Learning how to deal with your heartbreak can be slow and confusing, but there are still important signs to keep in mind so that you can tell if your heartbreak is becoming something more serious. "Heartbreak is a form of grief, Brennan C. Mallonee, licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. "When you're heartbroken, you're grieving the loss of an important person in your life and the loss of your dreams for the future that included that person." But it can be really hard to tell if your grief looks "normal." How, for example, do you know whether your negative thoughts are better suited to be shared with a friend or a therapist? And how can you tell if your marathon-watching is healing, or starting to look like depression?
The reason it's all so confusing is largely because heartbreak looks a lot like other diagnoses. "A lot of the 'heartbreak' symptoms overlap with other disorders, especially depression, and for people who have already had depressive episodes or who are predisposed to depression, a heartbreak could trigger an episode," Erin Parisi, LMHC, CAP, tells Bustle.
Mental health and other "protective factors," which include emotional support systems, access to medical care, spiritual beliefs, and employment stability, can make healing from heartbreak easier, Parisi says. But if you're missing some of those supports, the pain can be multiplied.
While any symptom that is particularly debilitating or long-lasting can be a reason to seek help, mental health professionals agree that there are particular indicators that your heartbreak is turning into more serious. Here are 11 signs your heartbreak is more than it seems, according to experts.`
1You Feel Physically Ill
It's normal to feel heartbreak in your body. "This overwhelming distress often causes physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, heartburn, headache, low energy, low appetite, insomnia, hypersomnia, [and] increased appetite," Parisi says.
But if the feelings in your body keep sticking around or getting worse, it might be a sign that you need more help than you're receiving. "The pain continues and begins to effect you physically," Teresa Solomita, licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle. This could look like getting sick easily, eating too much or too little, or developing a rash or headaches, says Solomita. Your physical and mental health are inextricably linked, so it's important to take care of them both, especially in times when you need resiliency most.
2You Can't Think About Anything Else
It makes sense for your ex to be running through your thoughts. But when they're genuinely all you can think about, it's time to reassess. "[Take note if ] the rumination of the relationship dominates your thoughts — [or if] you replay these events over and over and blame yourself for not behaving differently," says Solomita. Moreover, it's necessary to keep track of when things go from how they usually are, to noteworthy, to potentially alarming.
"If you start to feel as though life isn't worth living without the other person, that's a sign you could use some professional support. Similarly, if you start to feel like you're worthless or unlovable after a breakup, that indicates your heartbreak is moving into territory best navigated with help," Brennan C. Mallonee, licensed mental health counselor, tells Bustle. If you find yourself going down either of those paths, support is definitely a good idea.
Even once you've found a healthy balance, you may still experience some of the symptoms of heartbreak, but they can start to fade away. "You may still think of your ex over time, but you start to have fun again and the memory of the relationship begins to fade," Solomita says. "You even learn from mistakes made or choices that may not have been correct." Once you're there, being single may even start to feel empowering.
3You're Avoiding Your Friends
Maintaining and supporting friendships in the wake of a major breakup can be unbelievably difficult. Although they're some of the most important people in your life, friends are not trained professionals and may not know how to give you the support you need.
If they're not giving you what you need, avoiding your friends is still not the best bet. "[Be careful of] isolating yourself from friends," Mallonee says.
And if you do still keep hanging around them, but don't feel quite right, don't blame yourself. "If your friends are sick of hearing about it and you're feeling stuck, it's time to seek professional help," Parisi says. It's OK to acknowledge that your friends can't solve everything. There's no shame going to a neutral third party (therapist, counselor, etc) to get through this with a little more ease.
4You Feel Numb At Work
One of the worst feelings after a breakup is having to go to the office too quickly, knowing you won't be able to actually concentrate on work. That's pretty much universal. But if that numb-at-work feeling just won't go away, it's time to take note.
"When someone is experiencing heartbreak, the pain can be so great that it feels intolerable," Solomita says. "Some individuals are able to tolerate this pain, knowing that it is temporary and over time they will heal and even learn from it. However, while you are in the throes of heartbreak, it can feel daunting and can color your entire life." If heartbreak is coloring even your everyday office life, it's a sign that you deserve to be taking more time to care of yourself.
"[Check in with yourself if] you behave robotically, or you stop feeling passionate about your work," Solomita says. Another red flag is skipping work altogether (for more than a couple days). You deserve not to dread the office.
5You're Not Taking Care Of Your Needs
Taking care of yourself is always essential, but it's especially poignant when you're figuring out how to re-center your life around yourself, rather than you as half of a couple. Even the most boring self-care can be vital when you're experiencing grief.
