The signs- and 7 common causes- of a nervous breakdown

Category: Better Mood | Author and Publisher: Elly Prior | First published: 24-09-2010 | Modified: 10-02-2019

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Part 1, Part 2

We've looked at the symptoms of a nervous breakdown in Part 1, so now let's take a look at the causes of you 'falling apart', the fears and the signs to watch out for.

Rather know what to do about it straight away?

Hop over to my article How to Get over a Nervous Breakdown and do also sign up to Dr Kelly Brogan's resources⧉.

Image quote: Know that a crisis is always time-limited. You will recover from your breakdown - even if it's not going to be as fast as you'd want.

7 Common causes of a mental meltdown

You now know what the signs and symptoms are.

Looking back, then, you can perhaps see when you first started to feel 'not your normal self'.

Maybe you're now aware of how sustained stress decreased your resilience - almost by stealth. Perhaps you knew that you were pushing the limits, but thought you had no choice and that you'd get over it.

Here are the most common contributing factors to a nervous breakdown:

  1. a sudden relationship disaster, such as the disclosure of an affair
  2. separation and divorce
  3. a traumatic event, or perhaps a series of traumas
  4. a drip-drip effect finally taking its toll (not unusual in emergency service personnel and when caring for someone who suffers from a long-term illness)
  5. other work-related stress
  6. not having eaten and slept enough! (Click here⧉ to read what Doris Lessing discovered when trying it out for herself)
  7. domestic violence (See my article on the signs of an abusive relationship)

Sometimes people are completely caught off guard - never having suspected that life could come crashing down so dramatically.

They, perhaps like you, would never have identified themselves as not being able to cope, or being prone to a 'mental breakdown'.

They may have considered themselves strong and able to cope with anything.

(You can learn more about how we put our bodies under stress on my article on adrenal fatigue.)

Praise (received by email)

I have been slowly breaking down for 2 years. A month ago, I had a nervous breakdown. Yup, broken. Slowly doing better.

Your writing is so spot on. Thank you for putting my feelings to understandable language.

- Jen

Having a 'complete' breakdown?

Don't be alarmed if you...

... are terrified of the doorbell
... don't want to open the post anymore
... can't get out of the front door
... can't stand in a queue
... can't even get anywhere near to your place of work
... suddenly have found yourself somewhere, without a clue why you're there or what you were meant to do - and feeling terrified

I know all of the above is scary, but it is all part of this condition.

I promise you, you will get better and do all those things again in time without that terror. But you may need a bit of help to speed up your recovery. See the video below...

Feeling anxious, or are you experiencing full-blown panic attacks?

Are you terrified of doing anything or going anywhere in case you get a panic attack?

We've established that you're likely to constantly feel restless and on edge. But, unfortunately for some people their survival system goes into complete overdrive - they get panic attacks.

Take a look and see how many of the following symptoms you recognise...

10 Signs and symptoms of a panic attack

  1. a pounding, racing heart, chest pain - you may well worry about having a heart attack
  2. difficulty breathing, fearing you're going to choke
  3. feelings of unreality, as if you're not of this world
  4. a sense of detachment from yourself
  5. fear of going crazy, of 'losing your mind'
  6. a terrifying fear of dying
  7. constant worry about being very ill
  8. feeling completely out of control
  9. becoming terrified of getting another panic attack, avoiding anything you think could be a trigger
  10. All this is leaving you feeling jumpy - easily startled and on edge all the time - just in case it should happen again

We really want to calm your fear of further panic attacks as that fear adds yet another layer to your suffering. You can really do without that right now.

If you think you're going to have a heart attack - know that most likely you won't. Neither will you faint as your blood pressure shoots up when you're stressed.

People who faint do so because their blood pressure drops. You're really not falling apart!

7 Common causes of a nervous or mental collapseWhat happened to you?

Shouldn't you see a doctor as soon as possible?

It makes sense to have a check-up from your doctor, mainly to exclude the possibility that you have an underlying medical/physical condition.

The symptoms of a nervous breakdown can be very frightening indeed, but it's very likely you'll recover without needing medical intervention (though psychological help may be needed).

You know now that we, as professionals, understand the symptoms of a breakdown, including panic attacks.

You now also know that you are not 'off your rocker' or 'crazy', and that you're not alone!

I promise you - you can recover.

Please note, if you're also suffering from substance abuse, your treatment plan and road to recovery will need to include overcoming that addiction.

You can find ways to speed up your recovery on my page: How to Get Over a Nervous Breakdown.

A note of warning

The US Food and Drug Administration⧉ has warned that certain behaviours are known to be associated with SSRI’s (a class of antidepressants) including the following symptoms: anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia, irritability, hostility, impulsivity, severe restlessness.

Any one of these symptoms is likely to make your emotional breakdown feel even worse.  So, be sure that you are well-informed before taking this kind of medication.

Instead of taking antidepressant (SSRIs), explore my pages on depression. All that advice on how to overcome depression also applies to getting over a nervous breakdown.

I would just like to say this is a brilliant page /site to understand whatsoever going on."


You will definitely need immediate medical care if...

... you have (suddenly) become completely hyper
- manic - you need immediate help.  You sleep very little, you're over-happy, speak fast, maybe shop more, maybe spend more, lack any judgement, your thoughts are racing - you generally feel on a complete 'high'.  You may also feel extremely anxious.  This may all happen after you have felt depressed for a while.

... you have a history of severe mental health problems
and you feel yourself slipping towards a mental breakdown - do reach out to a professional you feel you can trust.

... you're addicted to illegal or prescribed drugs
And it's best to mention this straight away. I understand if you feel embarrassed about that, but your health and your future happiness are at stake. You're too precious, your particular skills are too valuable to lose - we need you to be involved in this world in a meaningful way

... you are feeling suicidal.

If you're concerned for someone else, then you really need to make sure they get professional help as soon as possible. Take immediate action if you know that person has already planned how and/or when he/she is going to commit suicide.

Why you're not going 'crazy'

As a counsellor, I often see people who are particularly worried about their brain or mind letting them down.

In case you are too, here's a very short video clip that explains how we know that you're not alone in being terribly forgetful, ineffective, disorganised and unable to focus.

Your nervous breakdown symptoms are in fact temporary. Your body/mind’s reaction is entirely normal under these - for you - abnormal circumstances.

From now on, I want you to take really good care of yourself!

How to overcome a mental breakdown

The best thing you can do now is just accept that those signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown won’t disappear overnight.

Stop fighting them. Instead, it's time to look for ways to speed up your recovery.

The next step? Now that you have all the info about what exactly a mental breakdown is, it's time to get motivated and take control of your recovery. You can do it!

My very best wishes for a speedy recovery from that breakdown.


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Part 1, Part 2

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Natural Anxiety Remedies - Panic Miracle
What Causes Fear
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Depression Warning Signs
How to Reduce Stress Tips
Dealing with Toxic Shame
The Best Treatment for Anxiety Symptoms

Other helpful resources

T.R.A.P. - The tranquilliser awareness and recovery place 
BuzzfeedNews - 10 Things to know if you're having a mental health crisis

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