Author: Gina Stokes, Lindsey Wilson College practicum student
Date: September 10, 2021
Relationship breakups can cause feelings of anxiety as well as sadness, grief, and anger for one or both people in the relationship. While there may also be positive feelings of relief, freedom, and even joy that an unhappy situation is ending, there can be very strong and even conflicting emotions involved. The changes and uncertainty that usually accompany the ending of a significant relationship can trigger feelings of anxiety.
The dictionary defines anxiety as “fear or nervousness about what might happen” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Whether we initiated the breakup, did our best to prevent it, or had conflicting thoughts and feelings about the process, there are many changes that can result in our lives as a result of ending a relationship. If children are involved, there may be a host of future issues to consider, and communication with your ex may also be at a low point. Even if you had no children together, you probably spent a lot of time together, attended events and built relationships with friends and family, shared pet(s), and possibly a home or apartment. The anxiety you may feel after a breakup can be confusing and is most likely triggered by the loss of companionship, physical closeness, and familiar routines and activities. In short, we are losing the safety and security we experienced when we knew what to expect in our lives.
Severe symptoms of anxiety might require professional attention, especially if your symptoms are interfering with the major activities of your life like attending work or school, or caring for yourself or young children. Whether you are experiencing mild symptoms or are considering reaching out for assistance, here are some basic tips to help you cope with anxiety after a break-up.
1) Plan nurturing or relaxing activities you can do on your own. Specific symptoms of anxiety include restlessness, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping or getting enough satisfying sleep (National Center for Biotechnical Information, n.d.). You can choose healthy responses to anxiety symptoms with some advance planning. Make a list of activities you enjoy that you can do alone or with your children. These can be simple and inexpensive like walking in a park or your neighborhood, reading a magazine you enjoy, baking cookies, or working on a craft project. If you have more time and other resources plan a mini-vacation for yourself. When your anxiety symptoms occur, grab your list and get involved in one of the activities you listed. Your physiological symptoms will decrease as you begin replacing thoughts of future uncertainty with present-moment activities that are safe and pleasurable.
2) Allow yourself time and permission to experience your feelings of anxiety. Allowing yourself time and permission to sit quietly and feel the anxiety without reacting to it can help you become comfortable with your body’s physiological responses to your thoughts, and the changes in your environment. As you become aware of your thoughts and feelings that accompany anxiety symptoms, you will be able to change your focus to more realistic and positive thoughts about the present and future possibilities that you are creating for your life.
3) Spend time with other people. To deal with intense feelings that can accompany spending more time alone, consider spending time with other people you already know and care about, like friends and family. Gaining back some control over your social activities can lessen anxiety about how you’ll spend your time. Let some family and friends know what you’re going through and ask in advance if you can plan some activities or even simple meals together. You can also try a support group or community volunteer activities to find support and rewarding activities and relationships.
4) Try to let go of blame. Blaming only ourselves or our ex for the breakup is usually unrealistic. Sometimes only time will allow us to see that many events and usually both people in the relationship and their personalities and communication styles were contributing factors, rather than only one party being at fault. If we can work towards letting go of blame, we can focus more energy on accepting the changes we are experiencing and move towards future happiness and health.
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National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.) Table 3.15DSM-IV to DSM-5 Generalized Anxiety Disorder Comparison. Retrieved September 5, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t15/
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Anxiety. In Merriam- Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved September 5, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anxiety