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What Is a Nervous Breakdown, and How to Prevent It?

Nervous breakdown
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


Stress is natural, and everyone gets overwhelmed occasionally. However, sustained, high-stress levels and unhealthy coping mechanisms can make you vulnerable to a nervous breakdown.

A nervous or mental breakdown describes a period of intense stress, anxiety, and inability to cope with daily life. When examining a patient with such symptoms, medical professionals try to identify the specific issue causing mental stress and exhaustion. It can be life stressors or conditions such as depression, panic disorder, or schizophrenia.

The term “nervous breakdown” is used liberally in conversations, film, and popular culture. You may wonder what exactly qualifies as one and where to seek help if you feel on the verge of it. This article discusses the main things you might want to know about this circumstance.

Seek help early to avoid the aggravation of symptoms. MEDvidi doctors are here to help.

How Does a Nervous Breakdown Feel Like?

A nervous breakdown feels like a system shutdown, which makes a person feel fatigued, helpless, and worthless. The stress and depression become overwhelming, leaving an individual hopeless and unable to enjoy the things and activities he or she loved before.

People experiencing mental breakdowns also can’t seem to focus on anything or even care for themselves. They commonly describe it as a feeling of “falling apart”. This crisis may have different duration, from days to months, and it takes much energy and time to overcome it.

What Can Trigger a Nervous Breakdown

The general trigger of a mental breakdown is intense stress and helplessness to cope with it. Life traumas can cause a mental crisis, including:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • Financial difficulties like too much debt or a home going into foreclosure
  • Relationship changes like separation and divorce
  • Job loss
  • Pressure in the workplace
  • Moving places
  • Discrimination
  • Mental or physical abuse
  • Natural disaster
  • Serious illness

Often, the stress from life traumas builds up over time and reaches a level where a person can’t cope or focus on daily life. People without social support or healthy coping mechanisms are more likely to have nervous breakdowns when faced with prolonged stress.

A nervous breakdown can also indicate a person has an underlying mental health issue [1*] , such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, or panic disorder. These conditions affect their ability to deal with stressful events, making them more likely to have mental breakdowns.

The right diagnosis and proper therapy can help you overcome excessive stress. Get help online at MEDvidi.

Nervous Breakdown Symptoms

The symptoms of a mental breakdown [2*] differ from patient to patient, depending on the root cause. However, there are some common signs covering physical, psychological, and behavioral manifestations.

Physical Symptoms

  • Trembling
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Feeling sluggish
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Frequent illnesses because stress lowers immune response
  • Irregular bowel movements
  • Stomachache
  • Muscle pain
  • Sweating
Nervous breakdown symptoms

Psychological Symptoms

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Helplessness and low self-esteem
  • Lack of interest or motivation
  • Trouble remembering things
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Suicidal or self-harm thoughts
  • Mood swings
  • Emotional numbness
  • Angry outbursts
  • Feeling detached from the body (depersonalization)

Behavioral Changes

  • Calling in sick for work regularly or not showing up
  • Avoiding social events
  • Missing appointments
  • Neglecting self-care like not exercising, eating unhealthy foods, and not showering
  • Having difficulty interacting with other people
  • Losing interest in hobbies a person previously enjoyed

The term mental breakdown is not a medical or official diagnosis. But, it is a serious issue that typically requires professional help or even hospitalization. However, in mild cases, a person can implement certain lifestyle changes to reduce the impact of stress on their mind and body. Some techniques are discussed below.

Treatment Options for Nervous Breakdown

The treatment method for a nervous breakdown depends on the severity of a person’s symptoms and underlying cause. It can include medications for anxiety, insomnia, and depressive disorders [3*] . Psychotherapy is also a common treatment because it helps to improve coping mechanisms, develop healthy routines, and deal with past traumas. In case of intense distress, a physician may recommend a hospital stay.

How to Prevent and Cope With a Nervous Breakdown

While the feelings of intense stress may feel never-ending, it is not always possible to prevent a nervous breakdown as it can be triggered by numerous factors including stress, trauma, or mental illness. However, there are several ways to reduce the risk of having it as well as manage the signs of a nervous breakdown.

1. Exercise. Exercise has immense mental benefits as it releases feel-good hormones like endorphins [4*] and dopamine lowering stress. Regular physical activity also improves sleep, which makes you more ready to face the day. You can engage in team activities to beat feelings of isolation and improve your confidence.
2. Meditate. Meditation [5*] is a stress-relieving technique that helps you control your emotions. As you meditate, focus on things that make you feel grateful, like supportive family and friends, positive memories, or dreams. There are many apps to get you started on meditation, and it is beneficial to set a time every day to incorporate inner peace.
3. Do yoga. Yoga [6*] combines physical, mental, and spiritual aspects to improve health, specifically for stress-related conditions. It increases strength and flexibility promoting kindness, self-control, and empathy. Yoga reduces cortisol levels, which helps ease symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression — factors that may lead to a nervous breakdown.
4. Practice deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing exercises [7*] slow down breathing and reduce heart rate and blood pressure, thereby lowering stress. They can help manage physical and emotional symptoms of nervous breakdown such as feeling overwhelmed, panicked, or unable to cope with emotions. Regular practice of deep breathing can retrain the body’s stress response and improve coping ability.
5. Be kind to yourself. It is easy to get mad at yourself for being depressed, sad, and anxious, especially when other people seem to be doing well in similar circumstances. However, it is essential to be self-compassionate [8*] during a mental breakdown, speaking to yourself with love and reminding yourself that the negative feelings are temporary.
6. Seek professional help. If you have been dealing with the symptoms of a nervous breakdown for a while, consult a medical professional. A mental breakdown can indicate an underlying mental health issue that needs treatment. Your doctor or therapist will evaluate your symptoms and determine if you have another condition.

In Conclusion

Most nervous breakdowns arise from stress. So, stress management methods like meditation, physical activity, and yoga can help to cope with it. However, if the negative feelings overwhelm you and interfere with your productivity, it’s time to seek professional help.


8 sources
  1. Nervous breakdown: a diagnostic characterization study. (1997)
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  2. Signs of a Nervous Breakdown. (2022)
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  3. Depression Overview. (2008)
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  4. Endorphins and exercise. (1984)
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  5. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. (2014)
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  6. The effects of yoga on stress and psychological health among employees: an 8- and 16-week intervention study. (2018)
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  7. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. (2017)
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  8. Self-Compassion, Stress, and Coping. (2010)
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology


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Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.

This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.