FREE MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENT. start here
Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
There’s no sugarcoating it — breakups suck. Whether you’re the one that ends things or your former partner does, they can be rough on everyone.
And while some sadness is to be expected, one thing you may not be anticipating is anxiety. But breakup-induced anxiety is a thing, and it can be just as bad as the sadness.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to mitigate that anxiety. You just need to have a few handy tips and tricks up your sleeve.
Before diving into anxiety caused by a breakup, it’s helpful to have some basic information about anxiety in general. Occasional nerves are totally normal — you know, the kind you feel before going on a roller coaster or before giving a presentation at work. But if your anxiety feels like it’s present quite often, it could be an anxiety disorder.
According to experts, there are five different types of anxiety disorders. They are:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): This is the most common anxiety disorder. It may be diagnosed if you have trouble managing your anxiety more often than not for six or more months.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD): Recurrent thoughts and compulsive behaviors — like washing your hands repeatedly or checking the locks — are signs of this disorder.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): Traumatic events like military combat, assault or surviving a natural disaster can lead to PTSD.
Social anxiety disorder: This is also called social phobia. If you get overwhelmed in social situations or when you have to speak in front of large groups, then you may be dealing with social anxiety disorder.
Panic disorder: Symptoms of panic disorder include panic attacks, intense fear and heart palpitations.
The way these anxiety disorders manifest in each individual is different and each anxiety disorder has some unique symptoms. However, there are also some common symptoms, including irritability, feeling restless, nightmares, excessive worry, difficulty staying calm, trouble sleeping, heart palpitations and more.
Big life events can trigger anxiety and a breakup certainly could fall into that category. Uncertainty and anticipation are also big factors in driving anxiety.
Research has found that uncertainty about future events can lead to anxiety. One of the reasons this is thought to be the case is because uncertainty makes it hard to prepare for the future.
So, how does this play out in a breakup? Say you thought you’d spend the rest of your life (or at least the foreseeable future) with someone. Perhaps you had made plans in your head about what that may look like and the things you’d do together. If that no longer is happening, it can leave you uncertain and feeling anxious about what the future may hold.
Another study from 2010 looked at married women and found that some people’s partners made their anxiety better. If you were in a relationship with someone who made your anxiety better and are suddenly not in that relationship anymore, it’s possible your anxiety could flare up.
If you’ve recently gone through a breakup and are feeling lots of anxiety, it can drastically affect your daily life. But the good news is that you definitely don’t have to live that way.
You definitely have options when it comes to treatment — here are some of the things you can try.
During CBT, you speak with a mental health professional to identify behaviors that amp up your anxiety and work to come up with ways to change negative thought patterns and behaviors.
Another helpful thing about therapy is that you can talk through breakup distress and discuss what you may want to look for in future relationships.
Another option to deal with anxiety is medication. Anti-anxiety medication is often used in conjunction with therapy.
You’ll need to be prescribed medication for anxiety. Common medications include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (like citalopram), beta blockers and benzodiazepines. Taking these medications could help with your anxiety symptoms.
Hers offers online consultations so you can speak with a mental health professional about whether medication is right for you.
Many say that sleep is the cornerstone to both emotional and physical health, and research shows that poor sleep quality can increase anxiety.
You should ideally be getting seven hours or more of sleep each night. The below tips can help you sleep better:
Skip caffeine before bed
Exercise at some point during the day
Stick to a routine, waking and going to sleep around the same time each day
Another tactic is to focus on consuming a balanced diet, as there’s some thinking that it can help with anxiety. Focus on eating fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins (chicken and fish).
Another tip: Go easy on simple carbs (like pasta). These can make blood sugar rise and then fall quickly, leading to jitters.
What goes hand-in-hand with a healthy diet? Exercise! Getting your heart rate up for even five minutes can have benefits. Working out on the regular? It can reduce anxiety.
If you want something high-intensity, consider a spin class or a bootcamp style sweat session. Prefer something more low-key? Even a walk through the park can do the trick.
It’s time to be more mindful! A study done in 2014 suggests that 20 minutes of mindfulness meditation can reduce overall brain activity. Sounds scary, but this is actually a good thing — and can help control anxiety.
There are plenty of boutique studios that offer meditation classes, but you can also download free apps that offer guided sessions.
When a romantic relationship comes to an end it can be a stressful event, and there can be lots of icky feelings to deal with, from feelings of rejection to emotional pain. Something else that can occur? Post-breakup anxiety.
If you already deal with an anxiety disorder, like GAD or panic disorder, a breakup could make things worse.
Looking into mental health services (like therapy) is one way to deal with relationship breakups. After all, talking to someone about mental health issues and emotional turmoil is never a bad idea.
If you are going through a challenging time or dealing with anxiety attacks, consider scheduling an online consultation with a healthcare professional to go over options that could help with your mental health issues.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
Start your mental wellness journey today.