Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

How to Survive at the Office When Going Through a Breakup

When a parent, friend, or loved one passes away, most employers and colleagues understand it’s going to be a tough time for you. They may be a bit gentler with you, may understand if you’re not as focused as usual, and oftentimes, may allow you to work from home or travel to be with family.

When heartbreak strikes through a breakup and the loss of love, you often experience the same intense feelings and pain you feel from a death in the family—but you don’t usually get that same hall pass at the office. In fact, you may even be pegged as someone who lets your personal life affect your work.

So, even when the world and future you built with your now ex-partner has been shattered, you can’t let your employer know you’re wasting hours crying in the handicapped stall or Googling “how to heal a broken heart” instead of working on that big project. It’s OK to grieve, but it is not OK to lose your job.

Instead, try these practical tips for staying strong at work through the heartbreak, from someone who’s been there, too.

1. Get Out of Bed—Immediately

Especially in those first few days, try charging your phone in a different part of your room or apartment. That way, when your alarm goes off in the morning, you will physically need to get out of bed to turn it off and will already be up and at ’em. In other words, avoid the tardy-inducing habit of laying in bed with some hope your ex has texted or emailed, crying when he or she hasn’t, and spending the next hour Facebook stalking instead of getting ready for work. I promise, it helps.

2. Confide in a Peer

Even if you and your manager are close, it’s best to avoid letting him or her in on the nitty gritty details of the breakup. Again, you want to show that you can keep your personal life at home, and you definitely don’t want this issue showing up on your performance review in six months when you’re already over the breakup. Instead, confide in an equal level peer whom you trust (and don’t compete with). He or she can pick up some of your slack, jump in at meetings when you’re having an off day, or just be someone to instant message when you feel like you’re going to burst into tears.

3. Bring Your Gym Clothes to Work

Even if your gym is right near your home and it makes no sense at all, bring a gym bag to work. After a day of holding everything inside, there’s something about entering your empty apartment that will queue your body to release all those tears and emotion. So don’t go home—go to the gym instead and turn those tears into sweat. Feel those endorphins! You’ll be a little happier at the end of the day, and you will train your brain that your home is not a den of despair, but a place to fuel up and get rest in between your power workdays and power workouts.

4. Hand Out Smiles and Compliments

Studies show that if you force yourself to smile, it’ll eventually become a real smile. Similarly, if you spread happiness, it tends to make you happier. Keep this in mind as you go about your workday. Smile at the receptionist as you walk in, even if it’s the hardest thing you’ll do all day. Better yet, congratulate a co-worker on a great presentation or program recommendation. It’ll make him or her happy, it’ll potentially get you a compliment back, and if there’s any office gossip about how you’re doing, you’ll have an ally who can tell everyone you seem totally fine.

5. Turn That Business Plan Into a Breakup Plan

Remember in Silver Linings Playbook when Bradley Cooper had an action plan? Do that. Figure out exactly how you want to react and what you want to say before those dreaded situations pop up and ruin your whole day at work. For example, write a script for your response to a co-worker asking how “you two are doing,” or determine what you’ll do in advance if you receive a text or email from your ex during work hours. (A great tip: Change his or her name in your phone to something that conjures up absolutely no emotion whatsoever—say, Jane Smith. When you get a message right before a big meeting, you’ll feel apathy instead of heart-pounding grief). Being prepared will make sure you have thoughtful reactions—rather than knee-jerk ones you might regret when you’re thinking clearly again.

The most important tip to remember when dealing with heartbreak is to be kind to yourself. What you are going through is painful and devastating—and 100% normal. If you remember to love yourself and be good to yourself, you’ll be back on your feet in no time.

Photo of sad man courtesy of Shutterstock.