Signs Of A Mental Breakdown

Emotions unchecked over time can cause physical health issues. Psychosomatic disorder is an example of the body’s reaction to an increased emotion that was sustained long enough to cause the body damage. Unexplained body aches and pain is your body reacting to the constant stress. If you are experiencing this, it could be a sign of a mental breakdown, and you should consult with your doctor.

How to Recognize and Treat the Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown

A nervous breakdown is often triggered by intense stress and can cause both psychological and physical symptoms. A doctor may recommend a combination of treatment options, which could include talk therapy, medications, and lifestyle changes.

A “nervous breakdown” or “mental breakdown” is a term used to describe a period of intense mental distress or illness that occurs suddenly. During this period, you may be unable to function in your everyday life.

A nervous breakdown can be caused by several triggers, including:

  • major life changes
  • lack of sleep
  • financial problems
  • abuse
  • increased stress levels, or burnout
  • a sudden tragedy

This term was once used to refer to a wide variety of mental health conditions, including:

“Nervous breakdown” is not a medical term or official diagnosis of a specific condition. It doesn’t have one agreed-upon definition but is instead used by many people to describe intense symptoms of stress and an inability to cope with life’s challenges.

What others see as a nervous breakdown can also be an undiagnosed mental health condition.

How to find help for a nervous breakdown

If you think that you or someone you know may be experiencing this, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 800-622-4357. Resources include:

  • a free 24-hour informational helpline
  • information about mental health
  • a treatment services locator

The signs of a nervous breakdown vary from person to person. The underlying cause can also affect the types of symptoms you experience. You may experience symptoms that are:

  • physical
  • psychological
  • behavioral

Since the term “nervous breakdown” is not used in the medical community, this mental state been described with a wide variety of symptoms that tend to appear suddenly.

Symptoms of depression or anxiety

Some people may experience symptoms of depression or anxiety as a result of prolonged stress.

Possible symptoms of depression include :

  • feeling persistently sad or hopeless
  • feeling guilty or worthless
  • low energy or fatigue
  • loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • thoughts of suicide or self-harm

Meanwhile, symptoms of anxiety may include :

  • feeling on edge or restless
  • irritability
  • clammy hands
  • dizziness
  • upset stomach

Changes in appetite

Stress often leads to changes in appetite. While some people may experience a loss of appetite in response to stress, others may cope with stressful situations by overeating.

Poor sleep

High levels of stress can cause difficulties falling or staying asleep.

Sleep disorders also often occur alongside certain mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

Additionally, poor sleep quality and insomnia can interfere with your ability to function and may contribute to or exacerbate symptoms of mental health conditions.

Panic attacks

Some people may experience panic attacks in response to extreme stress.

This can cause symptoms such as:

  • extreme fear or a sense of doom
  • difficulty breathing
  • trembling or shaking
  • an accelerated heart rate or heart palpitations
  • sweating

Fatigue

High amounts of stress can cause feelings of tiredness and fatigue. Not only that, but certain issues associated with stress, such as poor sleep, can also contribute to low energy levels and exhaustion.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms

PTSD is a condition that can occur after exposure to a traumatic event.

It can cause a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares about the event
  • avoidance of places or situations that trigger related memories
  • continuing to feel guilt or shame about the event
  • self-destructive or reckless behaviors
  • extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts
  • hallucinations, which means hearing noises or seeing things that do not have an external stimulus
  • paranoia, such as believing someone is watching you or stalking you

Difficulty concentrating

Some research suggests that stress can cause changes to the function and structure of the brain, which could affect memory and concentration.

High levels of stress may also negatively affect learning, making it more difficult to perform at work or school.

Withdrawal

People experiencing a nervous breakdown may also withdraw from family, friends, and coworkers. Signs of withdrawal may include:

  • avoiding social functions and engagements
  • eating and sleeping poorly
  • maintaining poor hygiene
  • calling in sick to work for days or not showing up to work at all
  • isolating yourself in your home

Experiencing a mental health crisis?

