In today’s video, I answer a question about what to do when having a retroactive jealousy attack when you’re out with your girlfriend.

Read or watch below to learn more about how to overcome a retroactive jealousy attack in public.

Zachary Stockill: It’s Friday night, you’re at the bar with your lovely girlfriend. You’re having a couple of drinks, you’re feeling good. She just ordered nachos. And you feel that familiar pain in your chest. You’re supposed to be on a fun date with your girlfriend, but you’re having a retroactive jealousy attack instead. So what should you do? Today, I’m going to tell you.

Okay, I got a note from Alex. Alex writes:

Hi, Zachary, my question is, what should I do if I have a retroactive jealousy attack? When I’m with my girlfriend, I need some time to relax and calm myself down. But I don’t want her to feel sad or uncomfortable or guilty by interrupting the conversation or activity that we’re doing. I’ve already told her that I’m working on my retroactive jealousy. Thanks. 

Okay, Alex, my first and my most important piece of advice. And this is not going to help you at the moment when you’re with your girlfriend, but this is going to help you long-term and in the big picture. Be sure that you are treating the source of your feelings, not just the symptoms. Be sure you’re going into the source of your jealous feelings. 

Is it a conflict of values? Are you struggling with something approaching OCD or anxiety? Get to the bottom of your insecurities, get to the bottom of your values. I give you all kinds of tools on this channel, as well as many, many more in my online courses like in “The Overcoming Jealousy Blueprint” and my books. And there are all kinds of stuff from other people on the internet available as well. 

The point is when it comes to overcoming retroactive jealousy, be sure you’re treating the source and not just the symptoms

Because when you eliminate the source, the symptoms tend to take care of themselves, such as when you’re out with your girlfriend having a retroactive jealousy attack. If you’ve been spending time and investing time in treating the source, sooner or later, you’re not going to have the symptoms.

But that aside, in the moment with your girlfriend: my first piece of advice is to pay attention to your breathing. You may not be shocked to hear me say this. I talk about breathing a lot. It’s extremely important. 

Most people don’t breathe very well. That sounds really strange. We’re born breathing, we take our first breath, we’ve been breathing for, 30 or 40 years depending on how old we are, we’ve got a lot of practice. But most people don’t breathe very well. In other words, most people don’t actually fill their lungs up with air fully when they breathe. Most people really aren’t getting enough oxygen. And there’s a reason why your uncle or your grandma or your dad or whatever told you: 

“When you’re feeling stressed out, take a few deep breaths.”

There’s a reason this advice is clichéd: because it works. So you don’t have to make a big show of it when you’re out with your girlfriend. She doesn’t need to know anything’s going on, no one you’re with needs to know anything is going on.

Take a few deep breaths. If you want to excuse yourself and go to the washroom or something just to get some privacy while you do it, then you can do that. The point is to make sure you’re taking really full, deep breaths. And you’ll know it’s a deep breath when your belly rises slightly when you breathe. 

Otherwise, most people are breathing way, way, way too short. And this can increase feelings of anxiety and stress, simply because your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. Take deep breaths.

Aside from that. Another tip that I often give sounds very weird. But it’ll help if you try it out in the moment. Let’s say you’re out of the bar with your girlfriend, and you’re having this attack. Bring your attention to the soles of your feet. This can be a literal grounding exercise. 

We’ve all heard this expression, “I want to stay grounded,” or “he makes me feel grounded.” This is literally grounding yourself. It’s about planting your attention on the soles of your feet, feeling your weight on the ground, feeling your connection to the earth, however, you want to look at it. The point is, it’s a way to help you feel more grounded, because I probably don’t have to tell you:

When you’re in the middle of a retroactive jealousy attack, it’s easy to not feel grounded. 

retroactive jealousy attack

It’s easy to feel like the world is spinning and the anxiety and the tension in your chest and the mental movies and the hell and the chaos associated with retroactive jealousy… Thus, It’s easy for things to get out of control. 

So combine these two things–number one, deep breaths, and number two, grounding; bring your attention to the soles of your feet. Just close your eyes, feel your weight on your feet. You can also do this with your eyes open, and people don’t even have to know what you’re doing. It can be very helpful. 

I will also share some “big picture” thoughts in this kind of situation, when you’re out on a Friday night with your girlfriend having a retroactive jealousy attack. Something I talk about all the time that a lot of Stoic philosophers have been talking about for millennia: remember the fact that you are going to die. Sounds strange, not a nice thought for a lot of people.

Because chances are very good that whatever you’re worried about as it relates to your girlfriend’s past is not important. What is important is the present moment, enjoying this evening with your beautiful girlfriend, having a good time, remembering that this Friday night will never repeat itself.

Every day is one less day that we get to spend on this beautiful planet with people we love.  

And do you really want to waste any more days struggling with things that aren’t worth it? Struggling with imaginary problems? My guess is your answer is no. And so remember the fact that you are going to die. Because for me, this helps me stay grounded and focused and keep calm in situations where I may lose my cool. 

To give a very practical example: I live in Asia, in Indonesia at the moment, and a lot of the drivers are absolutely out of their minds. The traffic on the road can be really stressful sometimes when you’re driving a motorcycle, and you see the people flying at the speed of light past you and honking and just idiot drivers doing stupid things. And it’s chaos a lot of the time, and I often find myself getting tense about this. I’m very annoyed by this. I’m a rather orderly person and not a crazy driver. And yeah, other drivers can stress me out. 

But I try to remember “Okay, Zach, you’re getting stressed out about this, but one day you’re going to die…”

“This traffic isn’t going to matter in 10 minutes. It’s not going to matter at all in 10 years, needless to say.”

“So start focusing on what matters: getting to your destination, enjoying your day with your girlfriend. You’re going to go drink a coconut on the beach, you lucky guy you. You have a coaching call tonight, you need to be sharp and focused and ready for not stressed out and absent-minded…”

The point is to remember that you are going to die, and these moments will never repeat themselves. This will prevent you from wasting a lot of valuable time and energy. I’ll also mention as a former retroactive jealousy sufferer, as a retroactive jealousy survivor, that when I look back on my own experience of retroactive jealousy, my biggest regret is wasted time. 

All of these nights when I was 21, and 22, that I’ll never get back. Right? All this precious time that I’ve squandered; all those nights that I wasted arguing about things that didn’t matter, and the pain that I caused someone that I was once very close to… all this wasted time and energy. Because I should have just been enjoying that night because we weren’t going to stay together, my ex-girlfriend and I. And that’s totally fine. The only thing that matters is the fact that that night is gone, never to repeat itself.

retroactive jealousy attack

I cannot get those years back. 

And so remembering that you’re going to die can be a useful antidote to wasting time and wasting energy and attention, focusing on things that don’t matter.

Remember the fact that you’ve got this beautiful woman out on a Friday night, or whatever the case may be… She’s wearing something nice, you’re wearing something nice, you’re drinking beer, there are nachos. Life is good. Why waste this moment?

So as long as you are working to confront the source of your retroactive jealousy, eventually these symptoms will take care of themselves. So hang in there and enjoy the evenings as they come.

Zachary Stockill
Zachary Stockill

Hi! I'm a Canadian author and educator whose work has been featured in BBC News, BBC Radio 4, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. I'm the founder of, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.