Anatomy of a Nervous Breakdown
What is a "Nervous Breakdown"?
"Nervous Breakdown" is a term which is no longer used by the medical community, but it is a great way to describe how it FEELS. I know because I've been there. Your doctor may refer to it as "situational depression" or "anxiety disorder". Others may call it "burn-out".
Whatever label you use, a breakdown is not something to take lightly. It does not mean that someone just needs a little break to rest. It is a serious situation. Here are some of my own insights into recognizing when you or someone you know is heading down that road, and suggestions for how to get back on the healthy one. You will definitely want to avoid a breakdown, but if you do find yourself there, take heart, you can come back. Read on!
The drawing you see here is one I created as I thought about what those who read this may most need to hear. All art work and photos included here are my own. Please respect.
For those of you who are reading this and can identify, know you are not alone.
Defining Nervous Breakdown - ...in my own words...
My Own Definition of Nervous Breakdown
After having been through it myself, here is my definition of a "nervous breakdown":
"A seemingly sudden loss of ability to cope with everyday life. A sense of complete collapse of inner strength and drive. This is usually preceded by months of unrelenting, unmonitored stress in more than one area of one's life and results in the inability to regain strength and composure with the normal few hours or days of rest. Recovery usually requires removal from the stressful event or situation, long-term rest, counseling in coping abilities and, possibly, medication."
About The Term "Nervous Breakdown"
- A New York Times Article
This article about the term "Nervous Breakdown" contains very interesting background information on the origin of the term and controversy among psychologists on it's use.
A Workbook to Help You
A nervous breakdown is a reaction to too much trauma. This workbook, designed to assist the reader in their journey toward recovery after trauma, has received high reviews including the following: “For those who believe that they will never feel ‘normal’ after a traumatic event, this workbook provides many techniques that survivors can use to jump-start their recovery…an extremely important tool for growth and strength.”
—James D. Baxendale, PhD, CTS
It's a useful and informative tool to use over a period of time even if you just are beginning to feel the burden of stress on your system.
Another's Definition of Nervous Breakdown - From a Non-profit Agency Called "Helpguide"
Here is another definition of nervous breakdown, or as they call it here, "burnout". I feel it is a very accurate description of what can lead you down that road.
"Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Eventually, you may feel like you have nothing more to give."
The Website For "Helpguide"
- Preventing Burnout: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Coping Strategies
This is an excellent and comprehensive website on emotional breakdowns, including links to several other informative articles, as well. It will help you understand the signs, symptoms, stages, and prevention of stress and burnout.
How it Feels to Me - Overwhelmed by Life
What to Watch for in Terms of Symptoms - From My Personal Experience
Pay attention and watch out for signs. Everything I list below happened to me. They are some of the things you may also experience as you near a "crash", so to speak. Maybe it can help you to recognize your own signs and stop it in its tracks before it goes too far. Try to catch it early!
Remember, when you are in the middle of it, you don't necessarily recognize it for what it is. If people start asking you what is wrong or saying you just don't seem like your usual self, pay attention.
Here's How I Felt
- Difficulty focusing on things.
- When shifting from one thing to another, getting disoriented and forgetting what you are doing.
- Feeling angry and irritable much of the time.
- No longer wanting to go out for those get-togethers with co-workers. Spending more time by yourself.
- Being frequently late for work. Finding yourself behind and stressing yourself out further by hurrying.
- You may stop finding joy in anything. Oh, you may still laugh at times, but, somehow nothing at all really interests you.
- Trouble with sleep: getting to sleep, staying asleep and difficulty getting up in the morning.
- Being frequently sick and having headaches.
- Finally, a version of what happened to me may happen to you: One day you may go to work and feel extremely depressed. You may not be able to pull yourself out of it. You might feel panicky and become almost non-functional and try to find a "safe" place. You may not be able to stop crying. At this point you could be placed on an 2 to 8-week medical leave. You may crash so suddenly that it takes you by surprise. Don't you want to avoid this?
When you get to the point where all you can do is curl up into a ball and hope everything goes away, it's definitely time to get some help. However, you will be much better off (trust me) if you take care of yourself before it gets that far.
Do You Really Want This?
Or, How About This!?
What Can Cause a Breakdown? - My Personal Experience
When you are on the way to a breakdown, you tend to not to recognize it. Because you are so immersed in the experience, you are not necessarily thinking rationally, but, because it can develop over years, you do have time to catch it if you pause and pay attention. To show you how it can build up, here is a composite summary of my experience.
