How to Cope with Anxiety after a Breakup without Causing Depression
Hi there! Can I share a few things that have helped me cope with anxiety after a breakup and have also helped me pull my way out of depression?
I wrote this article just for you because I know what it’s like to experience anxiety and depression after a relationship breakup, and I want to help you as much as I can to get through the next few months.
I’m Rai, and let me just say that I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.
Breakups absolutely suck! But I’ll share some valuable stuff with you that I’ve learned from personal experiences, conversations with women about their breakups, great books and expert counseling.
Most of all, I want to give you back the gift of yourself.
Please know that you’re not alone in this fight for yourself. So many women have been where you are right now. (You can read a little bit about my story here.)
Anxiety can rob you of feeling safe and secure and depression can hide you away from the world.
If you’re wondering if what you’re feeling right now is over the top, rest assured that it’s very common to feel sad.
Most importantly, you don’t need to feel like a prisoner to anxiety and depression.
So if you’re wondering how to cope right now and you’re ready to add one more person to your support team, then please count me in!
As we’re getting started, we’ll talk about some ways to take care of yourself while learning to cope with the natural emotions you may be experiencing.
I want to help you understand:
- What you’re experiencing right now
- How long breakup pain lasts
- What is anxiety?
- Why you may be experiencing it
- How to cope with your anxiety
- What has worked for me after a breakup
- How I’ve dealt/deal with anxiety
- What is a panic attack
- Why your healing may have stalled
- How to avoid falling into depression
What you’re experiencing right now
It may be almost a year or more and the feelings of loss, grief and even anxiety may feel like they’re stalking you, and you may be wondering why you’re not over your breakup yet.
Everything seems out of your control.
Because you feel like your healing has stalled, you may begin to beat yourself up about why the breakup still bothers you.
You may start wondering how to get your recovery back on track. You may be confused about how your EX wiggled his way so deeply in your heart that you can’t seem to get rid of him.
I’ve had similar experiences.
Everything seems to trigger a memory — every song you hear, every billboard you pass on the street, even stupid commercials prompt some little thought of what he used to say or do.
And even though you’ve tried everything like begging him to get back with you and 30 days of no contact, when you feel like nothing is working, you may start coming down on yourself and wondering what’s wrong with you — wondering why your EX is moving on so easily and you’re not.
Your frustration at yourself can turn into worry and then the worry can become anxiety — but not just any anxiety — breakup anxiety.
At the extreme, some people feel so out of control of their world that they try to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, food and even self-harm.
The breakup may get so deep in their minds that they begin to believe that the problem is only solved not by just erasing the problem but by erasing themselves, and they make a suicide attempt.
If this is describing your situation, please seek immediate help by contacting one of the services below or by dialing your local emergency service number.
If you need immediate and urgent assistance, contact a crisis line.
In Australia contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
In the United Kingdom call Samaritans at 116 123.
In the United States call the American National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
For all over countries, please check this list of Suicide Hotlines servicing various countries around the world:
If you find you’re coping with your breakup and it’s not leading you to suicidal thoughts, then
I’d like to help you understand what you’re feeling and give you some ideas on how you can cope with anxiety after your breakup without letting it morph into depression…but first, let’s talk about your breakup.
How do you cope with a breakup?
Breakups happen to all of us! They’re the subject of books, movies and songs.
We breeze through some breakups. We hurt for a week or two and then realise the person didn’t mean that much to us.
Or, when we look at it all objectively, we see that the relationship was casual and we weren’t very attached anyway.
With other relationships, we’ve already planned our futures and can’t imagine living without them.
It’s hard to learn how to let go of the relationships because they’ve burrowed so deeply into our hearts, and we naturally take a long time to move on.
How to deal with breakup pain
The pain of a breakup is similar to experiencing a death. It is the death of a reality, a future and a hope you may have been holding on to.
To deal with this pain, you must allow yourself time to grieve.
There are many exercises, books and techniques you can use to give yourself the space and grace to heal. I detail some of them in my article, the Ultimate Breakup Guide for Letting Go of Someone You Love and Recovering Yourself.
But feelings of anxiety after a breakup go beyond feeling sad. They are past the state of normal worry for the future. Breakup anxiety is your fight or flight mechanisms turned on to a heightened state and your body triggering strong emotions at all times, without knowing when to turn them on or off.
