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Avoiding a Nervous Breakdown

Updated on October 7, 2015
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A Supplement to "Anatomy of a Nervous Breakdown"

Nervous breakdown? I've been there. If you have, too, you may be sensitive just like me and, therefore, susceptible to reaching that threshold again.

I am happy to share with you some of the coping skills which I have found to be useful in order to avoid that particular pitfall. If you have not yet read my lens titled "Anatomy of a Nervous Breakdown", you may want to do so. It offers insight into causes and symptoms of what we like to call a "nervous breakdown".

Avoiding a nervous breakdown is much better than trying to climb out of one once it has been triggered.

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My Story

If you have read my page called "Anatomy of a Nervous Breakdown", you will know that I have been through it myself. You will know that I had to stop working in order to recover. You will also understand, then, that the suggestions I make here are things that have actually worked for me.

Certainly I have done some research on the subject--after all I have a special interest in it--but, this is not just a gathering of opinions I gleaned from others. It is about my direct experience with having a nervous breakdown and what has helped me to avoid another one...things such as:

~ Knowing my limits

~ Taking time to enjoy the little things

~ Learning to say, "No."

~ Taking time out for myself

~ Having a plan for social activities

~ Recognizing signs of stress and taking action to correct the situation

~ Learning to "lighten up"

and many more...

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Have You Learned to Say "No."?

Do you find it hard to say "No."? Are you constantly taking on new projects just because someone asked you to?

One of the greatest triggers for a nervous breakdown is taking on too much responsibility. Some people do have a hard time saying "No." I was one of those people. I found myself taking on all kinds of responsibility just because someone had asked me to, or because I saw the need myself. But, I learned to change that about myself.

For instance, when my boss, at the time, asked me to take on another project that had been dropped by someone else, I told her I would get back to her. When I did, I sat across from her, planted both feet on the floor, put one hand on my knee, faced her, sat upright and said, "No, I'm sorry, I've looked it over and I cannot take that on right now." I did not give an explanation. I did not waiver. I did not get fired.

When you make time to respond to a request, you can take a realistic look at the situation, review your schedule, your current responsibilities and energy level. You may also want to learn some techniques for feeling and evoking more confidence when speaking with others.

When and How to Say NO - From the Mayo Clinic

Just how important is it to say no sometimes? Here it is from the Mayo Clinic, no less. Click on the link below to see what they have to say about it.

The Value of Spending Time Alone - This is a "must" for me.

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Here is a vintage photo from the archives of Alma College in Michigan. It's a fun photo that shows one way to spend "alone time". I have found that, for me, being able to spend time alone is crucial. If I don't do this, then I become overwhelmed with other's ideas and activities and am not able to focus as well on what is best for me.

Please consider giving yourself the gift of quiet and solitude. Though it may feel odd at first, I'm sure you will find it valuable in maintaining balance in your life.

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Plan for Time With Others, Too

Isolation is not the answer

Relationships are important to us. As a part of the human race, we depend upon each other for survival. By studying people and small groups who have intentionally isolated themselves, we have found that they do not fare very well. They may, in fact, simply die out.

I have learned that I do have a certain threshold for isolation. In other words, if I spend too many consecutive days without any substantial contact with others, I become more depressed. At times in my life when I have lived alone and been vulnerable to this kind of situation, I learned to plan activities with friends to take place on a regular basis before my threshold was reached. It was very helpful to me and a great preventative measure.

By planning ahead, I was able to avoid feeling needy and vulnerable and any depression I was experiencing was greatly reduced. I'm certain, also, that by engaging with others, I was also helping them. Many times my friends would say to me, "Thanks for setting this up. I really needed a break with a friend right now." It was a win/win situation.

Learn Proven Techniques for Stress Reduction - And practice them regularly

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Everything is moving faster and faster. Change is a constant. Turnover of new technology, in particular, is multiplying at a rate which is faster than most of us can grasp. It affects all areas of our lives now. Gone are the days of our grandfathers and grandmothers when the pace of everyday life inherently included lots of physical activity and many opportunities to interact with others and to refresh and renew ourselves.

At the rate we are going, I believe that it is imperative for everyone to learn and to practice stress reduction techniques. We need to learn to unwind. There are many options. Please explore them and find some that work well for you. In every case, prepare yourself to accept that they all will involve pausing and taking a break from what you have been doing.

You will find some quick approaches below.

Ten Quickies to Lighten up Your Day - No, not that kind of on...

Here is an article which offers advice on stress reduction and talks about things you can do in just a few minutes throughout the day.

Do you Catastrophize?

Please Stop :: it's Harmful

Do you imagine the worst possible scenario in every situation? If your friend says something to hurt your feelings, for instance, do you decide that nobody loves you, it will never be the same again, your life is ruined, your friend is the devil ...? This is a bit of an exaggeration, but do you get the point?

Psychologists have taken the word "catastrophe" and are using it as a verb to describe the self-destructive behavior that some people exhibit. It's a great word. It doesn't define an unfortunate situation, a sensitive situation, a temporary situation or even a potentially dangerous situation. It defines a complete and utter falling apart. But, psychologists are using it to describe people's thinking process, not their reality.

When you view every problematic situation in your life as a catastrophe, you leave yourself no options and you are not being realistic. You are hurting yourself by setting up a sure "fight or flight" scenario in your body. Stress hormones are firing like crazy inside of you. It's a perfect way to lead yourself to a nervous breakdown.