No one thing on its own would have been too much for me, but the glass can get too full too quickly and stay that way for too long. What is stressful for me might not necessarily be so for you. Think about how things are accumulating for you and change the things that can be changed.
What Lead Up To My Breakdown
- MAJOR MOVE: I moved from the Northwest to the Northeast--making a change from a very friendly, laid-back community to an intense and fast-paced one. I hadn't anticipated the impact this change would have on me. Investigate these sorts of changes before you make them, be realistic about your expectations and have a plan to help yourself through the shift.
- LOSS OF JOB: I think this is one of the more difficult things for us all to deal with. It is such a major part of our perceived identity. So many of us go through it and, yet, we feel lost and alone. Its best to get back up on your feet as quickly as you can. Stay active.
- CHANGE IN LIVING SITUATION: After living alone for many years out west, when I moved east I married and moved into a home with extended family. I did not realize how hard it would be and did not prepare myself for the change. Know your limits.
- STRESSFUL WORK ENVIRONMENT: Not only was my career itself inherently stressful, but the specific situation was, as well. I did not have the autonomy I was used to in previous jobs. In addition, I had a long drive. I tried, perhaps too hard, to be good, to please. The lesson here is to take care of yourself first and don't put up with a situation that is not working well for you.
- NO OPPORTUNITY FOR A BREAK: I spent long hours during holidays at work and was not able to take breaks when I needed them. It would have been a good idea to get myself out of such a stressful work environment or, at least, insist on much-needed breaks.
- DEATH OF A CLOSE RELATIVE: I spent 5 days and nights with my father by his bedside while he lay in a coma. I tried to do too much on my own. I felt honored to be there for him and thought I would have a very spiritual response to his death, but I was a mess. The lesson here was: don't try to do it all alone. Accept help.
- LACK OF SUPPORT FROM THE PERSON CLOSEST TO ME: Believe me, this alone could break anyone.
- NO LET-UP: Of course, there were other stressors in there as well, some big, some small, but it was really the constant presence of stress that did me in, as well as the feeling of lack of control at work. My body was constantly pushing out stress hormones and did not have time to fully recover. Finally, my system just shut down.
Feeling Out of Balance? - Warning: this might make you feel dizzy...
...but isn't it how you feel sometimes? The message here is to keep yourself balanced for smooth sailing. When you start to feel the scales tip, stop and even things out again. You will be glad you did.
How to Know if You Are Heading for a Breakdown - Checklists & Questionnaires from Experts
Sometimes these brief questionnaires can give some insight into our mindset. Try these and see if they help you to shed a bit of light on your situation.
Some Simple Tests to Take
- Stress Test & Stress Management from Psychologist World
This test asks focuses on how you've been feeling lately and will give you a measure of your stress levels in a different way. Take both for a good measure your stress levels.
- Test Your Stress - Based on Recent Life Experiences
Complete this simple and time-tested questionnaire to measure the stress in your life. You may have seen this before. It is an easy, interactive stress quiz addressing recents events in your life.
Most reviewers loved this book and only a few found it to be too focused on the writer's personal experiences. If you find a "new age" approach helpful, this would probably be a very good book for you.
Anxiety: a Major Component of "Falling Apart"
Anxiety is a major part of breaking down or falling apart. Some people have a natural tendency to frequently feel anxious. Others may develop a problem with anxiety after experiencing something traumatic. Anxiety Disorder is a recognized diagnosis among general practitioners and those in the mental health field. This recent article about anxiety, which can be found at CNN.com, is fairly comprehensive and easy to understand.
Surviving the Anxiety That Comes With a Nervous Breakdown
- 10 Things We Learned About Surviving Anxiety from CNN.com
This article is titled, "10 Things We Learned About Surviving Anxiety". Here are some of the topics, so you can decide if you want to click here and read it: military families, physical symptoms, medication, barriers to seeking help and more.
Pause - Breathe
Take time to pause periodically, settle in, calm your mind and body. Ask yourself what you can let go of. Tell yourself, "Everything is going to be OK."
The Dangers of Chronic Stress & The Connection to Breakdown
It seems that one of the key factors--and maybe even THE key factor--that will trigger a breakdown is on-going, chronic stress. Read on for new research on the effects of chronic stress.
