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Managing panic attacks while healing from a breakup.

Field of yellow crops with a person in the distance

There's no way to tiptoe around the fact that breakups can be pretty painful. The heartache, tears, anger, and confusion that accompanies the sting that this chapter has ended. You are left with a million unanswered questions and a flood of different emotions. After parting ways with someone you thought you would be with forever, a common thought that arises is that you’ll never be in love like that again. You start to self sabotage; feeding thoughts of self-blame. You then switch to anger, externalizing your feelings and placing the blame on the ex wondering why they did it and leaving you with so many questions and uncertainty. Slowly, you adjust to a life without them, resisting the urge to call them when you receive good news, or turning to them when something goes wrong.

Being flooded with all of these emotions can lead to intense stress and anxiety on your body and your mind, which can play a role in the formation of panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden episodes of intense fear or anxiety as well as experiencing physical symptoms, even when there is no immediate danger nor are you in jeopardy of physical harm. Some common symptoms that individuals may feel are being out of touch with reality, sweaty palms, increased heart rate and shortness in breath and loss of control. We may think panic attacks happen randomly, but there is always a cause for them deep down, unavailable for us to see. You may have experienced a miniscule moment of threat or anxiety but experience a panic attack hours later. For example, you may be driving downtown and pass someone who looks similar to your ex, but you couldn't tell if it was them or not. You continued to go on with your day, and then awoke in the middle of the night with a full-blown panic attack.

Whether you are unaware of the specific reason or you're in the process of figuring it out, it's always helpful to know it's not random. If you see consistent patterns of panic attacks post breakup, you may want to seek resources to remind yourself you are more than your panic attacks.

Here are some simple ways to help manage panic attacks:

1. Identify What’s Happening

One of the most important things to remember when experiencing a panic attack, is that it stems from a mental construct- thoughts that pass through the mind and affect perception of what is “real” in that moment. While there is no imminent danger or threat, your body reacts and responds as if you are in “danger”. The feeling of disconnection from reality and loss of control, can trigger you to constantly await your next panic attack in fear. Becoming more self aware that your body is alerting you to stop and reassess can help your perspective to shift and allow for the panic to subside.

2. Positive Self Talk

You know how frustrating it is when you tell someone something that you have been finding overwhelming and they just tell you to calm down? Yeah, it's irritating. Same way with panic attacks. Telling yourself to “relax” won’t make you relax. Instead, practice slow, deep breathing or counting backwards from a high number. Going on a walk in a safe place or getting fresh air outside is also helpful with maintaining your reality and helping to restore balance in your psyche during an attack. Use physical touch too, such as holding your hand onto your heart, touching your pet or eating food. And using some gentle loving self talk like “I am safe. This will end” can help remind your nervous system that this episode will end and may provide enough relief to hasten the process.

3. Seeking Psychotherapy or Medication

If you find that no amount of self-help stems the frequency or intensity of the panic attacks you are experiencing, consider getting some professional support. Begin by working with a psychotherapist who can offer a large range of skills to mitigate these episodes. As a last resort, there are medications that can be prescribed by a physician to support you during these episodes, while you work on understanding the source of them.

Although many people deal with panic attacks, they are extremely distressing and do suggest that there is something going on under the surface of your psyche. Getting the professional support you need will help you in finding more stability in your nervous system.


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