Mental Breakdown: The Weight of the World
Do you ever feel as if the weight of the world is on your shoulders? Do the stressors of daily life pile up until you truly believe you cannot go on? These intense negative feelings are associated with a mental breakdown—a loss of physical and emotional control. Mental breakdown is not a mental illness, and it presents differently for everyone. To prevent its effects, it is important to establish exactly what it means for you.
What is a Mental Breakdown?
A mental breakdown also referred to as a nervous breakdown, is used to describe an overwhelming response to stress. Although the term mental breakdown is frequently attached to mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and panic, it is not a medical diagnosis. What constitutes a nervous breakdown is the inability to function due to emotional or physical stress. Someone suffering from it is likely suffering to fulfill their family and work obligations, as well as difficulty maintaining relationships. However, the extent of dysfunction is dependent on culture.
Signs of a Mental Breakdown
The signs of a mental breakdown are both psychological and physical. Because it is not a mental illness, there is not a rigid set of criteria and guidelines. The signs vary from person to person. You do not have to exhibit all of the signs to have it.
Psychological and Emotional
- Inattention—The inability to focus and concentrate on tasks.
- Mood swings
- Memory problems—Basic details are forgotten.
- Anxiety—Persistent worry about everyday situations.
- Flashbacks—Flashbacks of traumatic events that led to the mental breakdown are frightening.
- No motivation
- Hallucinations—In severe cases, those having it see or hear things that are not there.
- Low-self esteem
- Paranoia—An extreme, irrational fear of potential threat, conspiracy, or persecution.
- Delusions—Perception of reality and commonly held beliefs become distorted.
The physical body is definitely connected to the mind. It is not uncommon for physical symptoms to occur alongside the psychological effects of a mental breakdown.
- Altered sleeping patterns—Insomnia, which is trouble falling or staying asleep, happens in a mental breakdown. Excessive sleeping is also a possibility.
- Unexplained aches and pains—Chronic stress causes generalized aches and pains in the muscles, joints, and other areas of the body.
- Weight changes—Depending on diet, one can lose or gain weight.
- Lack of sex drive
- Irregular Menstrual Cycle—Females may not get their menstrual cycles monthly.
- Slow movements
- Racing heart—The body’s natural response is to elevate the heart rate to ward off danger. A racing heart without the presence of a threat is a sign of a mental breakdown.
- Dry mouth—Saliva secretions are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which can be triggered to malfunction in circumstances the extreme stress of a mental breakdown.
- Fatigue—A sense of physical exhaustion.
The devastation of it impacts behavior. A sudden shift in behavior is a warning to be conscious of.
- Binge eating—Consuming unusually large amounts of food followed by episodes of purging.
- Calling in sick to work
- Self-destruction—Partaking in potentially fatal acts like drug abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, impulsivity, and having to regard for life-threatening or legal implications.
- Poor hygiene—Brushing teeth, bathing, and other personal hygiene skills are neglected.
- Avoiding social situations
- Conflict with others—Arguments and difficulty getting along with people in the home, school, or workplace.
Causes of a Mental Breakdown
A mental breakdown is the result of emotional or physical stress. Each individual varies in the amount of stress they can handle before developing negative repercussions. There are factors that make one more susceptible to having a mental breakdown. For example, genetics play a role. Chances are increased with a family history of a primary mental health condition, as well as inheritable chronic medical conditions or injuries.
Grief and trauma are also causes. The severe grief from the loss of a loved one, a miscarriage, or a broken relationship contributes to emotional stress. Trauma from physical, verbal, or sexual abuse that is unrelenting is enough to contribute too. Other factors include personal isolation, high-stress occupations, or jobs with emotional burnout.
Conditions Associated with a Mental Breakdown
A mental breakdown presents with several of the same signs and symptoms as certain mental disorders. While displaying similar symptoms does not guarantee the diagnosis of a mental disorder, it is associated with a variety of mental conditions.
- Depression—Persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest that influences thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—Flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety triggered by a terrifying event. A vivid recollection of the traumatic experience distorts response to the outside environment.
- Panic disorder—A type of anxiety disorder characterized by severe, “out-of-the-blue” anxiety and terror without the presence of imminent danger. Symptoms are physical in nature (i.e. racing heart, hyperventilation, shortness of breath).
- Generalized anxiety disorder—Excessive worry that interferes with daily functioning. Anxiety is usually about money, family, work, health, and more. The nervousness is not warranted for the situation.
