Surviving a Breakup: Tips for Coping

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and many couples choose to spend the day celebrating their relationship. However, this time of year can be very painful for those who have recently broken up with their significant other. Breaking up is a difficult experience for most, and it can be even more challenging for a college student who is also under academic stress. It is difficult for any parent to see their child suffering with pain and sadness. I’ve had many parents ask me how to help their child cope with these feelings of loss, and how identify the signs that their child’s grief has become something of greater concern.

Everyone grieves differently. But in general, after the end of a relationship, your child might feel a range of emotions including sadness, numbness, shock, denial, or anger. It is not uncommon for the grieving person to temporarily shut down and withdraw from others. Crying, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite and low energy are common responses to a significant loss. Some coping strategies to pass along to your child include:

What to do:

  • Take care of your basic physical needs. This includes remembering to eat, getting plenty of fluids, and getting adequate rest (without spending the entire day in bed).
  • Try to return to your normal schedule as quickly as possible. It is comforting to re-engage in a routine.
  • Hit the gym. Exercise results in an immediate mood lift, provides energy, and gives one a sense of accomplishment and well-being.
  • Surround yourself with supportive others (friends, family).
  • Give yourself permission to grieve. It is natural to feel a range of emotions and it is important not to suppress them. Talking to others or journaling are two outlets for emotional expression. At times, however, your emotions may feel overwhelming and may need to be contained. It is okay to escape these painful emotions for awhile by immersing yourself in a good book, movie, or any other enjoyable distraction. Over time, these emotions will lessen in intensity. 
  • Recall your life prior to this particular relationship. Consider returning to activities or hobbies that you may have neglected while you were in the relationship.

What to avoid:

  • Don’t rely on alcohol or drugs. You may feel better temporarily but this type of self-medication may delay the grieving process and increase negative feelings.
  • Avoid contact with your ex-partner during the healing process. This could cause you to undo progress that you have made by potentially reactivating the pain.
  • Don’t idealize the relationship or expose yourself to things that evoke sad memories (such as listening to a song that reminds you of your ex).
  • Avoid jumping into another relationship. Take the opportunity to gain confidence in your abilities to function as a single, independent person.
  • Reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself and what changes you might make in your next relationship.

What parents can do:

  • Be available but don’t force your child to talk if they are uncomfortable doing so.
  • If your child decides to reach out to you for support, don’t try to immediately cheer them up or “fix” the problem, and instead just listen and be empathic.
  • Encourage them to be around others, such as close friends or family members. Social support is a protective factor against depression.

It is normal to experience depressive symptoms following a breakup, but if these symptoms continue (typically beyond two months) this may be cause for concern. How do you know if your child has become depressed and needs professional help? The best way to tell if grief has turned into depression is to examine your child’s level of functioning. For example, is your child getting out of bed in the morning? Is he or she going to class? Is your child maintaining his or her grades? Is your child continuing to participate in their typical activities such as sports, exercise, clubs, hobbies? Is your child still communicating with you and his or her friends? Is your child maintaining his or her physical health and appearance?

Below are some of the symptoms which may indicate clinical depression:

  • Changes in sleep, appetite or weight
  • Tearfulness
  • Helpless or hopeless feelings
  • Feeling worthless
  • Sad or empty feelings
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of self harm

You can help your child recover from a break-up by providing them with coping techniques. These strategies will increase the likelihood of a more rapid return to normal functioning and emotional stability.  Additionally, he or she will be less likely to develop longer-term depressive symptoms.

Parents and students are encouraged to contact the Georgia Tech Counseling Center for additional help. The Counseling Center is located on the second floor of the Student Services Building (Flag Building) and is open each day from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The Counseling Center offers free consultations, as well as individual, couples and group counseling for enrolled Georgia Tech students. Additionally, we offer seminars and workshops on a variety of topics (stress management, time management, healthy relationships, depression and anxiety) throughout the semester. A schedule of dates and times can be found at Students and parents can call our office for more information at 404-894-2575.


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Rachael Pocklington
  • Created: 02/04/2013
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016


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