I remember my first real breakup like it was yesterday. In reality, it was about 8 years ago. I was a freshman in high school and my boyfriend of two years (yep, we started dating in 7th grade) was avoiding me. Every day before soccer practice, he would stop by my class to bring me a Gatorade and a pack of Airheads Extremes. But one day, he didn’t. And I remember worrying about him. Where is he? Is he okay? Did something happen? Everything was fine, aside from the fact that this was the beginning of the end. Not only did he stop showing up outside my door, but he stopped texting me throughout the day. He stopped sitting with me at lunch. He stopped calling me before bed to say goodnight. He stopped it all.

This was a young and innocent relationship—but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t significant. It was my first tussle with love, and it completely destroyed me. After a few days of wondering and speculating what was going on, my boyfriend finally told me he wanted to break up. Which of course drove me to tears… which of course just kept on flowing. For the next few days, I cried in bed and refused to eat dinner. My parents told me I was being ridiculous and dramatic and begged me to snap out of it, but it just wasn’t that easy. Of course, if I could just snap out of it, I would! Instead, I drove myself crazy wondering: How long will it take to get over this breakup? When will I be okay again? 

What I didn’t realize is that the answers to these two questions depended entirely on me. If I continued to drown in my tears under my covers then the heartache would undoubtedly persist. If, on the other hand, I took proactive steps toward healing, then I would improve every single day. And eventually, I’d be back to my happy whole self again. Moral of the story: you need to piece yourself back together. You aren’t sentenced to, say, 6 weeks of grieving and then declared over your breakup. There’s no telling how long it will take to get over a breakup. What you need to focus on instead is building yourself back up—and these 4 tips will help you do so:

1. Release the pain.

While it may sound counterintuitive, you shouldn’t run from painful emotions. You should instead open yourself to the pain as it comes and then express it in a healthy way. One simple exercise that might help is journaling. Write down everything you’re feeling, and let your feelings flow through your pen. You could also write a letter to your ex, telling him or her how you feel about the breakup, what you think of them, what you’re going through. Then, when you’re finished, seal it, imagine locking that pain inside the envelope, and burn it or rip it apart. The purpose of this exercise is to release those emotions and then rid yourself of them.

2.Consult your support system.

A lot of us have trouble admitting we need help. But if you think about it, this is pretty silly, considering we all need help at some point or another. If you’re struggling after a breakup talk to a trusted friend or family member about it. Admitting to your feelings and getting them out in the open will help you heal, not to mention your loved ones might offer a new, helpful perspective. If, however, you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family about your breakup then you can also set up an appointment with a mental health professional.

3.Focus on personal goals.

Relationships require a lot of time and commitment. Now that you’re single again, think of all the time and energy you have to put into yourself! What goals have been on the backburner? Maybe you’ve been wanting to plan a trip to Ireland. Or, you want to get back into running or journaling. Whatever your goals are, whether they be big or small, use this time to focus on them and become the best you possible.

Like I said earlier, it will take some time and hard work to heal, but you will start to feel better. As this healing process unfolds, reflect on the breakup and your progress, and think about where you want to be in the future. What have you learned about yourself? What was good and what was bad in your relationship? What did this relationship teach you about future relationships? Then, recognize the breakup and your new single status as a valuable opportunity to learn and grow.