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.

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Patriarchy Stress Disorder is A Real Thing and this Psychologist Is Helping Women Overcome It

For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.

As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.

Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.

What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.

Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein

This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.

Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.

Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.

In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.

"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."