Breaking up with your partner, losing a loved one, becoming separated from your friends after moving… As long as we are alive, all of us will experience some type of “goodbye” at one point or another. The closer you were to the person you became separated from, the more intense the emotional damage. Exactly what kind of impact do these “stressful goodbyes” have on our lives and stress levels?
Different Types of Stressful Goodbyes
According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, which is a widely used scale to measure stress across the world, “death of a spouse” scores the highest on stressfulness. The scale looks at stressful life events with how much they affect individual health, and scores these life events based on “live change units (LCU)”, which indicate the weight a particular event carries on one’s stress levels. The higher the LCU, the larger the impact. In a study conducted across 5,000 patients, the following results were found for the topmost stressful goodbyes:
*The number in brackets indicates the LCU score.
1: Death of a spouse (100)
2: Divorce (73)
3: Marital separation (65)
4: Imprisonment (63)
5: Death of a close family member (63)
Four out of the top five stressors are “bereavement” or “separation” from close relatives, indicating that becoming separated from a loved one is a major stressor. Furthermore, there are differences in the stress and symptoms between separation by death and separation by breakups.
Separation by Death
A study of 40 bereaved people in the United States reported that most of them experienced depressed mood one month after the loss. The main symptoms are as follows:
- Loss of appetite
- Poor sleep
- Waking up throughout the night
- Sleep disturbances (such as waking up too early)
- Shedding tears
- Loss of interest in one’s surroundings
- Sense of guilt
The reality is that many people who have experienced stressful goodbyes through death suffer from symptoms such as the above. According to the above survey, many of them particularly feel a strong sense of guilt, wondering if there was anything they could have done to prevent the loss, or what they could have done differently. This is different from the “guilt” felt by depressed people due to loss of self-esteem, or the “guilt of having committed a crime” felt by criminals, and is very harmful to those who have experienced bereavement.
Moreover, separation by death can be predictable, or unpredictable. The death of a loved one from illness or old age can be somewhat prepared for emotionally. On the other hand, the sudden death of a close person who you thought you could talk to any time, and whose presence in your life you took for granted, can cause immense emotional damage and a sense of loss. In order to avoid falling into a state of depression, including feelings of guilt, it is essential that the bereaved are not isolated and that they have the support of those around them who are devoted to them during these times of stressful goodbyes.
Separation by Breakup (Divorce or Heartbreak)
There are many possible cases of stressful goodbyes through breakups, including divorce, heartbreak, or separation due to moving away. Of these, the stress caused by divorce, which is ranked second in the Holmes and Rehe stress scale, differs in the type of stress felt before and after the divorce itself. The main types of stress felt before divorce are as follows:
- Whether or not to get the divorce: The feeling of wasting one’s marriage
- Inability to reach an agreement: The wife (or husband) wants the divorce, but the husband (or wife) does not consent
- Disagreement on terms: Can’t come to an agreement on property division, alimony, etc.
- Divorce mediation and lawsuits: These are expensive, time-consuming, and cumbersome procedures.
On the other hand, some of the types of stress experienced after the divorce are as follows:
- Loneliness: A sense of loss, and having lost the person you could turn to in times of sickness or unforseen circumstances
- Change in the environment: Changes in lifestyle such as moving house or changing jobs as a result of the divorce
- Dissatisfaction with the terms: Unhappy about the outcomes, in terms of money, parental custody, etc.
- Opinions of others: Feeling as if those around you are not sympathetic to your situation
Many people suffer from the above-mentioned types of stress, which often interfere with their daily lives, manifesting as insomnia, loss of appetite, or lack of concentration. Furthermore, some studies have reported that divorce lowers the immune system, making people more susceptible to physical and mental illnesses, as well as increasing the risk of getting into car accidents.
It is up to us to prevent ourselves from letting negative thoughts take over and make us sick, or become distracted and endanger ourselves as a result of stressful goodbyes. For this reason, it is important to diffuse negative thoughts as much as possible and avoid accumulating stress by talking to someone you can trust or keeping yourself busy with something you are passionate about.
By the way, our app “SELF MIND” contains many helpful tips for dealing with stress and stressful goodbyes. If you’re looking for more tips on how to care for your mental health, check out some of our past blog posts!
Ways of Coping with Heartbreak
Breaking up with your romantic partner or experiencing heartbreak through an unrequited crush are also types of stressful goodbyes that should not be taken lightly. In Japan, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2018, suicides due to depression are most common among people in their 20s, with the most common motive being heartbreak. Many people in their 30s and 40s have also taken their own lives due to similar motivations, and the presumed reason for this is that people lose the will to fall in love as they age, or they are driven to this extreme action through damaged pride and sense of self-doubt.
Let us now take a look at “interpersonal stress coping”. Interpersonal stress coping is a coping method used to reduce the stress caused by interpersonal relationships. There are three main types of interpersonal stress coping: regretted coping, rejected coping, and avoidant coping. An experiment was conducted to measure the stress response of university students by applying each type of coping to cases of heartbreak.
- Regretted coping: Regret towards your separation from the object of heartbreak.
- Rejected coping: Resentment towards the object of heartbreak, or deliberately trying to forget about them.
- Avoidant coping: Positive interpretation of the heartbreak, replacement with another love interest, finding distractions, etc.
The results showed that “regretted coping” and “rejected coping” tended to increase the stress response and delay recovery because people were too conscious of the other person as a negative entity. On the other hand, “avoidant coping” was found to be more effective since the subject interpreted their lost love in a positive way and were less likely to experience stress reactions.
Accepting the time you spent in love in a positive way can give you hope for the future, and starting a new relationship can help you make up for the stressful goodbyes experienced through the loss of love. In addition, distractions can help you to vent your thoughts and recover from a broken heart. This type of avoidant coping, which could be referred to as “heartbreak coping” is an effective method that can help you recover from the pain of heartbreak more quickly.
Maintaining a Healthy Mind in Stressful Goodbyes
Separation from someone you were close to can be a significant cause of stress. Moreover, if the stressful goodbyes are sudden, they will leave their mark as a strong negative experience, and may even develop into trauma.
Of all the stressful goodbyes, the most impactful stress response on one’s health is the sense of loss. As mentioned above, when something that we took for granted is no longer around us, we feel loneliness like a gaping hole in our hearts. In order to alleviate this feeling, it is important to maintain a sense of gratitude on a daily basis. By feeling and expressing gratitude toward your spouse, parents, romantic partner, and friends, you can strengthen the recognition that they are important to you, no longer taking their presence for granted.
Humans are creatures of habit. While habituation is one of the most important factors that lead to improved performance and personal appeal, it also makes it difficult to adapt to changing situations, causing us to become distracted. Gratitude is something you can start practicing now. Being grateful and compassionate to those around you is essential for maintaining a healthy mind.
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If you’re looking for more tips on how to care for your mental health, check out some of our past blog posts!
Clayton, P. J. (2007). Bereavement. In Encyclopedia of Stress (pp. 317-323). Elsevier Inc. doi: 10.1016/B978-012373947-6.00053-2
Kato, T. (2005). The Relationship Between Coping with Stress Due to Romantic Break-Ups and Mental Health. Japanese Journal of Social Psychology 20(3), 171-180. doi: 10.14966/jssp.KJ00003724999
Kawano, T. (1993). Diseases After Bereavement: Bereavement Stress and Health Disorders. Shinshin-Igaku, 33(1), 35-38. doi: 10.15064/jjpm.33.1_35
Tsukawaki, R. (2014). Types of Romantic Breakups and Stress-Coping Styles on Stress and Recovery Period After Breakup. Bulletin of the Psychological Counseling Center, 10, 23-27.