- Chronic stress may increase anxiety - WebMD
A new study shows that chronic stress may increase anxiety. This article, on WebMD, about a new study on the effects of chronic stress, offers proof that long-term, chronic stress creates more anxiety and does more damage than short-term stress. Yep!
- HowStuffWorks "Endocrinologist Stafford Lightman: Chronic Stress Can Significantly Damage H
Reading this made me really think twice about allowing stressful situations to affect me. Learn how chronic stress can significantly damage health at Discovery Health, where endocrinologist Dr. Stafford Lightman talks about how bad it can be.
You May be Under More Stress Than Your Boss - Aired on the BBC July of 2011
Here is a link to an excellent radio program from the BBC on stress. It not only reports the findings of new research, but shares ways in which we can help ourselves. Here is a quote from the introduction:
"Bosses at work may be under pressure - but does the stress drive them to an early grave? The Whitehall Study has followed UK Civil Servants for more than four decades, showing that other workers are more at risk. Professor Sir Michael Marmot from University College London found that those in lower-status jobs - who have less control over any pressures, were dying younger."
- BBC - BBC World Service Programmes - Health Check, 13/07/2011
"Stress: why are some people better at coping with life's ups and downs than others?"
Sometimes It's the Little Things... - ...That bring us the most Joy
Pay attention to the little things. Keep your eyes and mind open to what's around you and find wonder in the smallest of things. Let it become a habit by noticing something new every day. You must balance out all the little negative things with lots of little positive things. It can really help your state of mind and increase your creativity, too.
Stress at Work
So much of our lives are spent in work-mode. If the work you do on a daily basis is stressful for you, then a huge chunk of your life may be leading you toward a personal crisis. The articles in the links below will help you to take a look at this, helping you recognize and cope with the challenges of workplace stress.
"Stress in the workplace can impact health and happiness. Learn how to manage stress in the workplace...", Discovery Health."
- Dysfunctional Organizations: Dysfunctional Leadership = Dysfunctional Management | Dysfunctional Wor
This article can help you determine if your work environment is dysfunctional and a source of some or all of your stress."The Politics of Failure: Symptoms of Dysfunctional Organizations and Dysfunctional Leadership."
- HowStuffWorks: Stress In the Workplace
This is a good article from Discovery Health about what makes a job too stressful. My favorite line is "...too much responsibility and too little authority...", because I think that is a huge source of stress for many people on the job.
How to Help Yourself - My Personal Experience
Here is a list of what has worked for me.
- Know yourself: your limits, your particular stressors, what you can handle and can't. Don't fool yourself. (Sometimes, though, we learn the hard way, don't we?)
- Find a healthy outlet for stress. Exercise is a very good one. Get yourself out there in the world. See friends. Go for a walk. Even if you don't want to. Force yourself.
- Take time every day to create some calm in your life. Meditate. Try Yoga.
- Be familiar with your childhood fears. When irrational fears come creeping into your mind, talk to them as an adult with a rational response. Write it down.
- If you can keep a short diary every day,it will help you to see, on paper, what is causing you the most stress and how long it has been going on - shedding a little light of reality on the situation.
- When you find that a certain situation is causing you constant, unrelenting stress,find a way to get out of the situationor to minimize it somehow.
- If you need help, get it. Its not worth holding out and thinking you can do it all by yourself. If the kind of help you are getting or the person who is helping you is not right for you, find someone else. Don't give up. Don't let money be an obstacle. Try local medical clinics, social service organizations, support groups, churches.....
- If friends and family offer you help, take it.That is what we are here for - to help each other through this life.
- It takes time to recover, but you WILL recover. You may need to sleep A LOT. Get yourself out in the world as much as you can. Be patient and gentle with yourself.
- Consider helping other people. Studies show that this increases your own sense of well-being. Even if it is as simple as holding the door for someone and smiling, it's a good start.
Take Care of Yourself - Just like this butterfly drawing nectar from the flower...
...feed yourself, nuture yourself.
Love This Book!
This book changed the way I view myself. It gave me hope and helped me to better understand the way I operate.This book is probably the SINGLE MOST HELPFUL BOOK I have found. If you would describe yourself as being intuitive, aware and sensitive to everything around you, this book is a goldmine of helpful, insightful information! An A+! Check it out. Even if you aren't usually a "sensitive" person, this book will be helpful to you if you are trying to avoid a breakdown, because, as you near a breakdown, you are ultra-sensitive.
The Highly Sensitive Person - One of My Favorite Books (see above)
Here is a link to the author's website. Check it out.
Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, created this website to help you understand more about her studies. She includes a self test list where you can see if you fit in to this group which makes up 15 to 20% of the population.
The Rule of Three - From the Marines: Functioning Effectively Under Stress
The US Marine Corps bases it's operations on what is called the "rule of three". They have learned that in order to function effectively in stressful situations, each person should focus on no more than 3 things. This discipline is something that may work for you if you are overwhelmed, under stress and trying to avoid an emotional breakdown.
If you are interested in military strategy, which is the main focus of the article, you may wish to read the entire piece.
- Corps Values, Leading Your Company Article | Inc.com
This article in Inc. magazine, titled "Corp Values", talks about using ideas from the Marine Corp to improve businesses. One of the principles discussed is the Rule of Three.
Help From Cognitive Behavior Therapy - It's all about how you look at things.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy was extremely helpful to me in my recovery. It helps you to think of things in a different, more realistic way. The Mayo Clinic describes it this way:
"By helping you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking, cognitive behavioral therapy allows you to view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way......It can be a very effective tool to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations."
Here is some more information on it.
You May Feel All Alone - Just Like This Mussel Shell Washed Up Onto a Big Rock
You may FEEL alone, but you aren't and you don't have to feel that way. Notice others who are having a similar problem. Pay attention to those who want to help. Acknowledge your connection to everyone and everything.
How Others Can Misunderstand a Breakdown
Recently, I was able to, first hand, hear the painful reality of how many people view a nervous breakdown. In hushed tones, a conversation ensued near me about an acquaintance of mine. The gist of it was that he's OK as long as he takes his pills and if he's a little off, well, he must not have taken his medication that day. This is all because he had "some kind of breakdown". The implication was that he's not normal and there was a sense of mystery and judgement about what was "wrong" with him.
The very telling piece of this is that, as much as I wanted to, I could not bring myself to defend him. I was too concerned about being labeled in the same way.
There is Hope - Don't Give Up!
Take care of yourself, get help, see the beauty in little things.
I believe we are all pieces of a larger puzzle; that we are each a part of the whole brilliant pattern. I look at the sky at night and see the stars spread out. It doesn't make me feel small. I feel large. I am in awe at my ability to see these stars, to sense my body in its place and I feel a part of everything. This has helped me. Perhaps that thought can help you too.
Help Yourself Think Differently
- It Matters How You Think
"There are effective ways to think about things, and ineffective ways. Using the ineffective ways (bad thinking habits) gets us into all kinds of mental and emotional turmoil." Jaktraks, fellow Hubber
What is your personal experience with burnout or nervous breakdown?
Have you experienced what might be called a nervous breakdown?
Are You Feeling Suicidal? - Stop & get immediate help!
If you are feeling like you want to just leave this world rather than continue to try and cope, please follow these links and get help immediately.
Call Now if You Are Despondent
National suicide prevention lifeline: Suicide hotline, 24/7 free and confidential, 132 crisis centers nationwide 1-800-273-TALK.
- Suicide.org: Suicide Prevention, Suicide Awareness, Suicide Support
A message from Suicide.org: "If you or someone you know is in immediate danger because of thoughts of suicide, please call 911 now. If you are not in the US, please call your local emergency number. There is help for you. Stay on the phone."
Nature as Healer
Nature can be very calming and healing. Try finding places or images of nature that give you a sense of peace. It's a healthy way to help yourself relax and recover. These lovely and colorful little flowers are called Gomphrena. They were grown by my best friend from high school and her husband. Long-time friends are a wonderful gift, too!
Here the author offers a practical and ordered approach to avoiding burnout, particularly in the workplace.
Look for Beauty in the Shadows
Even in the darkest of times there is beauty. Seek it out. I took this photo on a cold and rainy winter night in the parking lot of a large mall. Standing under the trees along the edge of the lot and looking up at their branches to see them bathed in light from the security lamps against the black sky was surprisingly beautiful.
Disability Insurance - Just in Case...
If the company you work for offers disabilty insurance, TAKE IT. If not, read this advice on finding some for yourself. Get help before you go over the edge. Believe me, it will be worth it. Time and money lost will be greater than you think if you don't nip it in the bud. And, having protection like disability insurance can be a huge help if you should get to the point where you need to take a leave from work.
- MetLife – Insurance, Benefits, Retirement- Get a Quote Today
A good summary and recommendations from Met Life on what to look for in disabilty insurance.
