How to Get Over a Breakup Without Missing a Career Beat

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AdobeStock/andrii kobryn

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Karen Schneider, PMP®, PMI-ACP®, CSM®27
Experienced Project/Program Manager
June 24, 2024 at 9:26AM UTC
Bad breakups are painful. There are no two ways about it. No matter whether you were in a long-term relationship or short-term one, you need time to grieve.
Ending a relationship with someone you love is difficult. Breakups and the emotional pain you're feeling impact nearly every facet of your day-to-day life. In times of loss and pain, your feelings can often overwhelm you and take center stage, even when you recognize you have other responsibilities that require your attention.
Having to deal with work responsibilities is the last thing you want to do when your grieving from a painful breakup. The truth is, a bad breakup can be a traumatic experience that makes it extremely difficult to focus and be productive in any situation in your day-to-day life—and especially at work.
The best cure for heartbreak is often taking the time to heal, but when you can't hit the fast forward button (because who can?), utilize the resources you do have. Despite the pain and sadness you feel right now, there are many different ways to take care of yourself and make sure you stay on point at work while you heal.

Utilize your PTO
Dealing with a breakup is difficult. As you probably know, you need some time to heal. If you can take paid time off from work, it may be wise to use a day or two to get your emotions in order and spend time with yourself without the added pressure of professional interactions or meetings. Plus, while we are all susceptible to emotions, no one wants to be caught crying at work before a meeting with their boss. So if you have the vacation or personal days, use them.
Lean on your friends and family for support and encouragement
There is an unwritten clause in best friendships that literally requires your friends to help you get through a breakup. Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but your friends will certainly offer a shoulder for you to cry on and give you the needed pep talk(s) to start you back on the road to emotional recovery. The people who love you most will be there for you and will help to build you back up when you aren't feeling your strongest or most confident. Lean on your family, too. Whoever usually helps you through difficult times—your mom, dad, sister, brother, favorite aunt, or someone else—can help you cope with a painful breakup. Rather than crying in the bathroom at work (trust me: we've all been there), call your mom to talk on your lunch break.
Meditate and exercise
Physical activity can be cleansing and serve as a physical release for tension and pent up feelings (not to mention a healthy way to express and work off frustration). Take 30 minutes to center yourself and breathe deeply, and maybe even try out a new workout or yoga routine. This can help you get your thoughts in order and cope with physical symptoms of a broken heart.
Use work to distract you—in a healthy way
I'm not suggesting you become a workaholic, but work can serve as a helpful distraction. If you were already trying to catch up on a project and get ahead on the work you have on your plate, now is the time to seize the opportunity. It will help you focus your thoughts on the task at hand, rather than the hurt you're feeling.
Of course, you can't just avoid thinking about your sadness completely; mourning the loss of relationships is an important part of the healing process. The key is to be sure that work doesn't become a source of avoidance to prevent you from moving on in a healthy way.

Make a to-do list
When you're distracted by heartbreak, even minor tasks can feel overwhelming. Rather than trying to tackle everything you need to do at once and feeling completely overwhelmed, start small. Break down your tasks into smaller priorities, and tackle them accordingly. For some, this might mean completing the most difficult projects first and then checking off the remainder; others might find it helpful to spend time on the smaller issues first before moving on to the larger ones.
Schedule "emotional breaks"
You won't be at your peak performance while your still feeling hurt and overwhelmed, so don't be too hard on yourself. Understand that your attention is likely to waver, even more so when a breakup is still fresh. Plan for focused work time, but allow yourself to take a break to take a walk and get some fresh air as needed, too.
Sign up for some classes to learn a new skill
Learning something new is a great way to take your mind off of your emotional pain. Perhaps you've been looking for a reason to take a new class but put it off in the past. Now is the perfect time to dive in—especially if the class can help you achieve a goal, like a promotion or even career pivot to a new job. But even classes that may not contribute to your career in a major way—like knitting or learning a language—can help take your mind off of your breakup and give you a new skill.
Be willing to take risks and challenge your comfort zone
If ever there was a time to try new things, this is it. Relationships are a huge part of our lives, so sometimes when one ends, we realize that not only do we have more time, but we also may be more willing or excited to take on new experiences than when we were romantically involved, perhaps because certain opportunities would interfere with one-on-one time with your partner. Consider your career goals and available opportunities, and be open to trying something that you might have been too busy or apprehensive to try before.
Volunteer for that new project. Offer to start and lead a mentorship program with senior and junior colleagues at work. Ask to travel for work if you can. Take every chance and embrace it. This also extends outside of work. Get out there and meet new people. Network! Go to that book signing, and meet the author you totally fangirl over. Just do it one step at a time, one day at a time.
Adapting to life after a breakup takes work and a lot of healing, but you'll get there. Heartbreak is hard—one of the most painful things ever, actually—but don't let it stop you from doing the amazing things that you're meant to do. Use it to your advantage. Harness the pain and make it your power, because while most people will tell you that breakups are painful, they will also tell you that they are a time of extreme personal growth. Use your time and experiences wisely, and let them empower you to become a stronger, wiser version of yourself.
Karen Schneider works for bareMinerals in Global Packaging + Creative Services and has worked in a variety of industries over the span of her career, including digital media, fashion & apparel, and wine & spirits. She is currently a contributor to The Muse and Career Contessa and has been featured on Business InsiderFast CompanyInc., and Harvard Business Review for her career advice. She's obsessed with learning, life, and career/self-improvement.

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