Stanford University

Break Up Survival Guide – How Do You Rewire Your Brain to Beat Break Up Stress?

Are you stuck in the "fight or flight" stress response during a painful break up? Find out how persistent stress over lost love, lost dreams, lost security may rewire your brain, change your behavior and leave you vulnerable to serious illness. Then learn how to use a simple tool that beats break up stress.

What are the health risks of break up stress?

Medical researchers have proven that persistent stress can raise your blood pressure, harden arteries, harm your immune system and heighten your risks of diabetes, depression and Alzheimer's disease.

Persistent break up stress also can rewire the brain to promote a vicious cycle of habitual, destructive behavior. What are the symptoms?

Have you experienced uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts or negative feelings about your lost love?
Do you stay awake nights ploting ways to avenge a betrayal or broken vows?
Do you obsessively call, email, or stalk your ex?
Do you stop eating or overindulge in food, alcohol, drugs, or in any physical pleasure transported to a promiscuous excess?
Do you ever feel you do not recognize yourself or your new habits, yet you can not seem to switch back to positive, goal-directed behaviors?

Now there's new scientific evidence that these negative behaviors become a habit faster when you're stressed.

"This is a great model for understanding why we end up in a rut, and then dig ourselves deeper and deeper into that rut," says Dr. Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist who studies stress at Stanford University Medical School.

Dr. Sapolsky told the New York Times that we are lousy at recognizing when our normal copying mechanisms are not working. Our response is to do something five times more, instead of thinking this is not working so maybe I should try something else.

How do you use this news?

These findings may help you understand how an admirable trait like perseverance can be taken to extreme, uncontrollable repetition and become a pervasive habit quickly under chronic stress.

Break up stress is often chronic while you suffer through a divorce or custody battle, or you grieve the death of a relationship.

If you're stuck in rut of stress and uncontrollable negative habits, how do you break out of it?

Fortunately the brain is a very resilient and plastic organ.

Dr. Bruce S. McEwen, head of the brain research lab at Rockefeller University, told the New York Times that his new discoveries prove that the brain's dendrites and synapses retract and reform, and reversible modeling can occur through our lifetime.

How did he reach these finds?

Dr. McEwen's research team reported that lab rats exposed to chronic stress remained hyperactive in a rut of negative behaviors until they received the antidote:

They received a four week vacation from these stressors and remained in a support setting.

According to Dr. McEwen, the brain is resilient. It makes new synaptic connections in the decision-making regions of the pre-frontal cortex, while the dendrite vines of habit-prone sensori-motor striatum retreat.

How do these finds in lab rats help us?

We now realize that chronic stress changes your brain, and relaxation in a supportive environment can change it back.

How can you benefit from relaxation when you're too stressed by your break up?

If you can not take a 4-week vacation, you can choose to make time to use a relaxation tool each day.

Do some deep breathing, ideally during a walk in nature.
Listen to relaxation tapes instead of taking a caffeinated beverage break.
Sign up for a series of therapeutic massages and biofeedback sessions that ease your stressful energetic patterns.
Listen to hypnosis audios that relieve stress, help you reach forgiveness and healing, and regain feelings of peace and confidence.
Seek solace in your faith, your supportive friends and family.

This action plan will help you survive a break up and thrive in your newly-single life.

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