It’s the end of a long day during which your boss took you to task over an error that wasn’t even yours, your kids were fighting again and broke a lamp, and the cat puked on your shoe. All you want is a hot shower. You turn the knob, and the water is tepid. You spouse used all the hot water. That was the last straw. You find yourself sitting on the floor crying, in the middle of a nervous breakdown.
Sometimes the stress of life can become so overwhelming that we just are unable to deal with it anymore. When this stress continues to build, it can lead to a nervous breakdown.
It’s essential to understand what a nervous breakdown is and what may trigger it, so you know what to do when you feel one coming on.
Before You Get Started
Before you get started, remember: if you aren’t feeling like yourself, make an appointment to see your doctor. We are not physicians, and this should not be mistaken for medical advice.
What Is a Nervous Breakdown?
People generally use the term nervous breakdown to describe temporary situations where they can no longer function normally in their day-to-day life. Sometimes even the small things seem too much to contemplate.
Though this condition is genuine, the term “nervous breakdown” is no longer used by mental health professionals as a medical term for any specific mental disorder.
A nervous breakdown may be a much-needed release from the buildup of life’s stress. Or it may actually be a sign of depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue that needs treatment.
A nervous breakdown can take many forms such as sudden changes in sleeping, eating, and grooming. In addition, many people want to hibernate in their house or bed and avoid social interactions or even any contact with others.
Regardless of its name, a nervous breakdown impacts a person’s life in numerous, and sometimes severe ways.
Causes of a Nervous Breakdown
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People deal with stress in different ways. A nervous breakdown is often caused by a lack of healthy coping mechanisms to handle excessive stress. It can build slowly or happen all at once.
Stress can materialize as pressure or anxiety. When stress is paired with the strain to keep functioning normally, it can trigger a crisis. The “breaking point” varies by individual.
Of note, some causes of a mental breakdown are severe medical conditions and require medical treatment.
Nervous Breakdown Triggers
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While there are many triggers for a nervous breakdown, here are some common ones.
That long, stressful day may be a problem
Constant deadlines, demanding bosses, and long hours can lead to burnout.
You may feel underappreciated or that you have no control over work. Your work may lack meaning or challenge. Your boss may have unrealistic expectations or be overly demanding. A coworker may be harassing you or is just being difficult.
Furthermore, the average U.S. employee’s workweek increased from 40 to 47 hours, with one in four people saying they work 50 hours. Conversely, the amount of vacation Americans take is the lowest in four decades.
Sometimes, learning isn’t all its cracked up to be
Similarly, the stress of academic responsibilities can lead to burnout.
They resemble those of work: deadlines, long hours spent on projects, demanding professors, the pressure to get good grades, etc.
This is the most common cause of problems, it seems
Finances stress many people out. Whether it’s a bill that is overdue, a surprise car or house repair, or trying to figure out how to save up to pay for a house or college, money is often an issue.
Any adverse change in financial status could impact your life and suddenly become a trigger for a nervous breakdown.
Your loved ones aren’t always loving
Have you ever felt exhausted just looking at your calendar? Lunch with Jennie. Dave’s soccer schedule, Zoe’s dance lessons, Mom’s doctor’s appointment.
Obligations to our loved ones are a heavy responsibility. Meeting these demands can sometimes be too much: too much time, energy, or even money.
That stress can magnify when a relationship is in strife, be it fighting with a friend or caring for a sick parent.
Don’t forget about this
Trauma is a broad category that covers everything from death to abuse to an accident.
When your world suddenly turns upside down, and you feel like you have no control, you may find yourself unable to face your normal life’s routine.
Underlying mental health issues
While stress is a significant trigger for most nervous breakdowns, having an underlying mental illness can make you more vulnerable.
Anxiety disorders and depression are common factors. People with an anxiety disorder may feel anxious, worried, and nervous for extended periods. Depression makes people feel sad and hopeless.
Some people are unaware they have these illnesses until they experience a nervous breakdown and seek treatment.
