He is literally making me sick.
May 20, 2009 11:57 AM   Subscribe

How to stop from getting physically ill from post-breakup stress?

I recently broke up with my partner of two and a half years after a long period of deterioration and betrayal. I finally got the courage to leave and break things off and he got to stay at the house that we had moved to together to build a life that we had both dreamed about and I moved across the country to figure things out. I am trying to move past this and I think that I'm doing pretty well, but a few things have come to light from him that are causing me physical distress.

I'm doing the typical exercise, spend time with friends, being kind to myself routine, but I have this persistent feeling of sickness and it's making it hard for me to function enough to look for a job in my new city. Are there any ideas that I'm missing on how to stop this from literally making me sick?
posted by youcancallmeal to Human Relations (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Pay more attention than usual to your eating and sleeping routines--it's easy for emotional trauma to affect those things, and to get into a sort of vicious cycle.
posted by box at 12:07 PM on May 20, 2009

It's totally natural. Emotional pain is processed by the same part of the brain as physical pain and is often experienced as being more intense.

The good news is that each moment that passes, your body creates new cells. Every breath you take brings in new oxygen molecules. Every action you do, every new sight you see, every walk around the block you take, creates new memories. Hang in there.
posted by salvia at 12:12 PM on May 20, 2009 [13 favorites]

It takes a little bit of time, and realize that.

Meanwhile, exercise is the right first step, but take it further. For example: pick a 5K or a half-marathon that's in a few months, and train to run in it. Join a sports league. Do something not just to do something, but to excel. You'll feel better and it'll make you better.

In addition, pick up a cerebral hobby. Painting, sculpture, any type of art.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:16 PM on May 20, 2009

For myself, my eating habits go to shit whenever I have breakup-type stress. I basically had to force myself to eat three meals a day last time, but I got over the physical-sickness feelings much faster than I had. And that goes double for getting enough rest.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:29 PM on May 20, 2009

I'm really sorry. This sounds very painful.

I try really hard to surf through painful times in life kinda like working at a job: right now, your job is to (a) take good care of yourself emotionally and physically and (b) find employment. What works for me is to force myself to stick to a schedule, e.g., not permitting myself to wallow in bed (my tendency).

Make a list, including specific wake up times, healthy meals and relevant food shopping times, number of resumes to send each day, gym/bike ride times/distances, etc. Basically, don't give yourself too much downtime that can spiral into aimless loneliness. Give yourself a purpose. Even if it's a micro-purpose (e.g., creating a healthy meal), it focuses your brain for those moments, which can help in preventing some of those ugly thoughts from creeping in. Don't let there be gaps. Even if you pencil in (as I had to because I was so depressed), "shower/get dressed/fix hair," don't feel bad. You might feel kinda lame and loserish for having to list something like that, but sometimes that's the butt kick you need to get out of bed and stop wallowing. Baby steps.

Secondly, do you write or sketch or paint or do anything creative? Start an anonymous blog or project and cry yourself out there. Limit your time though and put it on your agenda, e.g., "thirty minutes of carthartic blogging/sketching, 3PM." Along those lines, I gave myself a deadline. I gave myself X number of months to grieve and then that was that. That's kinda extreme, but it worked for me. I realized that spending any more time beyond that was going to be counterproductive. Of course, the pain didn't go away on cue, but picking a date did help me say, Screw it, I've spent enough time on this and need to move forward.

Each minute that passes is one more step closer to the pain lessening. The alleviation will be incremental, but it's coming. You'll have setbacks, but focus with eyes forward.
posted by December at 12:51 PM on May 20, 2009

Confiding in a close friend is a good idea.

Something that works for all types of anxiety/depression is to journal. Write whatever you feel. Let a few weeks pass and then read your old entries. There's a strange therapeutic effect from seeing your own words and feelings reflected back to you, even if they are sad words. Perhaps it's because when you write it out, the feelings become part of the old you, and the new you can look at things in perspective.

