End of Relationship Anxiety

Jennifer Foust, PhD, MS, LPC, Director of Clinical Services

Posted by: Jennifer Foust, PhD, MS, LPC
Director of Clinical Services
2672628515

Center for Growth / Therapy in Philadelphia 267-324-9564

End of Relationship Anxiety: some people do not think about having anxiety feelings when a relationship ends.  Sadness and even depression is expected by most people, but having anxiety or feelings of panic, especially when a person has never experienced it before can be surprising and scary.  Ending a relationship, especially if it was unexpected or unwanted begins a grief process like other types of loss of which anxiety can be one of the emotions experienced.

The ending of a significant relationship is a major transition.  When we are going through a major transition, we are often moving to at least some degree into unknown territory.  A major part of our life which may have been very predictable and constant is now gone.  Maybe you are becoming a single parent and you are scared.  Or maybe you live alone and have no kids and all your friends are married or partnered.  Hanging out with them now can make you feel like a third wheel.  It may be anxiety producing to no longer being able to rely on your partner for social engagement, financial support, life advice, etc.

Anxiety is an extremely normal feeling to have when we are facing the unknown.  Remember, just because facing the unknown can be an exciting process for some people, it doesn’t mean that it is not normal for others to find the same thoughts terrifying.  If your relationship just ended especially if it wasn’t expected or wanted, some level of anxiety will be felt for most everyone.  When the break up is unexpected, people often start to doubt themselves. These feelings of doubt often translate into feelings of anxiety.  Regardless of the origins of the anxiety, remember that as you adjust and deal with the transition, the anxiety and panic feelings will pass.  Until they do (which could range from a few months to a year or longer) having some good skills for dealing with anxiety when it occurs will be very useful. 

First of all, ask yourself if the problems that are worrying you are solvable.  For example, maybe your relationship just ended and you now have to find a new place to live.  That will likely cause you anxiety, but it is a solvable problem (assuming you are gainfully employed).  Worrying if you will ever find love again, or if you and your ex will ever be friends are not problems that you can immediately solve. Some people may find it helpful to make a list of the solvable and the not so easily solved problems and then concentrate on working on the solvable ones. 

They are some basic things that you can do to help manage your anxiety overall that are important to address.  Make sure that you are getting regular sleep and that you are eating a balanced diet regularly.  These things are often easier said than done, but they are important physiologically for your body to function.  Having your blood sugar drop because you are not eating right can give you sensations of anxiety which would then be on top of the anxiety of the relationship. Not getting enough sleep can also increase your feelings of anxiety. 

Remember to breathe.  Consider practicing 10 minutes or more a day of deep breathing.  The more anxious we are, the shallower we breathe.  Taking very deep breaths will help your body to relax.  Try a simple exercise of breathing in to the count of five, holding the breath for a count of five, and exhaling for a count of 10.  In addition, regular cardio exercise can be very effective in releasing stress and anxiety.

Many people find journaling to be effective.  It is easy to let our thoughts continue to swirl around and around to make us anxious.  Sometimes just writing these thoughts down can make you feel less anxious.  Remember, journaling isn’t a homework assignment.  Write down whatever occurs to your about your anxiety.  If you find yourself struggling with a lot of negative thinking and worry, consider trying a more advanced exercise 

Another technique is to try and distract yourself by doing something you can focus on, such as reading, a puzzle, a home project, etc. When we are feeling anxious we are often in our head.  If you can concentrate on doing something that takes your attention in the moment, it will be much more difficult to focus on the thoughts in your head. When trying to identify an activity to distract yourself, consider choosing something that over time will set you up to be in a better place.  For example, if your goal is to get into better shape over the next three months, then every time you are feeling anxious do 10 sit-ups and 10 push-ups.  In the beginning you might find yourself doing a lot more exercise than normal – the upshot to all your worry is that you will look better! And endorphins usually give you a happy boost.  If your three month goal is to become more sophisticated, then each time you are feeling anxious, work on memorizing 3 words.  Increasing vocabulary is one way to become more sophisticated.  If you are feeling very anxious, than you will practice a lot and make great strides. 

While not techniques exactly, there are a few things to consider when you are dealing with anxiety.  Ask yourself if there are also emotions underneath your anxiety.  Sometimes it is much easier, although unpleasant, to feel anxious rather than to feel sad, depressed, angry, guilty, lonely, etc.  You may want to try thinking and writing about some of the other emotions you could be feeling.  It is likely that you are at least feeling one of the other emotions.  Dealing with those other emotions may help reduce your anxiety.  Another thing to keep in mind is learning how to just tolerate your anxiety.  You are going through a difficult time and feeling anxious can be normal.  Learning how to cope with it is extremely helpful, but also learning to just accept that you are going to have some anxious times and that they will not and cannot last forever can help rid you of all that pressure to get rid of it.  Many times the above suggestions will be really helpful and sometimes they will only help a little.  The key is to know that your anxiety is normal and healthy.  If you find that your anxiety lasts longer than a few years or if you feel like you can’t manage it, it may be time to get some help from a professional. Anxiety due to the loss of a relationship will not last forever and you can learn to manage it.

 

If you are still struggling, call one of our counselors at Center for Growth / Therapy in Philadelphia.  We help people like you.