I got over a breakup by tracking my emotions on a spreadsheet. Seeing how certain behaviors affected my moods helped me move through my grief.
- "Grief tracking" is a way to assess and track characteristics of grief.
- I tried it after a rough breakup to measure my feelings, navigate my emotions, and help me move on.
The stages of grief are commonly associated with getting through the death of a loved one, but another common experience can also cause an extended period of grief — breakups. Though the pain you feel from a breakup isn't due to a physical death, it's also a very painful loss. After all, you've spent months — even years — in a romantic relationship with a person, developing routines with them and sharing experiences, only for that part of your life to change in the blink of an eye.
This is particularly fresh in my mind, because I just went through a breakup in September. Though it's not the first breakup I've experienced, it was unique because I didn't know how to process it. In addition to my relationship ending, I had a lot of other things going on in my personal life that made it difficult for me to find time to move through what I was feeling.
In the past, I'd had fewer responsibilities, as well as more support from friends and family, so it felt easier to move through my emotions. This time around, I needed to find a way to process my grief in a way that felt true to myself despite not having the time or support system that I was used to. I would need to rely on myself as I was grieving and decided to rethink how I wanted to move forward.
Why I started tracking the stages of my grief
The day after my breakup, I did a Google search about the stages of grief and how it relates to relationships, and I stumbled upon some information about the two-track model of bereavement. This model helps provide insight on the physical, behavioral, and cognitive changes one goes through while dealing with the death of a loved one, as well as the ability to process their loved one's "death story" and embed it into their personal narrative.
No, my ex didn't die, but considering that I was grieving the death of our relationship, I found comfort in a method that helps people examine their own feelings of loss, as well as areas where they've grown and adapted while processing. I liked the idea of using my emotional pain as a way to become more introspective as opposed to resorting to methods I've used in the past that didn't help me in the long run, like pretending my volatile emotions didn't exist at all or swiping through dating apps to numb the pain.
How I used my spreadsheet
I decided I wanted to try it, too, but I wanted to put my own spin on it. Because I'm a visual person, I started to track my grief by creating a triple-line graph and began rating my mood three times a day on a scale of 1 to 5. Below is the scale I used, with a few words describing each number:
- 1 = Horrible mood, crying
- 2 = Bad mood, no crying
- 3 = Okay mood, not bad, but not good either
- 4 = Good mood, limited thoughts about breakup
- 5 = Excellent mood, not thinking about breakup
I also typed quick notes on the side, explaining any factors that triggered my symptoms of grief, as well as factors that may have explained why I felt better in other moments. Spoiler alert: constantly checking my ex's social media and rereading all his previous texts didn't help in the long run; going to events at local bars with friends and finding a new show on Netflix to binge clearly did.
What it felt like once I started tracking my emotions after my breakup
During the first week of tracking my grief, I was almost obsessed with noting every single symptom I experienced. I was hyperaware of my whirlwind of emotions, like shock, denial, anger, and misery. In addition to the mental effects of what I was going through, I also took note of the physical symptoms of my grief, like the heaviness I felt in my chest, occasional crying, loss of appetite, and my unwillingness to tell my friends and family about my breakup.
In some ways, being so cognizant of my emotions helped me, because it allowed me to be more in touch with my sensitive side, which I usually have a habit of bottling up because I don't want to come off as weak. In other ways, tracking my grief made things harder — I was so fixated on when I'd start to make progress that I might have actually been preventing it from happening.
On the days when my mood generally felt better than the day before, I'd think to myself, "Yes! This is the part where my sadness finally shifts to consistent happiness. This is the part where I move on." However, what we know to be true in more classic cases of grief — that it's not linear — also proved true here. I experienced moments when my mood would improve and I'd feel like I was taking a step in the right direction, only to have days where shock and sadness would return.
During the second week, I noticed that I generally felt a little better overall; even when my mood would dip, I wasn't disappointed or worried that it meant that I wasn't making progress. Instead, I was able to talk myself through my emotions after making note of them in my spreadsheet and figure out how to move forward.
I would think: "OK, I'm sad again, but I'll allow myself to sit in this sadness right now." Rather than pushing the feelings away, I'd question them and try to find the root cause. I'd also think about how my feelings had changed since last week, if at all, and if there was anything I could do to support myself.
By the third week, I still updated the graph, but not in an obsessive way. At that point, I felt a bit more comfortable with the fluctuations in my moods and stopped feeling like I needed it to help me process and analyze my whirlwind of emotions. If anything, tracking my grief almost became a peaceful self-reflection that I did at the end of the day rather than something I had to do as every feeling arose.
Through using the graph over those three weeks, I'd seen patterns in my moods line up with things I'd done, and I had adjusted some of my behaviors accordingly; I'd also developed some new coping mechanisms, like somatic breathing and therapeutic dance movement, and used them when I felt triggers come up. The data doesn't lie, and whenever I'd self-soothe in this way, the spikes in the emotions I wanted to avoid would go down. The more I used what I'd learned about myself to my advantage, the less I felt the need to record it.
I really believe that tracking my grief helped me
It might sound strange to say that a line graph helped me get over a breakup. You may think that it was just a matter of time; I'd say it was a combination of both.
Yes, time helps heal grief, but that time is much more valuable when you're allowing yourself to sit with your uncomfortable emotions and examine them deeply. It wasn't just the weeks that had passed since my breakup; it's also what I did with them. Spending those weeks tracking my grief gave me the insight to manage my emotions and figure out what to do when I went through the stages of shock, anger, depression, bargaining, and, finally, acceptance.
The most important lesson I've learned is that navigating loss isn't a one-and-done process. As much as I enjoy the thought of making linear progress emotionally, I've come to realize that the effects of grief can hit you at any moment. You have to take things day by day. Some days the pain felt like too much to handle, and I struggled just to get out of bed.
Other days, I intentionally started off my mornings by dancing in the middle of the living room. Even then, there were times that my emotions fluctuated throughout the day. The thing is, we all have to find our own ways of processing grief — it's not linear like the lines on my graph. A spreadsheet just happened to work for me.
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