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What Is a Nervous Breakdown and How to Cope With It

Brittney is a licensed professional counselor and a certified rehabilitation counselor. She has a Master's in counseling.


What is a Nervous Breakdown?

Many of us know that life isn’t easy and that some rough times lie ahead for us. It’s inevitable. Some may know how to better handle situations than others. While others have never experienced mental health issues or symptoms, others know it all too well.

Again, life is hard and we can only be so prepared to handle the unknown of the future. The unknown of what may happen can cause some to have an anxiety/panic attack or depression.

It’s important to become aware of your feelings and emotions before they become too much to handle and you start having a nervous breakdown. Nervous breakdowns can leave you feeling hopeless and wiped out. Some people may feel like they can’t handle anymore and feel as if they’re going to explode. Just know that it is okay and that many people go through one throughout their lives.

What exactly is a nervous breakdown? A nervous breakdown, commonly known as a mental or emotional breakdown, can be defined as a period of mental distress in which a person temporarily feels symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as some physical symptoms due to life stresses. This is a broad definition as each person’s experience of a nervous breakdown will be different in some way.


What are the Signs and Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown?

It’s hard to actually prepare for a nervous breakdown because life gets overwhelming and we are all prone to experience at least one in our life. If you can identify the signs of a nervous breakdown, you’ll be better able to cope with it when or if it happens.

  • Depressive symptoms such as hopelessness, helplessness, decreased energy, or lacking interest or pleasure in things that were previously enjoyable
  • Anxiety symptoms can manifest as physical symptoms such as increased heart rate or sweaty palms. Other anxiety symptoms people might experience are restlessness, irritability, and constant worry
  • Heightened sensitivity
  • Overly exhausted
  • High strung
  • Feeling that life has become unmanageable
  • Convinced something bad is going to happen
  • Isolating or avoiding social situations and interactions
  • Decreased interest in how you look
  • Difficulty concentrating or staying focused

Physical symptoms are often involved in nervous breakdowns and can include nausea, vomiting, migraines, weakness, dizziness and/or stomach upset. One of the reasons people experience physical symptoms is because the nervous system is attempting to relay messages and be alert because something abnormal is happening but they are either not getting to the systems in time or not at all.

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How to Cope With a Nervous Breakdown

Remember, everyone is unique and experiences nervous breakdowns and related symptoms differently. It is important to know the signs of a nervous breakdown so you can be aware of it and figure out what to do to alleviate or minimize the nervous breakdown. It is imperative that you have some ideas and while you may not believe some of them will help, make sure you are approaching this in an open-minded way as more possibilities and alternatives for dealing with a nervous breakdown become more available.

  • Identify the cause and what led up to having a breakdown
  • Exercise and make sure to go outside often
  • Adjust your situation and environment to one that you feel comfortable and content in
  • Seek help from your social support network as well as professionals, if needed
  • Identify triggers that preceded the breakdown
  • Get a health check up to ensure your blood levels and vitamins are normal
  • Make a schedule in attempts to feel less overwhelmed


Nervous breakdowns are common because as life doesn’t go according to what you plan, it can throw you curve-balls that you are not prepared for and throw you into a chaotic mindset. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of as life does get quite difficult and at times, can feel like you are unable to manage your life.

We all have times when life becomes difficult. It feels as if we are getting handed certain challenges that seem impossible to overcome while you’re in the moment. You are stronger than you believe and you will get through a nervous breakdown and you will be better equipped to handle one in the future.



Brittney Lindstrom (author) from Chicago, IL on March 11, 2018:

I'm sorry for what your mother had to go through. It is a terrible feeling, especially when you feel there is no one who cares. I've had several nervous breakdowns but each one seems to get easier to deal with as I've identified the triggers and utilize the tools I've learned throughout each one.

I'm glad you have support and have utilized the tools you've learned to cope with it. Thank you for your honesty!

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on March 11, 2018:

I remember my mother having a nervous breakdown when I was a teenager. She holed herself up in her room and would not come out. We could hear her crying and Dad came out and had us do the things she would normally do. I also remember her saying that no one cared about her or loved her. I vowed I would never let this happen to me. Unfortunately, it did! Thankfully, I sought for help, and learned some techniques that have given me tools to deal with my out of control emotions. I still have times when I feel that things get out of control, but I have been able to work through it with the support and help of family and friends.

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