Taking up a new creative pursuit, sport or exercise takes your mind off things and enriches your life at the same time. Awareness and meditation practices like yoga are also helpful.
posted by storybored at 12:55 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

If the physical distress is to the point that it is interfering with every day activities, consider talking to your doctor about a short term prescription for some anti-anxiety meds.
posted by metahawk at 1:33 PM on May 20, 2009

also, sometimes it helps to do things that take you out of yourself a bit - like take some time to re-read your favourite books, or watch an entire tv series that you've been interested in... watch nature shows - remind yourself that there is a whole world out there waiting for you to explore it.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2009

Last time this happened to me, I puked every day for about 6 weeks and lost about 15 pounds because I wasn't eating. It sounded counter-intuitive to force myself to eat when I was so queasy, but I finally learned that the empty stomach made the nausea worse. So: Force yourself to eat something. Bland foods: Crackers, boiled potatoes, toast, jello -- whatever you can choke down. Just get something in your stomach, because that'll actually prevent the stomach upset that's caused by the physical issues. (Stomach upset caused by emotional issues is harder to control, of course, but having something in there still helps.)

Very sorry you're going through this. You know it passes, I'm sure. But the waiting sucks.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:46 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Try to go new places and do fun things whenever you can. Experiencing something totally new and refreshing takes your mind off of it and can help you move on, which will help with the physical symptoms.
posted by lorrer at 1:47 PM on May 20, 2009

I was physically ill (nausea and vomiting) every morning after one break up. I couldn't eat until well into the afternoon. I basically allowed myself to feel this way, not beating myself for vomiting, and I made sure to brush my teeth after. I made the most of the part of the day when I wasn't sick and took a somewhat detached approach to my physical symptoms, in other words, I didn't assign them any significance other than to work around them. Whatever I could eat or felt like eating I ate and I allowed myself to indulge in my favourite foods, which wasn't a problem since I was losing weight. In the morning, this meant only being able to eat apples, and in the evening, it was fried food city. I then made sure to get a good meditative walk in every morning, which helped me get over my nausea sooner in the day. Eventually, occupying myself and getting use to (and enjoying!) my single life meant my physical symptoms disappeared. Good luck!
posted by waterandrock at 1:49 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Practically speaking, vitamin B complex vitamins are great for stress of any sort. For me they make a big difference. Couldn't hurt!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:12 PM on May 20, 2009

I'm sorry for your loss.

Try concentrating on simple and healthy food -- very simple, basic, and from scratch kinds of things. You know -- a very basic vegetable soup, made from scratch (i.e., you chop all the carrots and celery and onions and green beans and etc. by hand), baking bread from scratch (if that intimidates you, try just some buttermilk biscuits -- if you make a whole batch, you can just eat two and freeze the rest, and reheat them on a 350 oven for about 10 minutes or so), oatmeal, a simple roast chicken, etc. Simple, nourishing, but from scratch.

The reason why I am suggesting to do things from scratch is that the actions may be emotionally grounding as well -- simple, calming, repetitive, and centering. A little time-consuming, sure, but -- subconsciously the fact that you are taking that time to do something to care for yourself may also settle some part of you that's flailing about untethered -- "wait, the rest of my life is going to shit, but here is one small way I'm taking time to care for myself. This is good." There's more than one reason why comfort food is comforting.

Plus, if you are making it from scratch, you will also be avoiding a lot of the weird chemical muck that goes into processed foods, and you can season things to your taste, which may also help if your stomach is feeling queasy at any point.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:29 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry you're going through this. The same kind of thing happens to me when I'm dealing with emotional stress -- I lose my appetite completely, the thought of food (even my favorite foods) makes me feel nauseated, and since I'm not eating and I have no energy I usually end up laying on the nearest available horizontal surface and feeling monumentally awful.