If you’re experiencing a crisis, think you may harm yourself, or are having thoughts of suicide, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours per day, 7 days per week at 800-273-8255.

A person may report having a nervous breakdown when stress is too much for them to bear. That stress can be caused by external influences.

Potential causes and triggers of a nervous breakdown include:

  • recent injury or illness that makes daily life difficult to manage
  • recent traumatic event, such as a death in the family
  • persistent stress at work or school
  • relationship changes, such as a divorce
  • job loss
  • exposure to violence
  • discrimination
  • serious financial issues, such as a home going into foreclosure
  • a major life change, such as a relocation
  • poor sleep
  • chronic medical conditions

A personal or family history of mental health conditions can increase a person’s risk of experiencing a nervous breakdown. A lack of strong social support may also contribute.

If you think you or someone you love might be experiencing a nervous breakdown, make an appointment with a primary care physician or a mental health professional. Seeing a healthcare professional is especially critical if you’re at risk of hurting yourself or others.

A doctor will give you a complete physical exam and discuss any medications you’re currently taking to ensure other factors are not contributing to your symptoms.

They may then refer you to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist for further evaluation and treatments, which could include:

  • talk therapy
  • medications
  • lifestyle changes

Talk therapy

A doctor may recommend talk therapy to treat your symptoms. One common type of psychotherapy that’s commonly used is called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT has been proven effective at treating anxiety, depression, and other serious mental health conditions. It involves identifying problematic thought patterns and learning coping skills to better navigate challenging situations.

Medications

In addition to talk therapy, a doctor may recommend prescription medications to treat symptoms or other diagnosed mental health conditions. This may include an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.

Lifestyle changes

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of a breakdown, consider these strategies for managing your symptoms:

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which may worsen symptoms of mental health conditions and interfere with sleep.
  • Exercise regularly, which helps combat stress and improve sleep. Regular physical activity has also been shown to improve the symptoms of many mental health conditions.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
  • Develop a bedtime schedule and routine that will help you sleep well. This could involve taking a warm bath, reading a book, or switching off electronic devices an hour before bed.
  • Practice stress-relieving techniques, such as:
    • acupuncture
    • massage therapy
    • yoga
    • breathing exercises

    It’s not uncommon to feel unable to cope with life’s stresses at one time or another. But stress can become a health concern if it begins to interfere with your ability to complete daily tasks.

    A nervous breakdown could be a sign of a mental health condition. It’s important for you to see a doctor as soon as you notice signs of a breakdown.

    A primary care doctor can help you treat the physical symptoms. They can also refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional who can treat your emotional, mental, and behavioral symptoms.

    Caregivers should also contact a doctor as soon as possible if they’re worried about a loved one’s behavior or mental state.

    Lifestyle modifications can help you prevent a nervous breakdown. They can also help lessen the severity and frequency of them. These include:

    • getting regular exercise at least three times a week, which can be as simple as walking around your neighborhood for 30 minutes
    • seeing a mental health professional or attending counseling sessions to manage stress
    • avoiding drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and other substances that stress the body
    • sleeping for at least 7 hours per night
    • incorporating relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, into your daily routine
    • reducing your day-to-day stress level by:
      • pacing yourself
      • taking mini breaks
      • organizing your environment and daily activities
      • keeping a daily to-do list

      You can make these changes on your own, but it may be more helpful to work with a healthcare professional to create a treatment plan that best meets your needs.

      If you think you might be having a nervous breakdown, contact a doctor or healthcare professional as soon as possible.

      They can help determine the cause, diagnose any health conditions that may be contributing to your symptoms, and refer you to a specialist for further care.

      The following organizations can also provide information, support, and referrals to mental health professionals:

      • SAMHSA
      • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
      • Mental Health America (MHA)
      • Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA)
      • Healthline FindCare tool, which allows you to browse mental healthcare professionals in your area

      A nervous breakdown is also known as a mental breakdown. The term is not an official diagnosis and is not used by the medical community.

