Your mental health may suffer after a breakup, particularly if you experience anxiety symptoms.
Your mental health may suffer after a breakup, particularly if you experience anxiety symptoms. You may have intrusive thoughts and ruminate on what caused the breakup. While these feelings won’t last forever, there are steps you can take to ease your anxiety and speed up the healing process.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is characterized by feelings of tension and worrisome thoughts. Oftentimes, it is accompanied by physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure. You may experience it before certain events, such as public speaking and social gatherings, or it may persist continuously throughout the day.
A certain level of anxiety is healthy, as it keeps us alert and motivated to perform well. However, anxiety that is overwhelming and debilitating can hinder your ability to function and live life to the fullest.
People with anxiety disorders frequently experience intrusive thoughts and worries. Some people may avoid certain places, people, or situations out of worry. They can also experience physical symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating, or a rapid heartbeat.
Is It Normal to Have Anxiety after a Breakup?
Love within a partnership can be stimulating, exciting, and totally consuming but can leave us reeling from feelings of grief and anxiety when that connection is lost. Although there is great joy brought about with deeply felt human connection, the journey to finding our partner can be riddled with disappointment and heartache.
Experiencing post breakup anxiety is a common human occurrence and has been a focus of many mental health experts within the field of psychology. If you find yourself anxious, you are not alone and there are ways to alleviate any physical and mental discomfort you are facing.
Anxiety, like all our emotions, brings messages and insight from us and can set off a chain of symptoms if left unattended.
Anxiety alerts us to our environment, signaling that we are fearful of something or insecure in our surroundings. Following a breakup there tends to be a lot of change happening, such as a partner moving out, sleeping alone, the restructuring of daily routine, etc. So, it is not unheard of for our nervous system to be on high alert and for related symptoms to manifest.
Some symptoms may include:
- Intrusive thoughts, racing thoughts, and/or rumination
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping and/or restlessness
- Becoming easily fatigued
- Uncontrollable feelings of worry or panic
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, muscle aches, etc.
Although these experiences are common and could be argued to be a natural state of adjustment following a breakup, in higher levels they can impede daily functioning and there are ways to alleviate this distress.
Feelings of anxiety develop as a survival mechanism to alert us to our surroundings. It is a sign that our sympathetic nervous system is activated and ready to fight, flee, freeze, or fold. Although extremely useful in dangerous situations, prolonged activation can be detrimental to one’s mental and physical health.
Thus, there are techniques that can be used to calm the sympathetic nervous system such as breathing techniques, guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. Even laughter activates the parasympathetic nervous system which combats the activation of the sympathetic response. Be flexible in finding what works best for you and play around with different techniques.
It can be as simple as Box Breathing (breathing in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4) when you feel the anxiety manifesting in your body, more targeted towards muscle tension (progressive muscle relaxation), or utilized to break the cognitive cycle of rumination (guided imagery). Everyone feels anxiety physically, emotionally, and cognitively and there are techniques available to provide relief when these symptoms become unmanageable.
Take care of yourself. It sounds obvious but when large emotions arise, especially sadness, loss, regret, apprehension, anger, or self-doubt, it is easy to forget about our basic needs. When these needs are not met our mental and physical health diminish and exacerbate our state of well-being.
Make sure to spend around 20 minutes a day moving your body. This can be as easy as stretching in your living room, however, an activity where you feel the sun on your skin brings additional benefits. Make sure to hydrate! Make sure to eat regularly! Avoid anxiety provoking substances such as alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine.
Allow your mind and body to rest. Being on high alert with anxiety takes a lot of physical and mental energy, so aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
Partaking in reflection through journaling, talking, or a mindfulness practice can facilitate letting go in addition to growth. Every social interaction from birth comes together to form a blueprint for how we interact with others. Romantic relationships, flush with vulnerability and emotion, tend to tap into these blueprints in various ways.
Understanding a relationship with a balanced perspective can allow the individual to recognize patterns that can often be perpetuated throughout many relationships. When one can understand the part they play, what they are willing to accept from a partner, and what they are no longer wanting to tolerate in a relationship, this opens them up to moving forward in future endeavors that is not burdened by past baggage.
Additionally, this type of reflection allows for the individual to focus on what their own needs are and how those needs are best met. This self-insight will provide a foundation for communicating those needs while finding a successful partner.
Explore and Express
When dreams are shared and goals are mutual, a breakup can feel like a lost identity and that you are left in the world with no direction. Almost feeling as though a piece of yourself has been ripped away.
For this reason, it is extremely important to cut out time for preferred activities that reignite passion and excitement. This can be anything from painting, hiking, reading, writing, sports, traveling, community service, or even a living room dance party. This not only encourages self-exploration and expression, but also fills up any time that was once spent invested in your partner.
Loneliness is a common experience following a break-up, and the above activities can bring about new relationships (romantic or platonic) but can also be done with friends and loved ones. When your partner and main support system is no longer there, accepting support from others can be daunting. Thus, using outside activities as a mode of peer connection can relieve the pressure of reaching out.
Challenge Your Thoughts
Feeling an absence within yourself that was once filled with love and connection, can bring about deep pain and self-criticism. Make it a practice to challenge the intrusive thoughts circulating in your head with self-compassion. Everyone deserves to feel love, both from themselves and from others.
Intrusive thoughts following a breakup provide insight into the core beliefs of the individual (e.g., I’m not worthy of love, I’ll never find love like that again). These core beliefs are deeply seeded in the blueprints we use to navigate our interactions with others and are not always adaptive or true. So, pay attention to your internal dialogue and look for patterns. Practice self-love, self-forgiveness, and compassion towards yourself while challenging any negative thoughts that surface.
Give Yourself Time
A time of mourning is natural, and it is okay to give yourself some time to rest and feel the loss but be careful not to disconnect from the outside world for too long. Do not wait to do these things until you feel better. Do these things to feel better. Breakups are never easy, and you are not alone in what you are experiencing.
When Should You Get Help For Your Anxiety?
The effects of chronic anxiety can be debilitating, overwhelming you with irrational fear, hopelessness, and a crushing feeling of impending doom. While everyone experiences stress and anxiety to some extent, seeking professional help is necessary when anxiety:
- Causes problems in relationships
- Results in sleeping issues
- Interferes with your concentration
- Results in intense and persistent feelings of sadness, anger, or worry
- Leads to sudden changes in weight
- Prevents you from doing the things you enjoy
- Creates feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
- Interferes with performance in work or school
- Leads to isolation from friends and family
- Causes physical symptoms such as chest pain and increased heart rate
- Results in frequent panic attacks
- Causes suicidal thinking
How CHE Can Help
Give back to yourself with the above strategies, allow yourself whatever time you need to heal, and know that there is support out there for you. Talk to your friends, family, support groups, or a mental health professional. You are worth the effort!
When anxiety begins to interfere with your quality of life, our team is here to help. At CHE Behavioral Health Services, we provide specialized and compassionate care for individuals with anxiety and anxiety disorders.
With the help of our experienced mental health professionals, we can help you understand why the relationship ended, gain new insights, and develop tools for building healthy, fulfilling relationships going forward.
Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology
California School of Professional Psychology
Alliant International University, Los Angeles