Panic attacks after breaking up (+5 coping tips)

In this article, we will be discussing having panic attacks after breaking up with a partner, the signs and symptoms of panic attacks, causes of panic attacks and how to cope with it. We will also answer frequently asked questions about having panic attacks after breakup.

After a breakup, feelings of grief, brokenness and sadness are normal. However, it may be difficult to deal with when it is prolonged and when it significantly disrupts the individual and their functioning in the society like at work, in school or at home.

This may also trigger severe emotional distress and even cause physical pain. Stressful life events such as a breakup is one of the many reasons for one to experience a panic attack.

Why do I have panic attacks after breaking up? 

You may panic attacks after breaking up because of its overwhelming experience and emotions. The body somehow overrides the negative effects of the hurt or pain from breaking up that can lead to panic attacks. We will discuss further about panic attacks and breakup in this article. 

Our dopamine and serotonin drops when we break up or lose someone. These hormones are also related to addiction. So the panic attacks are somehow a manifestation of withdrawals from losing the significant person.

How is it like to have a panic attack?

Emotional responses and effects of a breakup may vary among people. The stress may fall on a spectrum from mild to severe and coping may be conscious or unconscious.

And one of the most difficult would way of a response after a breakup would be feeling or experiencing the following:

–          Accelerated heart rate

–          Sweating

–          Trembling

–          Short breaths

–          Feeling like you are being choked

–          Chest discomforts or pain

–          Vomiting or abdominal distress

–          Feeling lightheaded of fainting

–          Chills or heat sensations

–   Skin having an abnormal sensation with no apparent physical cause or paresthesia

–          Derealization or depersonalization

–          Feeling like you are losing control

–          Fear of dying

The items you just read are the symptoms of a panic attack. At least four should be present within a peak of minutes upon the abrupt outpour of fear or intense discomfort. So, the next time a person will feel a sudden increase of heart beat or palpitation, they might assume another panic attack will be occurring. This is called learned alarms.

What are the causes of panic attacks after breakup?

In relationships, it matters what and how our partners deal with us since they are significant. A simple argument may affect our trust and confidence with them and we would think and find ways to avoid this happening in the future. Certain situations may hurriedly become associated in an individual’s mind, and the likeliness of a panic attack occurring again is associated with the same internal or external cues that existed the first time.

Even if a negative experience is just a small portion compared to the positive experience, we tend to linger on them. This is likely an evolutionary result. Humans have lived through the long time because paying attention to bad, dangerous and threats in our environment helps us learn to cope and find ways in order to survive. Being mindful of what poses threat to us facilitated us to be safe and stay alive.

Why does one keep thinking about their ex?

While one may continue to keep thinking or even reaching out to their ex, a person may also be led to dwell on the negative memories, behaviors or irrational thoughts and/or assumptions that ended the relationship. These kinds of negative events or experiences have a greater impact on our brains than the positive events.

We call this Negative Bias. As humans we tend to:

–   Relive or reexperience in our thoughts traumatic or negative events better than positive ones.

–  Remember criticisms or insults better than affirmations and praises.

–  Be more reactive to negative stimuli.

How many times will someone experience a panic attack after a breakup?

There is no average or certain amount of times for someone to experience a panic attack after a breakup. However, some panic attacks may lead to a Panic Disorder, but not all who experienced it will have a Panic Disorder. For one to be diagnosed with Panic Disorder, the following should be considered:

–          recurrent unexpected panic attacks should be present.

–          a. persistent worrying of the next panic attack occurring and its consequences; b. manifesting a significant maladaptive change of behavior relating to the attacks (at least one or more of this has been followed by 1 month or more of either or both)

–          The disturbance should not be attributed to drugs’ physiological effects or another medical condition.

–          Another medical condition should not better explain it.

Why does some experience have one panic attack only and some multiple times a breakup?

Certain predispositions are needed for one to experience multiple panic attacks of a full-blown panic disorder. The following are as follows as synthesized by Barlow in his research and others’.  

• generalized psychological vulnerability – belief

• generalized biological vulnerability – inheritance

• specific psychological vulnerability – learned from early experience

The above mentioned is referred to as Triple Vulnerability Theory. Frequency of panic attacks may also depend on the emotional intelligence or resilience of an individual.

How do I cope after a breakup?

1. Keep your distance

Taking time to be apart from an ex will help you detoxify and give you a more and better room to let go of the love you did not deserve. Distance will also make you discern and self-evaluate while you try to deal with the pain, anxiety and panic.

