Signs and Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown

Signs and Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown

Nervous breakdown or mental breakdown refers to a condition in which a person goes through physical or emotional stress. It can even make you unable to function normally.

The term was previously used to describe a broad range of mental illnesses. However, these days, the medical community avoids using the term “nervous breakdown” for referring to any certain condition.

Nevertheless, a nervous breakdown still remains a sign of an underlying mental health such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown vary from person to person and mainly depend upon the underlying disorder causing it.

Quick Facts about Nervous Breakdown

  • The symptoms of a nervous breakdown may not be similar in two different persons
  • Medically speaking, there is no such problem as a nervous breakdown
  • The most suitable treatment for a nervous breakdown is dependent upon the cause

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

The term “mental breakdown” is used to describe a broad range of mental health problems. It is not associated with a single condition hence, there are no definite signs and symptoms of it.

The only thing that is common in all the individuals that suffer from a nervous breakdown is their inability to function normally. The factors necessary for a person to be functioning normally tend to differ, depending upon their regions, cultures, and even families.

Mentioned below are the common symptoms of a nervous breakdown suffered by the majority of people:

  • The person feels anxious, tearful, depressed and always irritable
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, and having a relatively low self-esteem
  • Avoiding social events and situations
  • Missing appointments and work even when there is no apparent reason
  • Lack of a proper sleep schedule i.e. either sleeping too much or too little
  • Lack of a proper eating pattern and hygienic measures, mostly due to the fact that the patients keep forgetting or are not motivated enough
  • Feeling emotionally drained and physically fatigued without any medical reason
  • Lacking motivation and losing interest in different thinks
  • Inability to focus on things or recall any past memory
  • Body pains and aches that often go unexplained
  • Inability to get fulfillment or enjoyment from the things that normally produce happiness
  • Finding it difficult to make friends with people or to tolerate them
  • Lacking an interest in menstrual changes
  • Decreased interest in sex with low libido
  • Speaking or moving slower than usual
  • Thinking about harming oneself
  • Increased suicidal thoughts
  • Severe nightmares, scared flashbacks, and different fight-or-flight symptoms such as dryness of mouth, increased heartbeat, and increased sweating, even when there is no danger

In untreated conditions, especially when a nervous breakdown is related to a certain health condition, there may be other symptoms like paranoia, hallucinations, decreased insight, and delusions.

nervous breakdown

How to Treat/Prevent a Mental Breakdown?

There are only some things that may decrease the symptoms of physical and emotional stress. The most common treatments for a mental breakdown are listed below:

  • Going for counseling such as the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Speaking with a doctor about medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety pills
  • Attempts to reduce the main source of stress such as arguments and conflicts at the workplace or at home
  • Performing exercises for supporting the physical and mental relaxation, for example, meditation or deep breathing
  • Doing exercises like tai chi or yoga because they help in gentle stretching or moving in accordance with controlled breathing
  • Spending at least 20 minutes in performing exercises of moderate intensity, or a ten-minute exercise regimen for high intensity workout
  • Trying to step outside every day for a few minutes or adopting hobbies that encourage spending time outdoors
  • Talking to friends, partners, family members, and roommates after suffering from any disturbance
  • Making appropriate plans for healthy hygiene, eating schedules, and sleeping, and making sure that they are followed
  • Reaching out for a local or an online support group which involves people with symptoms similar to what you experience
  • Struggling to achieve a sleeping environment that is free of any distraction so that the quality of sleep is increased
  • Steering clear of using any illicit drugs
  • Preventing the use of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine in excess

Risk Factors and Causes

Anything that aggravates physical and emotional stress at a level that is more than your body can handle is a reason for a nervous breakdown. It can even trigger an underlying medical disorder.

However, there are some specific conditions, experiences, and genetic factors that are often linked with mental breakdowns.

The most common reasons and risk factors associated with a mental breakdown include:

  • Traumatizing experiences
  • Grief
  • Having an abusive relationship
  • Doing a job with the high-stress situation
  • Family history of nervous disorders
  • Performing jobs with high risk of emotional burnout
  • Personal isolation
  • Living in continuous stress such as in a war
  • Social conflicts, especially those that are affecting the life at home and work
  • A presence of some chronic or severe medical injury or disease

How is it Diagnosed?

Because a nervous breakdown is no longer used as a medical term, so there is no technical way for diagnosing it.

A doctor or a mental health worker can make attempts to identify all the risk factors or any underlying medical condition which may be triggering a nervous breakdown. They will do so by inquiring the patient regarding his symptoms and looking at his medical history.

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A physical exam may also be required for this purpose.

When to Consult a Doctor?

It is always a good idea to consult a doctor regarding any emotional or physical stress that may be capable of interfering with your daily routine and life. However, most of the people suffering from a supposed nervous breakdown are unable to recognize the severity of their symptoms.

nervous breakdown

In addition to this, most of the people also hesitate in asking for help in fear that they might be judged by others. They also think that what is happening to them is ultimately their own fault and that there is no way to treat this cause.

If a friend, a family member, or a roommate is showing any signs of a nervous breakdown, they must be supported to get medical help.

What are the Related Conditions?

Medical conditions that may cause symptoms similar to that of a nervous breakdown include:

  • Extreme grief
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Clinical depression
  • Anxiety
  • Acute stress disorder (ASD)
  • Adjustment disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Dissociative identity disorder (DID)
  • Chronic pain
  • Certain inflammatory conditions

A nervous breakdown is not officially recognized as a disorder. However, it is commonly used to describe any conditions in which there is a temporary disablement of any physical or mental symptoms, particularly when there is no known cause.

Take Home Message

The majority of people that experience durations of anxiety, extreme sadness, and hopelessness from time to time, especially after experiencing any stressful event is common.

However, when it becomes difficult for a person to perform his daily tasks, urges him to withdraw from the society, and begin considering harming himself, medical help is required.

Management medications and other therapies do exist in helping these patients who often suffer from nervous breakdowns of high severity.

Nancy holds a Pharmacy degree from University of Michigan and Masters of Science MS in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) from Tufts University. She worked as a lecturer for three years before she turned towards medical writing. Her area of interest are infectious diseases; causes, mechanism, diagnosis, treatments and prevention strategies. Most of her writings ensure an easy understanding of uncommon diseases.

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