounds of your recent heartbreak — and trying to dodge the decor at stores.
Meet the Experts
Cheryl Fraser, Ph.D, is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist.
Katelyn Miskevics is a licensed marriage and family therapist at LifeStance Health.
Jeanette Lorandini is the owner and director of Suffolk DBT.
Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D., is a psychologist and founder of the online therapy practice, Couples Learn.
How do you deal? With these expert-driven ideas and tactics from leading relationship experts:
1. Go on a date with your fears.
Regardless if you were the one to end it with your former partner or they pulled the plug on your relationship, everyone takes a confidence blow during a breakup. During this time, it’s normal to feel vulnerable, powerless, and even unworthy, says Cheryl Fraser, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist. Instead of burying these feelings or trying to drown them in wine or a tub of Ben & Jerry’s, she says to tackle them. Truly, lean in and allow yourself to feel them. And then, challenge yourself to do something scary, like jumping into icy water, singing karaoke or bungee jumping.
“Triumphing over something that scares you is a terrific way to spend Valentine’s post-heartbreak because it puts you in charge of facing and defeating negative thoughts and emotions like, ‘I’m not good enough,'” she says. “Getting dumped leaves you feeling powerless, so it’s great therapy to regain your power.”
2. Rewire your brain.
One of the most paralyzing parts of processing a breakup is dissecting every little thing you did or didn’t do and what your partner could have done but didn’t. It can feel like a never-ending cycle. And when you think about Valentine’s Day approaching, you could turn these thoughts into obsessive worry over the holiday. Sometimes we have to trick our brain and actively work to reframe thoughts, says Katelyn Miskevics, a licensed marriage and family therapist at LifeStance Health.
“If you associate Valentine’s Day with a specific person or a past relationship, it might be helpful to adopt a new way of viewing this day,” she recommends.
Alternate thoughts might sound like: “This is just one day, similar to any other day,” or “I choose to celebrate love today, the love I have for myself, my close people, and all I am grateful for.”
“Find a new twist on how you feel about Valentine’s Day and remember that you are worthy of love no matter what you are going through,” she adds.
3. Make time to move and practice self-love.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it when you wake up with puffy eyes and defeated spirits, there is an opportunity for growth in every challenge, says Jeanette Lorandini, the owner and director of Suffolk DBT. Reminding yourself of your strengths and sources of independent happiness is part of moving forward.
To do this, determine what self-care looks like for you and actively practice it. This could be a spa day, a long bath, sleeping in, or even going on a last-minute vacation to a country high on your bucket list. And while you may be more inclined to become one with your couch, Lorandini says it’s vital to increase your activity level during a breakup period.
“We know this is good for the brain and will increase the feel-good chemicals called endorphins, dopamine, and adrenaline. We call this behavioral activation which research shows can combat depression and replace thoughts with activities,” she explains. “Engage in a physical activity that increases your heart rate and pushes you a little bit.”
This doesn’t mean you must sign up for an intense boot camp or hire a personal trainer. Instead, it can be as simple as putting on your favorite playlist and dancing like nobody’s watching for 20 minutes, taking a brisk walk, or taking a bike ride in a scenic park, Lorandini suggests.
“Remember to practice mindfulness while engaging in the activity, and if your mind wanders to thoughts of the ex, you can take hold of your mind by throwing yourself back into the physical activity that you are engaging in,” she adds.
4. Create a break-up ritual.
To be able to let go of your ex and see the bright future ahead of you, it’s essential to mourn your relationship. After all, if you are single and broken-hearted on Valentine’s Day, Dr. Fraser says the worst thing you can do is sit alone in the dark, wishing you were on an incredibly romantic, sexy date with your former partner and longing for what you don’t have. “That’s like holding on to a hot coal and wondering why there’s an agonizing pain in your hand,” she continues. “The only way to stop the pain is to let it go.”
She suggests going through this break-up ritual before Valentine’s Day so you’ve had your moment to cry and process. This may make the holiday feel less taxing.
- Look over some old photos and memories, toss them, or delete them.
- Write a letter you will never send where you say goodbye to the good things (I loved how you brought croissants in bed, how you kissed me, how we had similar life goals, etc.). And also to the wrong things (you dismissed my feelings, were rude to my friends, and broke up with me right before Valentine’s Day.) Last but not least, to the things I wanted that will never happen (having a child together, taking that scuba diving trip to Zanzibar we were dreaming about, buying a house.)
- Then, go to the beach (or somewhere close to a body of water, even if it’s a bathtub) and think about the good, the bad, and the ugly in your former relationship and throw stones in the water for each thought.
5. Create a vision board.
If you don’t want to spend time with your friends on Valentine’s Day — or they are partnered up and, therefore, not available — use this holiday to create a vision board for yourself. You can write yourself a love letter, pamper yourself, and do everything that you hope a partner would have done for you, says Sarah Schewitz, Psy.D., a psychologist and founder of the online therapy practice, Couples Learn. “Create a vision for the type of love you want to call into your life. Make a list of the qualities you want in a future partner,” she continues. “Get clear on who you are calling in and what type of relationship you want to create. Use this as a day to manifest the love you desire.”
6. Give love to others.
If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know the heavy burden of grief. While your ex hasn’t passed to the other side, they have been removed from your life, and you’re left with love that has nowhere to go. Find a place to direct your love for that person into better people and activities. “Volunteer to walk dogs at the local shelter, take an elaborate tea to your elderly neighbor who lives alone, borrow your friend’s small children and take them to the aquarium,” Dr. Fraser suggests. “Psychologically, when you give of your time, attention, and self in a healthy way, you hurt a tiny bit less.”