Why break-ups make your brain go crazy…and what to do about it
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.
Step 1 – Recognize the bias in actionThis 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 languageThe 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 endingIt 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.