When Heartbreak Hinders Output: Managing Work After a Breakup


You've got your soy latte in hand, are wearing an outfit that makes you feel like you're in it for the win today, and the weather couldn't be any more perfect. You walk into the office and pass by the usual suspects, happily greeting them as you wind around the building toward your desk. You set your coffee down, position yourself in your chair, and gently lift open your laptop.

In this moment, the last thing on your mind is your recent breakup, until, well, it's the first thing on your mind. It's now been days, weeks — maybe even months — since you two called it quits, but it seems like no matter how much time passes, your heart won't mend. You even feel sick to your stomach at times. The tears, the melancholy — the temptation to dive into social media or scroll through your photo reel of old pics — has repeatedly disrupted your workflow, only adding to the guilt you already feel.

You're not alone. Heartbreak is part of the human condition. The question is: how do you manage it when you're trying so desperately to focus during the work day?

Advice for Navigating Heartbreak on the Job

“When it comes to healing heartbreak — and losses of every kind — there are so many variables, both within ourselves and in the environments we find ourselves in, that it's just not practical to apply a 'one size fits all' approach," said Christy Whitman, a relationship expert and two-time New York Times bestselling author.

With that basis of understanding, take the following advice and apply it thoughtfully, and where appropriate, to your own experience to help alleviate the often-debilitating emotions that accompany grief.

Let Yourself Grieve Outside of Work

One of the most important things you can do when dealing with heartache is to give yourself time and space to grieve the relationship, said Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi, a board-certified psychiatrist at Doctor On Demand. Set aside some time — outside of business hours — to really let yourself feel and process.

“What you do during that time can vary, but expecting to carry on as usual is a set up for feeling worse. Some people need to be surrounded by supportive friends and family after a break up, others manage by focusing on self-care and doing things they really enjoy," she said. “When you find yourself feeling particularly down, think about a positive memory of the relationship or something you learned about yourself to reframe negative thoughts into something that can help you move forward."

By fully experiencing these feelings, you'll be better equipped to release them. If you feel like crying, cry. If you feel angry, safely express those feelings by writing down your thoughts or venting to a friend. “The only way to get over a broken heart is to move through it. While uncomfortable in the short term, actually feeling your feelings makes the healing process much faster than closing down or numbing out," said Whitman. “Avoiding our emotions creates blocks in our own energy field, which not only makes healing take longer, but can also prevent us from finding new love, or being open to receive the abundance and prosperity we desire."

Consider Taking a Few Personal Days

If you're someone who can compartmentalize or easily distract yourself through the work day, setting aside evenings or weekends to grieve and process may work for you. Some people find this difficult, though, and that's OK. In some cases, taking a few personal days for yourself is an ideal option.

“Consider what you know about yourself when deciding whether you need a break from work," said Dr. Benders-Hadi. “Are you a person who does better when distracted by work for a period of time? Or will needing to 'put on a brave face' at work only make you feel worse? For many people, taking a mental health day for yourself before getting back to your regular work schedule is all the time you need."

If you do take this time off, make sure those hours are productive and have purpose. You can absolutely “treat yourself" to a spa day or shopping spree, but do your best to process feelings, work through your emotions, meditate, and focus on yourself.

Throw Yourself into Your Career

As you begin working through the emotions of a gut-wrenching breakup, channel that newfound energy into your career. “Focusing on work can be incredibly healing and productive when it provides an outlet for the flow of creative energy," noted Whitman.

Busying yourself at work, especially once you've begun healing, can be both healthy and rewarding. Ask for more responsibility, really throw yourself into that upcoming project, go above and beyond what's expected of you, write down and track career-related goals, tackle that side project you've been putting off, organize your office or your inbox, and set aside time to network outside of office hours.

And if those feelings crop up? Carve out some time and allow yourself to feel them.

“Give yourself five to 10 minutes at the start or end of the day to process emotions and then let them go," said Dr. Benders-Hadi. “There's nothing wrong with feeling sad, hurt, or angry when dealing with heartache, but you do want to make sure these emotions don't start to interfere with things you have to do or cause other problems in your life."

Create a Game Plan for Intrusive Thoughts

Rather than expecting those intrusive thoughts not to occur, have a plan in place for when they do creep in.

“Write down an inspirational quote that means something to you, or think of a happy memory that makes you smile," advice Dr. Benders-Hadi. “You can also give yourself an arbitrary work deadline or time limit to help you stay on task. Remind yourself that you have already set aside time to feel those emotions and stick with that plan."

Whitman added, “It can be helpful to keep a journal nearby to express the things that are coming to the surface to be resolved and healed. It's not necessary to give them all of your attention — simply acknowledge painful thoughts and feelings as evidence that you are in the process of recovering your balance. Honor them for what they are and allow their energy to move through you, and they will naturally release."

Bottom Line

The feelings you're experiencing are some of the most complicated and gut-wrenching a human can experience, and you're not alone in your struggle to navigate through them without disrupting your personal and work life. Ultimately, do your best to intuitively pinpoint and address your emotional needs. Create and stick to boundaries for when you've given yourself permission to grieve your relationship, channel your energy into your career and personal goals, surround yourself with loved ones who get it, and do your best to remain active versus stationary in your progress.

3 min read

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.


Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.

I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!

- The Armchair Psychologist

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