Why do breakups cause anxiety
A breakup can feel like a train wreck. After it, you may feel uncertain about the future. The emotional pain is overwhelming, leaving you numb and unsure of how to move forward.
The stress of it all may show up as a physical illness causing your mind to race to figure out what’s happening to your body. This will in turn make you worry more causing the cycle to grow bigger and bigger and bigger.
Top this off with feeling all alone and perhaps not knowing who you are without your EX. You may have been so connected to your EX and so wrapped up in the relationship that the separation anxiety becomes overwhelming.
How long does breakup pain last?
Well, I could tell you six months to a year or half the time you were dating, but we all know there’s no exact number.
In the middle of the pain, we all desperately want to know how long it takes to get over a breakup.
However, if two, three, four or five years have gone by and your life is stuck and you’re still brewing over the loss of your EX and your life hasn’t moved forward, it’s highly likely you need to get help to deal with everything you’re feeling.
When it comes to getting over someone, however, I do have a few guarantees.
- You will never forget your EX. Over time, it won’t hurt as badly. You’ll still remember, but it won’t come with the big emotions of anger, jealousy, loneliness and sadness.
- The longer you take to let go and accept your new reality, the longer it will take you to get over the relationship
- Your attachment to your EX is related to the connections you have together:
- If you have kids together
- If you’ve been together for a long time
- If you’ve been through crisis together
- If you’ve slept together
- If you’re stiiiiiiiilllllllll sleeping together (let it go!)
- Moving on doesn’t guarantee you’ll quickly get over your EX. If you’ve moved on to a new relationship you may still carry the old pain into the new relationship and it may resurface in some strange and potentially familiar ways.
So, I must ask you, have you let go?
If you need help letting go, check out this article on letting go of your EX after a breakup.
If (like many people) you’re struggling to let go of your EX or even if you begin to feel distress about the situation, you may find yourself developing anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety can be normal.
We all worry about things. We worry about our future, our finances and our new lives as single women. This is normal. We all want to feel like we have control over something.
A normal level of anxiety is that bit of tension we all feel before stressful situations. It’s that shot of adrenaline we need to run a big race. It’s our body’s protective system that helps us run fast in the face of emergency. It’s a normal level of stress and excitement.
Unmanaged anxiety can cause a bombardment of worries. It’s your mind racing with thoughts — a major case of overthinking. It’s worries topped with worries.
Anxiety is an overwhelming feeling that not only messes with you mind but also your body. It can send you mixed signals, one minute making you feel like you’re having a heart attack and the next minute making you feel like you’re having a stroke.
It’s a mind that won’t shut off when you’re trying to sleep, or an abrupt wake up call from your racing heart at 2:00 am, causing you to sit up suddenly with a start.
The total effect of all of these things, including the way the breakup ended, can cause you to experience extreme stress.
What does anxiety feel like?
You’ve probably experienced some of the symptoms of anxiety before – when you’ve just finished a workout, when you’re worried or right before a big test. Anxiety feels just like that, but without turning off.
Anxiety is like a spiral slide at the playground, once you give in to one worry it’s easy to whirl around the slippery dip and slide into a deeper and deeper state of worry about additional things.
What causes the most concern is when it begins to affect your daily life.
What situations make you feel the most anxious
Sometimes your anxiety can be triggered by a particular location. It may be where you met your ex, where you work or where you grew up.
Your anxiety could also be linked to a particularly stressful or traumatic situation that has impacted you in the past. You can see this type of traumatic stress trigger memories and associations that can show up in your life as anxiety.
Where you feel the most anxiety? Is it at home, at work, at the gym or at church?
How do we cope with places we associate with our EX, like work or school?
And how do we deal with those things that trigger the most stress in us?
It’s important to learn our trigger points (and places) so we can really explore what makes us feel the most anxious.
In doing this, we can explore our deepest fears and address them. This will help us understand how real or threatening the fears are.
One good way to identify these places is to start recording what’s happening and when. Look for clues into how you’re responding to different situations and see if any patterns start coming through.
I’m going to share what this has meant for me….but don’t laugh, okay?
Not so long ago, I could feel something unusual was happening in my body.
I felt like my body was in overdrive–ready for a race at any moment. This showed up in my body as spikes in my heart rate and increased blood pressure.
Believe it or not, I could feel the difference.