If you find yourself unable to go through the motions of showering, combing your hair, or going outside, that's a sign that it's time to seek some outside help. "If the heartbreak is so intense that after two or so weeks we don’t feel like working or going to school, we have lost interest in life around us, we feel that we literally can’t go on or don’t want to go on with life — then seeing a professional is essential," Dr. Joshua Klapow, Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Web Radio Show tells Bustle.
6You're Not Having Fun Anymore
It's valid to not feel like having fun when you're down, but if you've started to notice that you feel unable to enjoy things anymore, it might be a sign of something more. "[Take note if] you don't enjoy the things you used to enjoy" Solomita says.
Don't judge this feeling, though. "Heartbreak is crushing grief," Solomita says. "We feel emotional pain in the same part of our brain that we feel physical pain, it actually feels like it is inside your body. It can create a barrier to experiencing the things we used to love and can feel like deep depression." Your body is experiencing major emotional and physiological changes; sometimes it just needs a little help getting started up again.
7You're Struggling With Boundaries
Finding closure and boundaries after a breakup are two of the hardest things. But if your night of Instagram-creeping turns into a habit that you can't break, it might be time to check in with yourself. "If you're obsessing about the person, stalking them (via social media or in real life!), or structure your life around 'bumping' into them, or trying to win them back, it might be time for help," Parisi says.
Once you can get help, from a friend or professional, you can ask yourself a series of questions to see if you're doing better. "[Ask yourself,] are you able to set and stick to boundaries (not calling, not texting, not checking social media obsessively, not casually dropping by their place of employment)?" Parisi says. If so, you're already on the up-and-up.
8You Refuse To Date Again (For The Wrong Reasons)
After a major breakup, dating again can be wildly confusing. And no matter what you think about "rebounds," dating after a breakup is just, different.
While avoiding jumping into anything new might make sense, it's important to analyze the reasons for your decision, no matter the outcome. "[Take note if] you refuse to consider dating — not because you are making a healthy decision to enjoy your single life, but because you are afraid," Solomita says. Bringing your past issues along for the ride isn't going to help you heal; working through them will.
9You're Having New Difficulty With Substances
Mental health professionals note that self-medicating with substances is particularly dangerous because it prevents you from getting to the root of your problem. "Heartbreak and the associated distress can bring us emotionally down to our core," Dr. Klapow says. "Often normal defense mechanisms go up to help protect us against the distress. We don’t allow ourselves to feel the full intensity of the heartbreak immediately by using things like denial, distraction, rationalization."
So know the signs of alcoholism and other addictions, and keep an eye on your substance use. Post-breakup might be a good time for a sober month, or a new set of guidelines. One cocktail when you get out of the house and meet up with your friends, perhaps?
10You Still Can't Sleep
Not being able to sleep the first couple nights after a breakup is completely legitimate. If your former partner shared your bed, even more so. But not being able to fall asleep after an extended period of time can be a sign of something more serious.
"[Another red flag is if] you are in the throes of insomnia — bedtime becomes something you fear because you know you will not sleep well," Solomita says. Practicing good sleep hygiene, rearranging your room, and seeing a mental health professional can all help with insomnia. Getting better sleep may help you start to feel better on all front.
11It Won't Go Away
Again, the length of time of all of these symptoms are part of the essence of understanding whether you're experiencing typical heartbreak, or falling into something more serious. "Sure, you feel all the feels, but are you still able to keep up with your life? If the answer is 'no' for any length of time, that would be a reason to seek help," Parisi says.
If you're the type of person who's looking to do the math on an exact time frame, there is no exact formula, but Dr. Klapow has a suggestion for the typical arc of grief.
"Intense distress that kicks in one-two weeks after the heartbreaking event is normal," Dr. Klapow says. "It typically lasts two to four weeks at an intense level and then at one month begins to slowly subside. If you can work, go to school, find the ability to laugh, smile and experience some level of joy even for a short while within a month of the [breakup] it is is running its natural course. Anything from three-four weeks that hasn’t moved forward deserves extra attention from a professional." So if time doesn't seem to be healing your heart on it's own, it's likely time to seek other ways to work through the pain.
In the end, heartbreak can feel terrible no matter what. Whatever you're already going through gets compounded by the real, physical pain of losing someone you love. "Romantic rejection tends to hurt in a way that no other kinds of rejection do, it's so deep, intimate, personal, so of course it would worsen any distress a person may already be in," Parisi says.
Of course, any reason is a good enough reason to see a therapist, so this is just another part of life where it pays to be open and exploratory with your mental health. "Of course, talking to someone for 'normal' heartbreak is perfectly acceptable too," Parisi says. "A pro can help explore what went wrong, support you in setting protective boundaries to allow for healing, and help you brainstorm what kind of changes you'd like to come out of it."
In the meantime: talk to someone, take care of yourself, get some sleep, and pet a dog. You should start to feel at least a little better soon.