In an ideal world, you’d be granted a specific period of time after a painful split to heal — a grace period, if you will — before you ever had to see your ex. Unfortunately, you can cross paths with an ex at any time, whether at a local bar, your college dorm, or a party. But don’t stress — when you’re not sure how to deal with anxiety about running into your ex, there are some expert-approved strategies you can use to get through it.
First off, let’s get one thing straight. If the thought of such an occurrence leaves your stomach in knots, that’s totally normal, according to Fran Greene, a licensed clinical social worker, breakup therapist, and author of Dating Again with Courage and Confidence.
“Your heart needs time to heal, and each time you see your ex, the wound gets reopened, and the scab gets pulled off,” she explains.
While Greene admits that there is no magic switch to turn the anxiety off, there are ways to effectively manage those feelings so that they don’t overwhelm you.
Obviously, you can only do so much in terms of avoiding these run-ins. If you share mutual friends, live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school, or work in the same building, it can be next to impossible to dodge your ex completely. Of course, you can try to stay away from certain locations that you know they frequent, and in fact, Greene highly recommends making that effort to take control of limiting your anxiety.
“Don’t sit in the same place in the library where you always sat with your ex in the library or go to Starbucks at the exact time you know they’ll always be there,” she says.
No matter how hard you try to avoid your ex, there’s always a chance that you could see them by some cruel coincidence. But if you do know with some level of certainty that you’re going to run into your ex at a particular event or place, Greene recommends enlisting a supportive friend to be by your side.
“Arrive early so you can get acclimated, and look your best so you will feel confident,” she adds.
Don’t be afraid to ask the host to seat you far away from your ex, take a breather in the bathroom when you start feeling anxious or leave if you’re uncomfortable. Also, Greene says you totally have permission to decline an invitation if it's not super important to you, and you know that your ex will be there. While you might not want to miss out on significant events as a result of your anxiety around seeing your ex (such as a friend’s wedding), you also don’t have to put yourself in situations that you know could be detrimental to your emotional well-being.
You know the expression “fake it till you make it”? Greene says that very much applies here.
“Act as if you are self-confident if you run into her or him,” she suggests. “Stand up straight and make eye contact.”
Sometimes, when you act a certain way (even if it feels forced), it can trick your brain into actually feeling that way. So, although you may feel insecure about seeing your former flame, if you behave with a certain degree of self-assuredness, you may start to actually believe that you’re in that confident place.
If the anxiety about running into your ex is negatively impacting your life — such as causing you to be afraid to leave your home or going to certain places, you may need to seek a little extra help coping. Greene recommends seeing a licensed mental health professional, such as a therapist or social worker who specializes in anxiety and breakups.
“It can be a lifesaver in a short period of time,” she adds. “I have seen amazing results with clients I have worked within just a month. Their anxiety has diminished; they are sleeping better and are not consumed with thoughts about their ex.”
Greene advises seeking out friends who have survived a breakup and asking what strategies helped them to deal with seeing an ex. You can also join a support group for people who are dealing with anxiety or struggling in the aftermath of a breakup.
The most important thing to remember, according to Greene, is that anxiety is a temporary feeling.
“It will dissipate as time goes on,” she adds. “Know that the best revenge is being happy and enjoying your life.”
Hear that? You deserve to live your best life, whether or not your ex may happen to be present. You can’t control how they behave toward you in any of your potential interactions, but you can control how you handle it. So, learn to accept that a little anxiety is completely normal, hold your head high, and if you need a quick confidence boost, try blasting “Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato (you're welcome). And when that anxiety rears its ugly head, remember that this, too, shall pass.
Fran Greene, licensed clinical social worker