It’s like there was an electric charge running through my body at all times and it didn’t have an off switch so I started taking my pulse throughout the day (and night) trying to note what was happening when my heart rate was spiking to so I could associate it with the stress.
By doing it over time I started identifying the times I was feeling the most anxiety, and I began to identify my trigger points and places.
In doing this, I could consciously try to prepare myself for stressful times and places and attempt to resolve issues that were bringing me the most stress.
With that being said, I want to honestly say that even with the best investigation on your part, sometimes, there’s no clear explanation for somethings.
During this time, sometimes, I would wake up in the night with my heart racing with no explanation so don’t feel obligated to explain every blip, dip and trip of your heart.
Sometimes life happens and we have to roll with the punches.
Difference between anxiety and anxiety disorder
Even though anxiety can be downplayed as just a bit of worry, overthinking and overreacting, if the worry is persistent and lasts for six months or more, it can be classified as anxiety disorder.
Did you know there are six types of anxiety disorders?
- General anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorders
- Social anxiety disorder
According to Mentalhealth.net, “People who have anxiety disorders often suffer from other mental health concerns, such as depression, eating disorders, and substance addiction.
Specific phobias, panic attacks, and panic disorder are also forms of anxiety disorders.
Like other anxiety disorders, phobias and panic disorder cause significant distress, reduce feelings of well-being, and affect your ability to function.”
Why Do I Get Anxiety?
So, if you’re wondering where your anxiety might be coming from, here are a few places to start.
Life is full of stress – stress from work, school and relationships. And the stress of a breakup is most certainly something that can tip you over the edge.
As you know, we all deal with these stresses differently. The same person, who was previously resilient in the face of stress can react differently at different times in their lives. What our body coped with at one point in our life we can find to be unbearable at another point in our lives. Combined, these things can cause anxiety.
When it comes to stress about money, it’s not about the haves and the have nots. Money stress hits all of us, no matter what lifestyle we can afford. Whether you’re hoarding your massive paycheck because you’re scared about never having enough or you’re wondering where next month’s rent will come from, money is a major source of stress for many people.
And to top it off, I probably don’t need to tell you that money is one of the number one stressors for couples, especially those couples that have debt.
According to beyondblue, “Research suggests that people with certain personality traits are more likely to have anxiety. For example, children who are perfectionists, easily flustered, timid, inhibited, lack self-esteem or want to control everything, sometimes develop anxiety during childhood, adolescence or as adults.”
But your genetic code isn’t the only determining factor in your future.
Sometimes your health can cause you a gigantic amount of stress. If you’ve just received a poor health diagnosis or if you’re in constant pain or worrying about the future, it’s natural to worry and experience a bit of anxiety. The constant state of unknown can be overwhelming for everyone.
Experiencing anxiety can make you feel like you’re broken. You may wonder to yourself, why do I deal with stress in this way? Why does it seem to affect me more than it affects others?
Forgive yourself and give yourself grace. About 18% of Americans are estimated to have experienced some form of anxiety each year so you’re not broken, weird or alone. You’re normal.
Difference between anxiety and a panic attack?
Some people who experience anxiety also experience panic attacks.
According to Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Sheryl Ankrom “Panic attacks are often associated with sudden fear and anxiety with high-stress levels or excessive worrying”
Panic attacks can be really frightening. They can feel like your chest tightening, breathlessness, light-headedness and tingling. Some people who have them often feel like they’re having a heart attack.
Here are some ways to know the difference between a heart attack and a panic attack.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, “A panic attack is an intense rush of fear or anxiety that can feel just like a heart attack, with chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, and a racing or pounding heart. These frightening episodes propel many people to seek emergency care, where careful testing uncovers no evidence of a heart problem.”
In her brilliant piece, “How to Tell the Difference between a Panic Attack and a Heart Attack“, Katie Heany gets her medical information from the same place we get ours — Dr. Google.
She shares, “Something I’ve Googled more times than I care to admit (and in more variations than I can count) is “am I having a heart attack,” followed by a list of the symptoms I’m having in that moment.”
And the best advice she gives in the piece is “My first recommendation is that you not Google symptoms when you’re mid-possible-panic attack. It’s a minefield of alarmist self-diagnosis out there on the internet, and personally, I’ve never gotten it right once. Not one of these searches has ever made me feel better, and usually they make me feel worse.”
