The Mighty Logo

How to Cope With a Breakup When You Have Anxiety and Depression

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Going through a breakup is hard, no matter the circumstances. It’s painful.

So often for me, it’s felt like a carpet was ripped out from under me and I’ve fallen flat on my face. It isn’t easy, especially when you already struggle with anxiety and depression.

There are two easy, not-so-healthy paths to go down when you go through a breakup (particularly if you’re not the one who initiated it). You can distract and ignore the feelings surrounding what’s happened, or you can sink into the darkness and wallow in it. Both are relatively easy to fall into, especially when you’re highly anxious and diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD).

Easy Option 1: Avoid.

So, “easy” option one: you can distract and try to ignore the feelings surrounding the breakup. This can be an instinct because if you already struggle so much with depression, the idea of these big giant feelings of sadness, regret and so on are completely overwhelming.

You think that if you let yourself feel even a tiny inkling of any of those things, then it’s going to take you down. That you’ll drown in all of those feelings. That you won’t be able to function. You’ll lose even more of your life besides everything the breakup has already taken for you.

You imagine yourself sitting in a dark room in the middle of the day under 10 blankets, sobbing while looking at all of the photos of you and your ex together. So instead, you run from the feelings. You throw yourself into work, you spend hours at the gym, you go out, you drink. You do anything or everything possible to distract yourself from the feelings.

Yes, the idea of intense feelings can be overwhelming. Processing the emotions of a breakup can seem daunting, but here’s the truth: you can’t run from the feelings.

The more you avoid, the more you pretend you’re unaffected and nothing happened, the more it builds. Each avoidance, each tactic, each moment is a brick in a wall you’re building in front of you. You won’t be able to move forward without dealing with it. You’re trapping yourself by avoiding the feelings.

Eventually, that wall will need to come down so you can move forward. And the longer you spend avoiding, the longer it will take to bring the wall down and move forward.

Easy Option 2: Wallow.

The other “easy” thing to do when going through a breakup is wallow. Let the feelings take you down. You start catastrophizing about why you “really” broke up, what happens now, what it says about you. You stay in bed for hours with no motivation to move. You look through picture after picture of the two of you together, reminisce about the story behind each picture.

When you already struggle with depression, it can be hard to fight the urges and feelings that come along with a tough breakup. The feelings come in a giant wave, and it seems nearly impossible to try and fight them. So, you just let them take you down.

To clarify, wallowing is not the same as feeling and processing the emotions; wallowing is feeling the emotions and letting them take you down. Wallowing is sitting in those emotions, and not processing the feelings. It’s revisiting things that illicit those painful emotions, and wallowing in it more.

The problem with wallowing is that you are often creating only more additional painful feelings. You take the pain and amplify it, let it take you down. The bigger the painful wallowing pit you dig yourself into, the harder and further you’ll have to crawl back out of it.

So How Do You Handle It in a Healthy Way?

OK, to be frank, I’m not the poster child for the right way to handle it. I have tended to avoid many of the painful experiences and emotions in my life. So, if we shouldn’t avoid and we don’t want to wallow, what do we do?

I’ve learned that grieving, which is what you’re really doing with a breakup, can be extremely individual. There’s no prescriptive “this is exactly how you get over a breakup in a healthy manner” list with easy-to-follow steps. But there are a few things I’ve learned that help guide you in a healthier direction.

1. Don’t stalk their social media profiles.

It can be such an easy thing, to constantly keep looking at their profiles. Look each day to see if they’ve posted, try to read into how they’re handling everything. But you’re risking inflicting painful emotions each time. Constantly checking their profiles is only going to keep you stuck.

2. Remove the pictures and mementos.

Taking down all the photos, notes, cards and all the mementos can be difficult. But leaving them up will only help you wallow. Taking everything down may feel like avoidance, but the truth is that leaving those reminders of them up will only make it more difficult to process. While so many “breakup suggestion lists” say to just trash all of these things, I wouldn’t jump to that right away. Breakups can be so painful at first, but don’t jump to destroying everything immediately. Box it up and store it away until you can sort through it with more of a level head, to see if there’s anything you truly want to keep.

3. Write or talk it out.

If you’re someone who avoids instinctively, it can be easy to just shut it out and not talk about the breakup or your feelings. If you feel like you can, reach out to someone to talk. Maybe it’s a friend, a family member, a therapist. And not that ex-bashing type of ranting, but processing how you’re feeling and what you need in this difficult time.

If you’re not comfortable talking about it or don’t have someone you can go to whom you trust, turn to paper and pen. It isn’t really about the eloquence or proficiency of what you’re writing, but getting your thoughts and feelings out of your head to find clarity.

4. Spend time with friends and family.

Getting through a breakup is only more difficult when you try to do it completely alone. Reach out to your friends, family, anyone in your support network. It can be easy to isolate when you’re feeling big, difficult emotions, but being around people who care for you can help you heal. Isolating will only lead you to wallow.

5. Don’t get stuck in the why.

It is important to reflect on the relationship and what happened, but it shouldn’t be a prolonged thing. When you’re highly anxious already, it can be easy to get stuck in the “why” it happened and “what it means about you.” Reflecting on the relationship, what it taught you and what went wrong can be helpful, but ruminating and getting yourself stuck in why it happened and the negatives of the relationship may only leave you unable to move forward. So reflect, then move forward.

So, if you’re going through a breakup and struggle with anxiety and depression, notice what your instincts are in how to deal with it. Notice if you tend to avoid, and choose to lean into the feelings. If you tend to wallow, be very intentional about how you process your emotions. Reach out to your support network, reflect, and work to move forward. It will take time, but you will get through this.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Originally published: December 29, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home