      However, it is sometimes used to describe when mental distress suddenly becomes so overwhelming that a person can’t function in their day-to-day life. A nervous breakdown may also be a sign of another underlying mental health condition, such as depression or anxiety.

      If you think you’re having a nervous breakdown, it’s important to see a primary care doctor or mental healthcare professional as soon as possible. They can help diagnose any mental or physical health conditions and determine underlying causes for a breakdown.

      A doctor may refer you to another healthcare professional. They may also provide therapy, medications, or lifestyle recommendations to treat mental health conditions and help you find a healthier way to cope with stress.

      Last medically reviewed on September 22, 2022

      10 Warning Signs of a Mental Breakdown (And What to Do)

      Health Worker Burnout

      A mental breakdown can be the result of extreme emotional distress. This stress can be caused by numerous reasons within a person’s life. While there are several causes to a mental breakdown, from sudden tragedy to financial issues, there are signs to look for that a mental breakdown may be brewing.

      It is inevitable that you will experience some stress within your life. A mental or nervous breakdown can be defined as intense symptoms of stress that cause a person to become unable to deal with life’s daily activities and challenges. Learn about the 10 warning signs of a mental breakdown and what to do to work through them.

      Anxiety Becomes Overwhelming

      According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, anxiety is defined as the feeling of nervousness, dread, and angst. Although, anxiety is common in many people, it might be experienced before taking on something new, handling a new situation or other life activities. However, depending on how anxiety shows up can be a warning sign to a mental breakdown.

      • Body trembling or shaking
      • Stomachache
      • Dizziness
      • Tense muscles
      • Clampy hands
      • High blood pressure

      Worrying constantly or overthinking about something can cause anxiety. These are signs combined with the constant worrying of issues and repeating past traumatic experiences can be a sign to visit a mental health professional.

      Sleep Pattern Changes

      Getting the proper amount of rest is extremely important. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 7 hours of sleep for adults. While this may not be the reality for many people, if you notice a change in your sleeping pattern, whether you’re sleeping more or not enough, it could be a sign of a mental breakdown.

      When you no longer are getting enough hours of sleep, it can lead to other health issues. For example, lack of sleep can cause an inability to concentrate. In addition, if you are stressed, it can show in the form of insomnia and ultimately cause extreme fatigue.

      Insomnia Can Contribute to Mental Breakdown

      Insomnia is defined as difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep. While one or two nights of sleep may not be a concern, if your lack of sleep turns into insomnia, there is an underlying reason why. The exhaustion or lack of energy you will experience can wear on you and cause a breakdown mentally.

      Responding to Stress by Oversleeping

      Sleeping longer than 8 hours a day on the regular can be a warning sign. While stress can cause exhaustion, the constant feeling of fatigue coupled with feeling low is when you should seek advice from your doctor. Oversleeping alone is not a sign by itself. However, if your mood is low, it may lead to a mental breakdown or even be a sign of depression.

      Extreme Changes in Mood

      A sudden behavior change can be a sign of a mental breakdown. For example, if you are getting angry easily when you once were known to keep a cool head, this is behavior that could indicate stress. More than just getting angry, extreme mood changes or mood swings are signs that need to be addressed.

      From crying uncontrollably or being irritable, stress can sway emotions drastically. The source of the stress and the mood swings can be the same. These mood changes can be partnered with feeling overwhelmed and could affect how you are towards others.

      • Easily angered
      • Irritability
      • Uncontrollable Crying
      • Low self-esteem

      Rapid shifts in your mood could be a sign of underlying mental health issues. If the mood swings are frequently happening, this should be taken seriously. Consult with your doctor because your mood changes could be related to mental or physical health problems.

      Noticeable Changes in Diet

      A change in your diet can be a warning sign that stress is affecting your mental health. For example, stress hormones can contribute to a desire to overeat or loss of appetite. Your desire to do either is rooted in stress and can be a sign you are in the middle of a breakdown or one is approaching.