Signs of a Nervous Breakdown
Because a “nervous breakdown” is not a medical term, there is not a standard set of defined signs and symptoms. The general sign is an inability to function “normally,” however that means something different for everyone.
That said, there are some common signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown:
- Mood swings
- Feeling depressed or anxious
- Avoiding social interactions, including work and appointments
- Eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Lack of interest or motivation
- Feeling of detachment
- Feeling drained emotionally and physically
- Brain fog
- In extreme cases, suicidal thoughts and paranoia
How Long Does a Nervous Breakdown Last?
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The duration of a nervous breakdown depends on the person and individual triggers. It may last a few hours to a few weeks. Acute symptoms of a nervous breakdown, such as a panic attack, could last a few minutes to a few hours.
The amount of stress, support, treatment, and coping strategies all play a role in the length of a nervous breakdown.
When You’re Having a Nervous Breakdown
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If you feel that you may be heading for a nervous breakdown, there are some immediate steps you can take.
If you are having suicidal or psychotic thoughts, call 911 immediately.
Treat any immediate symptoms.
If you feel like you are about to have a panic attack from anxiety or stress, count backward from 10 as you take deep breaths.
Feeling faint? Position your head lower than your legs. You can do this by lying down or sitting with your head between your knees.
It’s okay to retreat to a safe space to give yourself time to recover when you are overwhelmed with life.
Reach out for immediate support. Depending on the severity of your breakdown, you may need friends and family to help you, be it emotionally or driving you to appointments.
Then, contact your doctor. Rule out any underlying medical or mental conditions. If your doctor does diagnose an illness, you will be able to start treatment for both physical and, if necessary, psychological symptoms.
If you’re able, write down everything you are feeling at this moment. Getting your emotions out now can help shorten the length of the breakdown as well as give you a starting point for areas to address afterward.
Try not to do anything to make it worse for at least 48 hours. Sometimes we self-medicate with alcohol, food, drugs, retail therapy, or other crutches. Do not do that. This behavior can intensify the emotions of a nervous breakdown and lead to more guilt.
Recovering from a Nervous Breakdown
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Recovering from a nervous breakdown takes time. Make sure you keep in contact with your doctor. While it is crucial to deal with any immediate symptoms like panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, there are also longer-term issues to address.
Making lifestyle changes is vital to recovering from a nervous breakdown. These changes range from simple steps to more complicated, longer processes.
A few immediate actions you can implement include:
- Eliminate alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine from your diet
- Get the proper amount of sleep
- Eat properly
- Exercise regularly
- Meditate or learn another form of relaxation such as breathing exercises
- Make to-do lists
- Practice daily affirmations
- Ask for help with responsibilities
- Learn to say no
- Learn to recognize signs that you are starting to get overwhelmed
One of the biggest challenges you may face during recovery is learning to deal with your triggers or contributing factors. This part of the process will take time. It includes learning coping mechanisms to better deal with stress and reducing triggers as possible.
Addressing these triggers often requires you to dig down to the roots of the underlying problems.
While some of these issues can be self-addressed, you may want to consider joining a support group or reaching out to a therapist. A trained professional can help you relearn how to live your life and meet your obligations in a less stressful manner.
Doing this work will help prepare you to reengage with the world and recenter your life. It can also help prevent future nervous breakdowns.
Life After a Nervous Breakdown
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The ultimate cause of a nervous breakdown is an inability to cope with large amounts of stress, but how that manifests exactly varies by individual.
Work stress, mental illness, family responsibilities, and poor coping strategies are all things that can lead to a nervous breakdown and the inability to function normally.
The good news is that nervous breakdowns are treatable and manageable. By learning coping mechanisms and reducing stress, you can reclaim your life.
Knowing your triggers and warning signs are crucial to recognizing an impending breakdown. It is possible to fully recover from a nervous breakdown and lead a healthy, productive life. By addressing your triggers immediately, you could prevent a nervous breakdown from happing again.
Do you have any other tips on how to relieve stress and help avoid a nervous breakdown? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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