What she details next in the article is how the symptoms of a heart attack and a panic attack are different. If you’re ever at a loss and want to set your mind at ease, explore her article. A little information can go a long way to settling a worried mind.
How to Cope with Anxiety
Exercise is a powerful way to kick stress out of your body. All the sweating, huffing and puffing will give you another way to deal with stress instead of turning it into anxiety.
Stress be gone!
Controling your breathing is a good way to control your body.
If you think this is just about breathing in and out, you’re right…and you’re wrong. If you can control your breathing you can calm the racing thoughts and feelings that are going through your mind.
Here are 7 different breathing techniques you can try to help calm your busy mind.
Similar to deep breathing, meditation is great at slowing your mind and body down. According to Megan Monahan, an LA-based meditation teacher,
Meditation gives you a greater awareness of your thoughts, helps you change your perspective and releases the immediate “fight or flight” response you may be experiencing.
Have you tried meditating before? If you’re interested in trying, you can explore UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, which offers some recorded guided meditations.
From my breakup experiences, prayer has been the most effective thing in helping me deal with the major life change of a breakup, accept my new reality and begin to rebuild my self-identity. But I’ll be honest with you, it has never been a quick fix.
Recently, when I experienced a bout with anxiety, I decided to try it to help calm me down, and I realised prayer was so effective at calming me down.
Remember earlier how I told you that I was regularly taking my heart rate and blood pressure? They were regularly elevated while I was feeling anxious.
For a little while, I got lost in my prayers, talking in my mind to God about what was going on in my life and trying to sort all of the things that were bothering me. After a short time I finished my prayers and then I thought, let me take my pulse again – something feels different.
And I noticed my pulse was lower than it had been in weeks. Before that it was between 90 -100 beats per minute and it went down to about 76. It wasn’t a miracle all by itself, because it didn’t stay there consistently, but it was a practice than began to lead me towards a path of peace.
If you find your anxiety after your breakup is persistent and disturbs your normal day-to-day life, please see your doctor. If necessary, she’ll refer you to a psychologist or prescribe medication like antidepressants or beta-blockers (to slow down your racing heart) to help manage your anxiety.
A very effective way of dealing with your anxiety after a breakup is talk therapy. Engaging with a therapist, psychologist or counselor can help you develop some coping techniques to deal with your anxiety.
When I’ve gone through the pain of a breakup, I’ve gotten in-person counseling.
But recently, I was out of the country and moving about from place to place so I tried online counseling for the first time. It made some really noticeable differences in the way I was able to cope with all of the stress I was dealing with at the time.
Counseling to Help Manage Your Anxiety after a Breakup
Counseling is about giving yourself another set of eyes to look at your situation from a new perspective. When you’re sitting in your room by yourself, you may not be able to see your way through to the other side. Oftentimes, especially after a breakup, your anxiety will lie to you and convince you that life isn’t worth it.
Your anxiety may push you towards suicidal thoughts or drowning yourself in substance abuse as a way to mask the pain.
A professional counselor will give you hope and help you see the future is possible. A counselor will give you strategies and help you set goals so you can dream again. This is what life is made of – the ability to believe in something beyond today.
Help you to let go of the past
And in order to see beyond today, you need to work on letting go of the past.
Letting go is one of the hardest but most important things you will do in your healing process. Once you are able to think of the future, you won’t find yourself so stuck in the past. Counseling will inspire you to let go of the past.
Let your heart heal
Counseling will inspire you to let your heart heal. As you let go and begin to look toward the future, your heart will begin to heal again.
The impact of a broken relationship can begin to make you question your value and self-worth. Counseling will help you value yourself again.
You will begin to consider the possibility of loving again.
In my article My First-Hand Experience with Counseling After My Breakup, I share the experiences of the best counselor I ever had. Her name was Rachel, and she was a well of information. Her ability to provide counseling was unmatched by many counselors I had spoken to in the past.
She spoke to my head, my heart and my soul. She helped me deal with the anxiety I was experiencing and gave me alternative treatment options that included journaling, meditating, prayer and introspection.
What can you do to help you manage your anxiety?
Managing your breakup anxiety and preventing it from spiralling into depression requires support from various places, like family and friends, health professionals, learning communities and various therapeutic treatment options.
One of the best things you can do after a breakup is make sure you have a life. The biggest risk for falling into depression is being so dependent upon your old life.