      Overeating When Stressed Out

      Cortisol is a stress hormone that increases the craving for foods high in fat and sugar. While this is your body’s natural response to stress, overindulging and eating solely based on stress is a sign of mental breakdown. When it is longer stressful situations your body is placed in, then overeating can evolve into other mental health related issues.

      Worry May Result in Loss of Appetite

      There are a host of reasons, non-mental health related, that you have a loss of appetite. It could be due to a physical illness, changes in your age or a reaction to certain medication, to name a few. Then there are times where you have a loss of appetite, but nothing has drastically changed with your physical health or within your life.

      The loss of appetite can occur because your focus is not on your diet but distracted by stressors or worries. The ability to care for yourself and prepare meals may be overwhelming. This falls into a pattern that anxiety and mood swings may also show. How you take care of yourself it not a concern and could be a noticeably clear sign to address any mental health issues.

      Withdrawal from Family and Friends

      Withdrawing from everyone within your life can be a sign of mental breakdown. Pulling away from friends, family, and coworkers because you don’t have the energy or desire to engage is usually accompanied with other signs of mental stress. Avoiding social functions altogether is another indicator that something needs to be addressed from within.

      In addition to ignoring engagements with others, you may find that you are losing interest in your favorite activities. It is more than just a change of mind. The things you used to take joy in doing, you find yourself unable to even try them anymore. This could lead to other mental health issues like depression.

      Also, pay attention to your actions at work as well. While taking time for yourself is important, when on the verge of a mental breakdown, you may find yourself calling off work at an alarming pace. Or you may not even show up for work, which could be seen as out of your ordinary behavior. Likewise, the desire to isolate at home and withdraw from everyone is a warning sign.

      Feeling of Hopelessness

      Worrying about things is normal and occurs at one point in everyone’s life. When worrying constantly turns your thoughts to hopelessness, it may be harder to pull yourself out of that negative space. Feeling hopeless can be an overwhelming sadness that turns into more serious mental health issues.

      Hopelessness, or feeling helpless, can stem from financial hardships to the loss of a loved one. There are many reasons for feeling like nothing will get better. This feeling, if left unchecked, can interfere with your daily activities. Coupled with other signs of a mental breakdown, low self-esteem and hopelessness will only contribute further to a breakdown.

      Panic Attacks are Occurring

      • Difficulty breathing
      • Chest pain
      • Detachment from reality
      • Accelerated heart rate
      • Light-headed or feeling faint
      • Experiencing chills or feeling hot
      • Tingling sensation
      • Sweating
      • Fearfulness (of dying or losing control)

      Panic attacks can occur at any time, and sometimes there are no obvious triggers right before the attack happens. Just experiencing panic attacks alone is not a warning sign of a mental breakdown. However, panic attacks are happening for a reason and should be checked out to determine what is causing your body stress.

      Unexplained Aches and Pains

      When you are experiencing a mental breakdown, your body is going through a high level of stress. This stress may show in ways such as headaches, insomnia and even muscle tension. Your body may become tense, and you don’t even realize it until it shows in the form of pain.

      By holding in your stress and not releasing it in a healthy way, unexplained aches and pains may occur. In combination with other warning signs like anxiety, having that anxious feeling continuously takes a toll on the body over time.

      Emotions unchecked over time can cause physical health issues. Psychosomatic disorder is an example of the body’s reaction to an increased emotion that was sustained long enough to cause the body damage. Unexplained body aches and pain is your body reacting to the constant stress. If you are experiencing this, it could be a sign of a mental breakdown, and you should consult with your doctor.

      Thoughts of Self-Harm or Suicide

      Being in a depressive state can turn into thoughts of self-harm or even suicide. Your mental state is extremely fragile and if you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 immediately.

      • Cutting
      • Scratching
      • Burning
      • Head-banging

      Harming yourself on purpose is a sign that should not be taken lightly. This is a red flag that the way stress is being dealt with is not healthy. Being able to recognize that self-harm and suicidal thoughts are not a healthy way to deal with stress or trauma is a big step. This won’t be easy, however, if you or someone you know is self-harming, it may be a sign to more mental health issues that could lead to a severe breakdown.