Try Relaxing With Sound
A relaxation CD based on studies of the brain.
Reducing Stress: Get a Pet - Research shows that animals help us to reduce stress.
- Furry Friends Can Aid Your Health
Stress reduction through pets---Click the link above and learn how furry friends like dogs and cats can add to your well-being.
I listened to Carlos Nakai in a small group setting several years ago and had a spontaneous and profound experience where I felt deep love for everyone and saw how we are all connected.
A "Feel-Good" Memory
...and how it helps me
The Northern Lights: have you ever seen them? Aren't they amazing?
I have viewed the Northern Lights, or Aurora-borealis, several times, all in upper Michigan. My favorite time was on Mackinac Island in Michigan where I watched a night sky full of white airy lights flowing and dancing above--not just at the horizon like they usually are, but filling the night sky. I was with a friend on the boardwalk along the lake and we were so mesmerized that we laid down on the walkway and watched for hours. That is my go-to, feel-good memory when I need to think of something pleasant. Find your own memory or image to take you on a sort of mini-break in your mind.
The Northern Lights in Motion - presented by National Geographic
Well-Known People Who Have Had a "Nervous Breakdown"
- Charlie Chaplin
- Walt Disney
- William James
- Annie Lennox
- Abraham Lincoln
- Sir Isaac Newton
- Sylvia Plath
- David Selznik
- Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky
- Brian Wilson
- Virginia Woolf
Quotes About Nervous Breakdowns
"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."
~ Bertrand Russell
"It's unthinkable not to love - you'd have a severe nervous breakdown."
~ Lawrence Durrell
"A baseball game is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings."
~ Earl Wilson
"Failed in business at age 31. Defeated for the legislature at 32. Again failed in business at 34. Sweetheart died at 35. Had a nervous breakdown at 36. Defeated in election at 38. Defeated for Congress at 43. Defeated for Congress at 46. Defeated for Congress at 48. Defeated for Senate at 55. Defeated for Vice President at 56. Defeated for Senate at 58. Elected President at age 60. This man was Abraham Lincoln."
HIGHLY reviewed by everyone who has commented. From Amazon's description: "Richard K. Biggs examines twenty delicate contrasts we all face and urges readers to gradually improve the balance between work and the other aspects of life. Filled with examples and exercises, each brief chapter reveals timeless truths, offers practical application tips, and issues a call to action."
Have Faith in the Future - Never give up
Being Hospitalized - Sometimes you need extra help
Sometimes people are so debilitated from a stressful situation that they need more help than can be given while remaining in their own home. Choosing to be hospitalized for a nervous breakdown is a responsible thing to do. I have gotten to that point myself.
If all you can seem to handle is lying in bed, or if you feel you no longer know what to do and want to give up, going to the emergency room of a hospital may be the best thing to do. The hospital you choose may be able to admit you there, or they may evaluate and transfer you to another facility. Here is one of the very best.
- McLean Hospital, just outside of Boston
McLean Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, is consistently ranked as one of the nation's best hospitals for mental health care and research, and maintains the largest research program of any private psychiatric hospital.
You are not alone.
If you are going through this kind of experience yourself, you are not alone and you are not weak. It is a human experience.
After the storm of it all is over, you will know yourself at a deeper level. This is good. You will know your limits. You will know when to let go of something that is not in your best interest. Decide to use this experience to strengthen yourself, not to live in fear of what "may happen" in the future, but rejoicing in yourself, your strengths and your newfound knowledge of who you are in the world of choice.
Your Job Now - Reality Check
If you are heading for a breakdown or already there, your only "job" now should be taking care of yourself. And, I mean taking care of yourself in a healthy way. No indulging in sugars, alcohol or whatever else you think might make you feel better. Your job is to get yourself functional and healthy again. No fibbing to yourself, no justifying. Get help, if you need it, but take GOOD care of yourself. It's up to you!
Great Book! - The Happiness Project
I have been reading this book bit by bit and want to share it with you all. It is very helpful for people who want to create a more balanced and happy life for themselves. It is written by a woman who decided to dedicate a year's worth of time to gradually make seemingly small changes in her life in order to more completely enjoy her family, her friends and her work and her self. Ultimately, those small changes ended up making a big difference. Check it out and consider following along with her and try these changes yourself.
You Are Not Alone
I hope this has been helpful to you. Please feel free to add your comments. Keep scrolling down to find the comments section, or "Reader Feedback".