2. Accept the truth

Recognize the truth, to be in the here and now and acknowledge that the relationship ended up for whatever reason it may be. And think that a panic attack is just a panic attack, it will pass and this will not kill you. Also try to exhale tension, inhale peace, even if it can be painful. Only the truth will help you move forward. 

3. Use Calming Skills

• meditation – using senses and being mindful to your surroundings

• exercise – this releases tension physically and emotionally and produces endorphins which are responsible for reducing perception of pain.

• go to peaceful places – helps you slow down and let go of the quick and immense discomfort of panic attack.

• breathing exercise – balances the carbon dioxide in our body.

4. Write it down

Writing down your thoughts and feelings can also help you be relieved of the heavy feeling inside your chest when you have gone through a breakup. This helps process the sadness, brokenness, hostility and confusion one may be feeling.

5. Socialize

The heartbreak will continue but so should your social life. Social support has found a good channel to recover after a loss or breakup. So, go out with your family to the beach, participate in community activities or go out on a date with your friends and have a good time!

6. Identify and acknowledge the reason it didn’t work out.

For many, being able to know the reason and truth behind the breakup is important. However, sometimes when reasons are laid down, it becomes difficult for some to accept this and instead start idealizing “what ifs” only to make the effects of breakup worse. Keeping a list of the reasons why it did not work out or a list of things that make the relationship not qualified to last can help one move forward from it.

7. Befriend the pain

Being familiar with the pain and knowing what heightens it will facilitate the individual on how to deal with it in the long run. One does not have to dwell in them, but learn how to befriend the pain instead of fighting against it or letting it rule over the person and their life.

8. Recalibrate yourself.

With the possibility of the similar hallmarks of loss and grief happening to a person, breakups create an opportunity to reflect on one’s self and their relationship with others from the past, present and future. It is good to take note of the red flags that were ignored from the past, so one may recalibrate and be mindful of these occurring again in the future.

9. Affirmations

Affirmations help you regain your confidence and bring calmness by recalling and reiterating thing such as that the anxiety is part of the natural response of your body from the breakup and is only temporary, that reconnecting with the other person will not necessarily bring relief and moving forward is the right thing to do than dwell on a relationship that already ended.

10. Seek Treatment

A mental health professional will help you identify and acknowledge the reason behind your anxiety or panic attack. They will also help you manage your anxiety and deal with your panic attack and assist you with coping skills in order for you to lessen, if not eradicate your panic attacks.

FAQs: I have panic attacks after breaking up with my partner

Why do I have panic attacks after breaking up? 

You may have panic attacks after breaking up because your body overrides as a response due to the overwhelming experience and emotions. Breakups are stressful which leads to an increase in cortisol. When we feel threatened, disturbed or when we experience an emergency, it is an evolutionary result for our body to cope with the stress. That includes breakups. 

How long does anxiety last after a breakup?

There is no estimated time for someone’s anxiety to last after a breakup. However, this will vary among persons. One may be anxious for days, months or even years after ending a relationship with someone regardless of the longevity of the relationship.
However, when one is diagnosed with Adjustment Disorder due to breakup, this may last as long as three months to six months after the end of the significantly stressful event.

Can heartbreak cause anxiety attacks?

Your body goes through a state of flux whenever you experience stressful life events such as losing a significant person in your life, be it through death, or in this case, breakup.
As a way to cope with the stress in your body released by cortisol, the stress hormone, it is significantly released in your body which may lead you to have an anxiety or panic attack.

Why did I have a panic attack when I saw my ex?

Experiencing or seeing your ex or any cues that remind you of them is a stress-producing situation. This is a fight-or-flight action in response to the stimuli associated with that significant person.
Also, note that internal cues may also trigger panic attacks such as reminiscing moments with your ex and negative bias.

What are the stages of breakup?

Loss of a significant person in our lives, be it through death or breakup is known to go through 5 stages and these are widely known:
–          Denial
–          Anger
–          Bargaining
–          Depression
–          Acceptance
Although not all the stages will be experienced by every person who has experienced loss or breakup. This will still vary among individuals and may be experienced in long or short periods of time.

Why is my breakup so painful?

According to research, emotional pain activates the same region in the brain when we are physically in pain. When we break up with someone, we experience a significant drop in the production of dopamine and serotonin in our bodies.
These are neurotransmitters associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness which can also be experienced when consuming drugs. Due to this, the pain we experience is similar to the withdrawals of a person who is substance-dependent.


In this article, we discussed having panic attacks after breaking up with a partner, the signs and symptoms of panic attacks, causes of panic attacks and how to cope with it. We also answered other frequently asked questions about having panic attacks after breakup.


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