- Bipolar Disorder—Rapidly shifting moods, energy, and activity levels. The disorder ranges from manic highs proceeded by bouts of depression.
- Schizophrenia—The abnormal interpretation of reality that prevents clear thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Substance abuse disorder—Drug or alcohol use which results in addiction and interferes with relationships, work, and health.
How To Avoid a Mental Breakdown
Preventing a mental breakdown is easier than treating one that has already occurred. The most proactive thing you can do to avoid a mental breakdown is to seek medical attention as soon as stress begins to interfere with daily functioning. A physician will perform a physical exam, an evaluation of symptoms, and a review of patient history. This identifies underlying factors and ensures these contributors do not cause progression of the mental breakdown.
Experts recommend maintaining healthy lifestyle habits to prevent it. Refrain from substances such as alcohol, drugs, and nicotine. Consuming a proper diet with a full nutrient profile is helpful. Limit processed foods and caffeine. Opt for green leafy vegetables rich in folate and magnesium instead, as they decrease anxiety and depression. Studies show antioxidant containing foods like berries and dark chocolate enhance neurotransmitters that make the brain happy.
Additionally, exercise releases healthy endorphins that boost mood and alleviate the stress associated with it. Even twenty minutes of moderate exercise is beneficial. Examples of moderate intensity exercises are aerobics, walking 3 miles per hour, cycling, and tennis. Incorporating yoga or tai chi with controlled breathing is conducive to mental breakdown prevention because it releases the endorphins while relaxing the body and mind.
Prolonged isolation is undoubtedly a risk factor. When on the verge of a breaking point, the support of being surrounded by friends and family is an encouragement to keep going. Staying engaged in social activities is a distraction from stress.
Cut Out Stress
It is essentially the cause of some sort of stressor. Thus, prevention is centered on eliminating stress. End unhealthy relationships, move out of a threatening living situation and do not consistently schedule long work long hours because overworking leads to burnout. Set a sleep schedule and stick to it to allow the brain time to rest. All of these are significant in cutting out stress.
Treating a Mental Breakdown
If it does occur, it is not a weakness. In fact, overcoming the challenges of it strengthens one’s resilience. There are a variety of ways to combat a mental breakdown in progress.
The preferred treatment for a mental breakdown is determined by the underlying cause. Medications are a favorable option when the mental breakdown is secondary to a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or other disorders. Antidepressants regulate erratic moods. Anti-anxiety medications quell panic and fear. Antipsychotics are prescribed in the rare cases in which hallucinations and delusions occur as a symptom of the mental breakdown.
Since a mental breakdown is not a mental illness, those who have a mental breakdown that is not secondary to a mental disorder tend to have success with basic talk therapy with a counselor. The client-therapist interaction provides the opportunity to express the overwhelming burdens causing the breakdown.
Cognitive behavioral therapy with a psychologist is implemented in those with more serious effects from their mental breakdown. The therapy is a psychotherapeutic treatment which assists patients in understanding how their thinking (i.e. beliefs, assumptions, goals, etc.) influences their behaviors. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, someone in a mental breakdown can locate which thought patterns are contributing to their stress.
Group therapy and support groups separate to individual therapy sessions are useful tools. Members of the group share experiences. Just knowing they are not alone motivates their efforts to regain control of their lives.
Intensive treatments aren’t always needed. Alternative therapies as stress management have a place in treating a mental breakdown.
As panic arises, relaxation techniques calm the body to reduce the fight-or-flight response from excessive stress stimulating the autonomic nervous system. Deep breathing from the belly rather than the shoulders circulates oxygen to soothe the body and regulate its functions. Guided imagery is a second technique that can temporarily remove the person from the stressful experience by instilling positive imagery. Lastly, progressive muscle relaxation and massage decrease tension built-up that accumulates during the mental breakdown.
Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that entails inserting needles into a person’s skin at specific locations. The therapy is used for many physical ailments, but studies reflect good outcomes for anxiety, depression, and stress reduction. Part of the brain known as the hypothalamus releases chemicals in response to stress and acupuncture diminishes that response. The trigger points where the needles are inserted provokes the release of endorphins—a feel-good chemical that regulates mood and emotional reactions to pain. As it minimizes the body’s stress, a mental breakdown subsides.
Cheyanne is currently studying psychology at North Greenville University. As an avid patient advocate living with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, she is interested in the biological processes that connect physical illness and mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys immersing herself in a good book, creating for her Etsy shop, or writing for her own blog.