Exercise definitely helps, not only your standard cardio or whatever, but also yoga. I found a yoga routine geared toward helping depression (this particular video podcast was very helpful) and did the sequence every couple of days or so, which honestly did help calm my mind quite a bit and alleviated the worst of the nausea. Googling "yoga poses + depression" will bring up plenty of other sequences you can do, too.

Getting myself to eat is always the hardest part, but I'm a formerly obese woman with food hangups so food is always kind of a hairy issue for me. YMMV. The last time I went through a rough patch (to be honest I'm still kind of in the middle of one), I gave myself free reign to eat whatever I felt like, if I felt like eating. If that meant I was eating big leafy organic salads, fine, but if all I wanted was a big sloppy cheeseburger that was fine too. And if I didn't want anything at all, which has been the case more often than not, then I'd try to make myself drink milk or an Odwalla protein drink or something along those lines. I also forced myself to take a multivitamin every day, because I'd heard somewhere that that can help jump-start your appetite. (On preview, I see St. Alia of the Bunnies recommended a B complex vitamin. I'll second that, they've helped me immensely.)

The important thing is to be gentle on yourself. This, too, shall pass.
posted by palomar at 2:42 PM on May 20, 2009

I think all of the above suggestions are great.

Having been through a life and lifestyle changing break-up, I can relate to what you're going through. Do you know exactly what is causing the stress you're feeling? If you can figure out what the cause is, it's a lot easier to remedy.

For instance, if it's lack of physical contact, you can get a massage or ask a friend to come over and hold you while you watch a movie together.

If it's stress caused by not knowing what you're want to do next, some talk therapy (professional or just with friends) or journalling might help you figure out what you really want and how to get there.

If you're mourning of the life you left behind, you could have a ceremony where you say goodbye to your old life and hello to your new life, complete with wishes for the future.

Breakups are tough. Sorry you're having such a rough time right now.
posted by burntflowers at 3:05 PM on May 20, 2009

I feel for you. This happened to me and it was hell. I wrote a lot, and this helped unknot me for short times when it got too much. The sickness was terrible, a kind of emotional vertigo, and it helped to do simple things - like EmpressCallipygos says - small mechanical stuff, to ground me. I did a lot of cleaning. And crying!

I also remember driving a lot, to nowhere in particular. Not so good for the environment but the mechanical action and wide horizons soothed me.

Mostly, I think you should just be gentle with yourself. Find your own pace, don't rush it and try not to resist it. Trying to process everything all at once can wind you up tighter and exacerbate the physical stuff. Maybe give yourself a set time to just feel it, say a week or a fortnight? Then approach the job search?

Really sorry you're feeling crap. This stuff is never easy. Hugs to you.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:28 PM on May 20, 2009

I've had this happen as well. For me, it just took time.
posted by slateyness at 5:31 PM on May 20, 2009

I'll second yoga or meditation, too. During a breakup from my younger years, I'd wake up all in turmoil, and I'd sit and (I hesitate to actually call it meditation because it's so novice, but it is the closest I come to following instructions about how to meditate), and eventually it'd more or less pass by. Part of what I'd tell myself is "this is the time when you can just sit and look around and breathe, and you don't have to feel bad or think about any of that stuff." That would work for about one minute, and then I'd forget, and then I'd remind myself. The physical and mental turmoil would then be gone for about three hours, then I'd have to repeat it.
posted by salvia at 6:20 PM on May 20, 2009

Stress can make stomach acids go nuts and if you're not having other symptoms, then it shows itself only as a constant nausea. Which will be worse if you're having an empty stomach, which you will have because being slightly nauseous doesn't encourage eating. Seconding simple foods, carry some healthy snacks so you'll never have empty stomach for long. This will go on for a while, even if your general life situation gets better, but it will get better too. Just treat yourself as someone having a sensitive stomach for a while: avoid coffee on empty stomach, ibubrofein and other stomach-nasty medicine, binge drinking, over-eating and other excesses, and remember to eat.
posted by Free word order! at 6:44 AM on May 21, 2009

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