Yes, heartbreak can trigger panic attacks – here’s how to deal with a bad breakup

Bad breakups can rock your world (Picture: Shutterstock/

If you’ve ever been through a bad breakup, you’ll know just how all-consuming the pain can be.

So you won’t be surprised by actress and TV presenter Denise Van Outen’s comments that her split from Eddie Boxshall left her experiencing extreme physical symptoms of heartbreak, including anxiety, a knot in her stomach, and panic attacks.

Denise wasn’t exaggerating – heartbreak really can trigger panic attacks. And it’s vital that, like Denise did, we take this seriously and give ourselves the support we need.

‘Breakups can be unimaginably painful, and it’s not uncommon for the intense emotions to take a physical toll on your body, as well as your mind, in the aftermath,’ says Michelle Begy, the founder of Ignite Dating.

‘It can even result in a real medical condition called broken heart syndrome (takotsubo cardiomyophy), which mirrors all the symptoms of a heart attack.

‘Triggered by extreme emotional distress, the condition can cause some seriously scary symptoms including shortness of breath, intense chest pain, dizziness, and nausea.

‘Broken Heart Syndrome can come on very quickly and it changes how your heart pumps, causing the scary and concerning symptoms.

‘The good news is it can be treated.
‘There are plenty of other all-too-familiar physical symptoms of heartbreak, including appetite changes, stomach pain, headaches, generally feeling unwell and suffering from insomnia.

‘And that’s on top of the emotional rollercoaster you’re going through as you deal with your new single status and the loss of somebody who, until recently, your life revolved around.

‘A relationship ending can cause a massive upheaval in your life, affecting your day-to-day routine, sense of security, and future plans.

‘It can be all too easy to get stuck in a rut of not being able to stop thinking about the relationship and going over and over what happened in your mind, hoping to find something that you missed that can fix it all.’

How to navigate a bad breakup

So, a tough breakup can leave us seriously struggling, physically and mentally. What can we do about it?

Sad woman sitting on comfortable green sofaIt’s okay to be gutted (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Give yourself permission to grieve the relationship

Feel your feelings. You’re allowed to be devastated right now.

Call on your support system

Michelle says: ‘It can be all-too tempting to wallow and hole yourself up at home, so it’s really important not to cut yourself off from the support network around you.

‘Engaging with people you care about can help take your mind off things and open up new opportunities for activities and experiences you might enjoy.’

Prioritise self-care

Now’s the time to really look after yourself.

Invest time and energy in self-love, and ensure you’re maintaining the basics of sleeping well, eating right, and dealing with stress.

‘Don’t forget about the importance of self-care and make sure you are eating well and exercising regularly, even if you have to push yourself to do so,’ Michelle urges.

Have a clean break

‘As tempting as it might be, resist the urge to prolong the pain by maintaining contact with your ex,’ Michelle advises. ‘A clean break can help you to move on and heal.

‘If it helps, why not make a list of your ex’s negative traits to help you sort through the emotions you’ve been feeling and strengthen your resolve that it was the right decision to go your separate ways?’

Man walking with a big white dogInvest time and energy in self-care (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Focus on the lessons learned

A thought that might pop up is that you’ve wasted time and effort on the relationship that didn’t work out. That’s not the case.

Michelle says: ‘Whether it was months or years, don’t consider the time you spent together as wasted, as the relationship, as well as being enjoyable at the time, will have helped you learn what works best for you when it comes to settling down with somebody new.

‘Despite the heartache and the pain you’ll have learned some valuable lessons along the way to take into future relationships.

‘A breakup can be a valuable opportunity to understand what you do and don’t want from your next relationship, using your experience to really decide what you loved about the pairing and what you would have liked to have been different.

‘Really investing this time in yourself can help you emerge stronger and put in perspective what you gained from the time with your ex.’

And the positives of splitting up

‘In time, you can focus on all the things you’ve always wanted to do but your relationship may have been holding you back from doing – whether it’s a career change, a move to a new area, or travelling more, embrace your single status and the opportunities it opens up,’ says Michelle.

Don’t be ashamed to call in professional help

If the emotions of your breakup feel overwhelming, or you’re experiencing physical symptoms such as panic attacks, don’t feel silly for seeking out counselling to get you through this.

Talking to a professional can help you on the journey to process these difficult emotions.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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