Be honest with yourself and consider your tendency to catastrophize. Read about how it can harm you and learn how to stop yourself from doing it. You will be glad you did and so will everyone else around you. Check the next links for more information.

Stop Catastrophizing

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a method of counseling designed to help the client stop destructive patterns of thinking and behaving by, instead, thinking rationally. It has been very helpful to me in the past. CBT can help you to stop destructive thinking patterns like catastrophizing.

Moving Meditation

Tai Chi

While many people find the art of Yoga to be good for stress reduction, I prefer Tai Chi. It requires all your focus, taking your mind off other things, just like Yoga does. Tai Chi is more like dance to me and I find the flowing, repetitive movements to be very meditative and relaxing. It puts my mind at ease and calms my body. When done in a group, it can feel like you are part of a big wave rolling across the earth. A Chinese art, it is often practiced outdoors in large groups. If you want to try Tai Chi, I highly recommend finding a teacher.

This photo is of an outdoor installation by glass artist Dale Chihuly at a show of his work in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2010. It reminds me of people practicing Tai Chi on the lawn.

More Information on Tai Chi - Find yourself a reputable, local teacher

I am by no definition an expert on Tai Chi, however, I studied for 5 years under a master teacher from China. Unfortunately, I did not keep it up, so I have forgotten much of the movement, but the feel of the discipline and the reverence for it's practice is still with me.

Welcomed Help From a Stranger

... during a doomed trip to Mardis Gras

This may look long, but I guess it is a story that I need to tell. It is about an encounter with a stranger who helped me to avoid breaking down completely.

When I was in graduate school many years ago, I drove from Michigan to New Orleans for the Mardi Gras. Oh, yes ... in my little, red Chevy with 3 guys: I had a crush on one, another was blind, and the third was the blind guy's roommate and someone I had never met before. We all had very little money and we were all taking time out of school to go. It was an adventure, but not well planned. I would soon discover that it was a mistake I would wish I had never made.

The entire trip was fraught with difficulties: sleeping on the floor of the university stadium; showering in a large, open facility full of both men and women; getting caught in rowdy crowds and backed up against walls by mounted police; sleeping in tents by the side of the road. None of this bothered the guys. For me, it was absurd and uncomfortable, not to mention potentially dangerous.

Halfway during the return trip, the only other person who was able to drive my car got frustrated with the other 2 and took off hitchhiking. He was the one on whom I had a crush. The two other's in the car who were left with me insisted on hurrying back to be able to pick up an unemployment check. That meant I, alone, would need to drive through the night back to Michigan. It was during a major gas shortage and as my tank got low, I was unable to fill back up with enough to get us home.

The two guys with me were no help whatsoever, so I called the police and they came and picked me up to counsel me, leaving the other two to wonder where I'd gone. They were sympathetic to my situation and kind and arranged for a hotel for us for the night. Thank goodness I had my own room and own shower.

The situation, however, led me to the brink of a breakdown and culminated in me sitting in the lobby bathroom of that hotel somewhere between Louisiana and Michigan and crying uncontrollably.

A stranger found me there and snapped me out of it. She was "to the point". She didn't beat around the bush. She didn't nurture or commiserate with me. She listened to my situation then said in a firm voice, "Do you want to go to the hospital with a nervous breakdown? If not, you had better pull yourself together and do what you need to do to take care of yourself and get back home. Don't cater to anyone else. You take charge."

It was the advice I needed to hear. She had been an angel, of sorts, to me. She saw someone in need, recognized the dynamics and gave me practical, firm advice. If I knew who she was and could thank her again today, I certainly would.

You will have an opportunity at the end of this page to make a general comment, but here I invite you to tell us all about what has worked well for you in avoiding or reducing stress in your life. Thank you for sharing your own experience!

Be Well Dear Friends

I hope this information has been helpful to you. Please use this forum for any feedback you would like to give me about this page. Has it been useful to you? What else would you like to learn about?

Tell Us What Has Worked for You - Do you have some great tips, too?

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      Very useful. Thanks for sharing your experience and ideas.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Good to read about nervous breakdown and its impact.

    • allaneaglesham lm profile image

      allaneaglesham lm 

      5 years ago

      setting boundaries

    • siobhanryan profile image


      5 years ago

      Taking care of my self and walking away from situations that are stressful

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Taking life day by day has helped me a great deal. I try to say - - all that is required of me is that I make it through today. That is what I have been telling myself.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have found following my intuition and catering more to caring for myself (learning what that is), and not as much for others, was difficult and necessary! Exercise, remembering to reward myself, get plenty of sun and fresh air (breaks aren't just for smokers), and ease up on the need to excel at everything. It can be amazing how much trouble a person can stumble into when they stop following their gut, and start listening strictly to "conventional wisdom" (not to be confused with common sense)! It was very costly, painful, and prolonged by agreeing to treatments that were inappropriate, ineffective and very harmful. So I strongly agree that avoiding any nervous breakdown to be essential to continued positive momentum. Awareness, preparedness, grace, gratitude and forgiveness.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      For me, meditation has changed me from stressed and depressed to blissful and joyful! Highly recommend this meditation technique, very easy:

    • GrowthSpark profile image


      6 years ago

      I've learned that compassion is very important. And it starts with self-compassion, which is one of the hardest things to do in my experience.

    • GrowthSpark profile image


      6 years ago

      I've learned that compassion is very important. And it starts with self-compassion, which is one of the hardest things to do in my experience.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Featured this lens on mine Great job. Also squidliked.


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