By hanging on to it, even if it means just lamenting the old life you used to have, you end up propping yourself up and keeping yourself from facing your new reality.
Being proactive in getting counselling is one of the best suicide prevention strategies.
Your counselor will have you engaged in activities that will help you understand yourself, create goals to work towards, rebuild your self-esteem and get you started towards building a new future.
One of the first things you can do is understand what your anxiety feels like and how it show up in your life and what triggers it?
Building a support team is a great way to manage your anxiety. Keeping friends and family, professional support
Self-care after a breakup
Because it’s so easy to fall into depression after a breakup, it’s important that you make sure you’re taking care of yourself.
Mental health resources for breakup anxiety
When learning to deal with the anxiety you’re experiencing, understanding the way you’re feeling isn’t due to weakness or strength or an ability to withstand stress or not is important. You may find people saying to you that you’re just not good at dealing with stress.
But there’s a lot of brain chemistry involved in our mental health.
Being at your best mentally require an integrated health approach that takes into consideration your nutrition, your sleep habits, your exercise regime and your mental well being. Also, some people suffering from various health conditions can also experience the symptoms of anxiety.
Engaging in activities that promote your mental well being, such as meditation, deep breathing, prayer and exercise can be great management tools.
You can find a self test you can do to assess your depression.
Warning signs of depression
There are some self tests you can do to gauge your mental state of being. Also, there are several risk factors for falling into depression.
Loss of interest
You may find that you’re not interested in the things you used to be interested in. If you have a hobby you normally put a lot of time an energy into and you find that you have no interest in it, take note.
Changes in sleep
For some people, depression makes them lose sleep and for others it makes them sleep in all the time. After my breakups, sleep was such a welcome escape.
Changes in appetite
Just like sleep, you might find that you have changes in your appetite. Either you’ll find you’re comfort eating or you food is the absolute last thing on your mind.
Sometimes, the thought of being around people will become absolutely unbearable to you. Part of the reason is because you haven’t showered since last week and you can’t imagine anyone seeing you this way. But the other reason is because at this stage, experiencing anxiety after a breakup can make you feel like being around people requires too much of your energy.
If you’re looking for a depression self-test, check out _____ who will have you answer a few questions to gauge where you’re at.
If you’re looking for some of the warning signs of depression (or anxiety) you can take a test to see how your body is experiencing.
The people who can help you heal after a breakup
Don’t underestimate the power of connecting and getting support from your family and friends.
Your breakup can feel like an overwhelming force that makes you feel isolated and rejected. But, I want to encourage you instead of focusing on the one person who doesn’t want to be part of your life, focus on all the people who love you and do want to be part of your life.
It can also be useful to visit blogs like this or to read books to learn anxiety coping skills from people with similar experiences so you know that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing.
During this time of your breakup, you’ll feel inclined to isolate yourself from others, but I want to encourage you that surrounding yourself with the right people can be your best decision in healing your heart.
How do you break up with someone with anxiety?
While dating someone with anxiety, you may realise what an important part of that person’s life you’ve become. Whether the person has social anxiety and you’ve been a social crutch or anxiety from life’s overwhelming stresses or some type of disorder, ending a relationship with them can be challenging.
Although it may be tempting to just walk away and wash your hands of the relationship, this could potentially be harmful to the person you’re dating. Everyone deserves closure, but a person who’s dealing with anxiety should be given the respect of it even more.
In some cases, the person you’re breaking up with may threaten you with a suicide attempt or say they will become a drug addict because of your actions. Although it’s your responsibility to be empathetic and considerate of their feelings, you should not feeling imprisoned in a relationship because of another person’s reaction to the breakup.
In these cases, it’s best to get another person, like the person’s counselor, parent, roommates, friends or other confidante involved in the situation, as embarrassing as it may be. In this way you’ll be sure that the person has the proper support to manage the situation even if you’re no longer in their lives.
This method of breaking up is also a method of violence prevention.
Crisis lines to help cope with anxiety
If you need immediate and urgent assistance, contact an anxiety helpline.
In Australia contact Sane Australia at 1 800 18 7263
In the United Kingdom call 0300 123 3393 (9 am – 6 pm Monday – Friday)
In the United States call the American National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255
Beyond Blue – Australia National Helpline – 1 300 22 4636 (24 hours / 7 days a week)
Anxiety Coping Skills List
- Deep breathing
- Connect with your senses