by Paul Greene, PhD
Depression and Valentine's Day

Are you feeling sad or lonely this Valentine’s Day? We don’t usually associate Valentine’s Day with depression, but if you’ve recently gone through a breakup or if you’re dealing with persistent disappointment in your love life, Valentine’s Day can be a depressing affair.

Emotions Related to Loss

Many different emotions can arise when a romantic relationship ends, including sadness and depression.

If a breakup leaves us feeling pessimistic about the pool of potential partners, we may feel cynical or hopeless. If we feel rejected, this can trigger feelings of despair, worthlessness, or anger. Sometimes we perceive the end of a relationship as a personal failure, which may result in experiencing shame or guilt.

All of these feelings are natural! And while it may be tempting to ignore or avoid these feelings, it’s important to let ourselves feel them. By allowing ourselves to go through the emotional aftermath of losing a relationship, we can heal. This process can feel a lot like grieving and, in some ways, it is. 

How to Heal from a Breakup

Are you wondering what to do if, after a breakup, you’re feeling sad or depressed this Valentine’s Day? Although there isn’t a magic cure to make these feelings go away, below are a few strategies that are often helpful:

The Best Way Out Is Through

Emotions of all kinds, including feelings of rejection, help shape our inner lives and can sometimes feel overwhelming. But they are also temporary! Try to remember that—given enough time—this feeling will pass.

Avoid Substance Use

Using alcohol, marijuana, Xanax, Klonopin, or other drugs to numb our emotions can be very tempting when we are experiencing feelings of rejection, despair, or loneliness. Although they may provide some short-term relief, the longer term consequences of using these substances can cause bigger problems, including interrupting the process of allowing difficult feelings to naturally dissipate.

Don’t Let Anger Be a Distraction

It’s common to feel angry after a breakup and often that anger is quite understandable. However, sometimes we gravitate toward anger to escape sadness or to avoid facing doubts about our ability to attract and sustain a romantic relationship. Additionally, if anger leads us to start an argument with the other person, then we’ll likely end up with even more to be angry about.

In this way, anger can be self-perpetuating and distract us from feeling our underlying emotions. A healthier strategy is to face those feelings directly. If we can learn to address these doubts and tolerate these emotions, anger will often lose its appeal.

Separate Thoughts from Feelings

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (an effective treatment for depression) teaches us that it can be helpful to separate thoughts from feelings, even though they often seem to overlap. After a breakup we may feel lonely or sad, and have thoughts like, No one wants to be with me or I’m too boring to love.

By distinguishing our feelings from our thoughts, we may find that the thoughts don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Try Positive Self-Talk

How we think about an event influences how we feel about it. If you’ve been thinking, Every relationship I’ve had has failed, consider substituting something more encouraging for that thought, like, I just haven’t met the right person yet. Rather than thinking, I’ll never meet anyone else, instead try telling yourself something a bit more optimistic and objective such as, I’ve had five romantic relationships in my life, so there’s no reason to believe this will be my last.

By positively reframing our experience in this way, we can change our perspective of the loss.

When to Seek Help

When does normal sadness after a breakup become clinical depression?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a set amount of time after which it is considered “abnormal” to be very sad after a breakup. How long we feel depressed is often proportionate to the length of the relationship, the circumstances around how things ended, and the meaning we attribute to the relationship. For most people, the breakup of a brief relationship that was seen as a “fun fling” will be easier to deal with than a brief relationship we longer term hopes for.

If you’re feeling miserable, try to remember that these feelings are understandable and temporary. Often, letting these emotions run their course is the healthiest option. But if they start to feel persistent or begin to interfere with your ability to meet your obligations or live your life, it’s smart to consult with a therapist. If your emotions after a breakup are leading you to feel suicidal or to engage in dangerous behaviors, it’s definitely time to seek professional help.

About the Author

Dr. Paul Greene is the director of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in New York City. He received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Boston University and completed postdoctoral training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Greene served as an assistant professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine for six years. He is an expert in the treatment of anxiety and related disorders, and the application of mindfulness in cognitive-behavioral clinical interventions.