      Coping with Drugs and Medications

      Relying on drugs and medications can be a form of self-harm since these things can cause major damage to your body. The abuse of medications is a way to cope with stress, and in doing so, it can lead to a dependency on the drug itself. This lack of control results from stress and not being able to deal in a healthy way.

      While mental health issues can lead to drug abuse, it can also start with the abuse of drugs that affect your mental health. As the adverse effects can go both ways, drug and medication abuse to cope with your stress is a sign a mental breakdown is coming. Drugs and stress can be a dangerous combination since there are certain drugs that can alter the brain and distort your thinking.

      The signs of substance abuse can be like that of a mental breakdown. When someone is showing:

      • Withdrawal
      • Hopelessness
      • Change in diet
      • Change in sleep
      • Lack of focus/concentration

      Warning signs can be overlapped and when seen together, they should be taken as a warning. The diagnosis of why someone is abusing drugs can vary and should be handled with care. With drugs, the body may need medical intervention to ensure a healthy recovery.

      What to Do When a Mental Breakdown Occurs

      The inability to cope with life’s challenges can cause several symptoms of stress. Stress, if not handled, can lead to a mental breakdown. While prevention would be the ideal solution to address mental breakdowns, you may have overlooked the warning signs. Now, if you or someone you know is currently in a mental breakdown, what should you do?

      Be Non-judgmental and Create a Safe Space

      If you are with someone that is having a mental breakdown, you should remain calm. Provide the person with a listening ear, and do not be judgmental. If the signs were not apparent to you, the person might reveal how their life has changed.

      Give grace to yourself or the person that is experiencing the mental breakdown. Make sure a safe space is created and that the individual is not in harm’s way. Once that is established, deciding the next steps to cope and move on from the mental breakdown should include connecting with a mental health professional.

      Eliminate Certain Items from Diet

      While a change in your diet is a warning sign of a mental breakdown, eliminating certain items from your diet may help your nerves. For example, caffeine is a staple for many people, and going without their daily dose of coffee or caffeinated beverage can be hard to ask. However, overconsumption of caffeine has been proven to have negative side effects such as irritability and troubled sleep.

      Turning to alcohol in hopes of changing your mood for the better can be detrimental. Alcohol alters your thinking and strips you of the ability to control your emotions. It not only alters your mental state, if abused and overused, it can cause serious health problems. If you or someone you know has an alcohol abuse problem, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration can help find a support group for you.

      Make Life Adjustments

      Making life adjustments extend beyond changing a diet. If you notice one of the earlier warning signs to a mental breakdown, take steps to adjust your life and alleviate specific stressors. Practicing self-care is an important thing to do daily for your well-being.

      • Prioritizing exercise
      • Alternative therapies
      • Yoga
      • Meditation

      For some, journaling daily can help deal with stress. Other activities can be a simple as walking, breathing exercises, or practicing mindfulness.

      Finding ways to control your response to stressful situations is essential. Self-care is a wide range of things you can do for yourself. Ranging from physical activities to psychological, taking care of your well-being is important and will help in a mental breakdown.

      Speak to a Professional

      Experiencing a mental breakdown means your mental state is fragile. When stress isn’t being handled and it becomes overwhelming, it may be hard to pull yourself out of that state. A mental health professional is experienced in treating mental breakdowns.

      A professional may recommend different types of therapy such as talk therapy. This is also known as psychotherapy; a licensed therapist will speak with the patient and “talk through” their problems to uncover the source of their emotional distress.

      Another type of therapy that may be recommended is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This therapy can help recognize your behavior to make changes to control your mental state in a healthy way. They will be able to discern if there are underlying mental health issues that could be detrimental.

      Remember You Are Not Alone

      While only you can do the work to heal, you do not have to go through it alone. Speak to a mental health professional or therapist and learn how to cope with stress.

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      The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. HealthWorkerBurnout.com disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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