Symptoms of an Emotional Breakdown

Emotional breakdown symptoms are often very noticeable. Often the individual experiencing the emotional breakdown will usually be unable to control themselves very well as they are on complete emotional overload.

Below are several common symptoms, causes and common myths regarding emotional breakdowns.

Emotional Breakdown Symptoms

Many people show signs of an emotional breakdown before the breakdown happens. Everyone could experience a different combination of these symptoms.

Previous circumstances and triggers are what decide the symptoms in each individual case.

Referencing our article on What is an Emotional Breakdown, here are several common symptoms of an emotional breakdown.

Extreme Feelings of Sadness

Obviously it’s normal to be sad at times. A loved one passes away, someone is hurtful toward you, or maybe something else happened that makes you feel sad.

This is a healthy emotion to have when the time is appropriate.

However, someone suffering from an emotional breakdown will be extremely sad for seemingly no reason or they will appear to be overreacting to something somewhat minor by being extremely sad.

In my own experience, I’ve had times where my emotional health was very poor to the point where I started telling myself lies and blowing emotional things out of proportion.

I’ve experienced an emotional downward spiral of feelings of extreme sadness and in the moment it feels legitimate. During those times, you will rationalize the sad thing(s) you’re fixated on.

They seem undeniable and that false realization of that magnifies the sadness you’re experiencing.

emotional breakdown symptoms

Excessive Crying

This symptom may or may not go along with the last extreme sadness depending on your personality.

While crying is a great outlet for emotional pain, someone about to experience or who is experiencing an emotional breakdown may be unable to stop crying for a substantial period of time.

There does not have to be a reason for it either. Sometimes your emotional health is in such a poor state that you may feel the urge to just cry for what seems like no reason at all.

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Feeling Lost/Hopeless

Feeling lost and/or hopeless during this time is also a common symptom. This is due to exhaustion and the fact that you have probably been living in a cycle of poor emotional health for a while.

Feelings of hopelessness could be directed toward external circumstances that may not seem that bad otherwise.

When you’re experiencing this extreme sense of hopelessness, everything will seem extremely difficult.

You may slip into depression and have to work toward overcoming that as well.

Feelings of Shame

When someone is feeling an emotional toll before or during a breakdown, they will feel out of control and obviously more emotionally sensitive.

Some people may even experience feeling shameful for their emotional state. They will seem extremely self conscious and apologetic about their behavior.

Since what they’re experiencing is so strong, they will feel like their negative behavior is obvious. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

When someone is constantly apologizing for their actions or reactions, they may be close to an emotional breakdown. They will want to try to act “normal” and will apologize for their emotional state.

Unusual Physical Reactions

There are a couple of physical symptoms that have been known to be seen with those experiencing an emotional breakdown. 


You’ve likely heard of people experiencing hallucinations when they’re too stressed out? This is nearly the same thing.

When someone is experiencing an emotional breakdown, their body is trying to cope with the amount of emotional overload they’re dealing with.

In order to try to manage the distress, you might start to see things that aren’t really there. When you’re emotionally drained you’re experiencing some form of fatigue. It is not uncommon to have mild to severe hallucinations at this point.

Feelings of Suffocation

It has also been known for those suffering through an emotional breakdown to feel like they can’t catch their breath.

Feeling like you are unable to breathe or are suffocating is, unfortunately, another common symptom of having an emotional breakdown.

Feelings of Blame

This symptom is similar to feeling shameful as people in a poor emotional state will feel the need to overcompensate.

They may blame themselves for various things that are not their fault. They may even start to think that they deserve to feel the way they do for whatever reason

Self Harm

Even more alarming, some people resort to various methods of self-harm when they’re going through an emotional breakdown.

Typical forms of self harm in this case could be hitting or cutting oneself and substance abuse. Usually this is an extreme case.

If someone is going through an emotional breakdown and cannot cope, their last resort for a sense of control may be self-harm.

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Feelings of Unworthiness

When someone reaches the point of an emotional breakdown, they may experience false narratives in their mind that make them believe they deserve what is happening.

They may rationalize exaggerated scenarios and start to feel like they are unworthy of comfort, emotional peace or even just having or experiencing good things in general.

Distraction and Lack of Motivation

Similar to depression, when someone is experiencing an emotional breakdown, they will often lose interest in most activities. Lack of interest and engagement at work will occur.

They may blow off social plans and opt to stay home more frequently. Eventually, it will be hard to force themselves to do anything at all.

Usually at this point, something will shift. Either they will start taking care of their emotional and physical needs or they will slip into depression and even worse emotional health.

Causes of an Emotional Breakdown

Outlined in this earlier article, many of the causes are just as common with an emotional breakdown as they are with mental breakdowns.

Typically, it is a series of events that causes someone to slip into such poor emotional health that they eventually experience a breakdown.

However, an emotional breakdown can occur after one single traumatic event as well. It is not always a slow build-up over months or years.

Financial Problems 

Financial struggles are some of the most anxiety-inducing and emotionally difficult things to deal with. Having financial struggles can be so distressing that it has been known to cause people to act in extreme ways.

It can tear families apart or even cause someone to commit murder. If you’ve been dealing with financial difficulties for a while, you might think you’re used to it and it doesn’t bother you.

However, humans have an amazing ability to block things out that continually bother us as a coping mechanism.

If you’re continuously dealing with something as stressful as financial struggles, you could easily find yourself slipping into an emotional breakdown.

You could find yourself being really “touchy” and every little thing might bother you. This is a sure sign of poor emotional health and if not addressed, it could progress into an emotional breakdown.

Getting Divorced

Whether getting a divorce is a positive or negative experience for you, getting a divorce can be a very emotional experience.

If the divorce was a good decision and you’re happy with it overall, you’re still left with dealing with the loss of the broken relationship.

At one point in time you made that commitment with hopes of spending your lives together happily. No matter how you slice it, it’s a loss.

A loss of what could have been. Or perhaps you love your ex’s family and now there is a huge divide which causes you to lose them.

If the divorce was not your decision and you’re devastated about it, then the emotional toll is much more obvious.

A broken heart speaks for itself and the emotional experience from something so abrupt will absolutely come at a cost.

Getting Married

Not all joyous occasions are free of negative emotional effects. While getting married is amazing, it can also trigger feelings of things coming to an end.

If you lost a significant loved one you may be overwhelmed with feelings of loss while wishing they were there to celebrate with you.

Maybe you’re moving far away with your new spouse to pursue a new job opportunity.

There are so many reasons why an amazing celebration such as marriage seems bittersweet and leads to emotional distress.

Moving Homes

As exciting as a move can be, it can also be stressful and emotionally draining. If you’re moving away from family and friends, getting used to your new lifestyle can be very hard to deal with.

emotional breakdown symptoms

Even if it seems like you found a good coping mechanism, eventually feelings of extreme loneliness can creep in.

It’s important to do everything you can to have a healthy transition. Don’t overwork yourself during the move and make a plan to stay in touch with loved ones.

Having a plan to visit can help, although it may take time for that to settle in as additional travel might not always be something people are able to fit into their schedules.

Utilize modern technology and keep in touch via video calls, social media, and text. This can be a great way to feel connected with the smallest daily situations.

Losing a Loved One

Obviously this is a hard thing to deal with for anyone. The repercussions of the loss of a loved one can leave more of an impact than initial grief.

When people experience losing someone, whether they were already under stress and experiencing other struggles or not, they could be pushed over the edge into an emotional breakdown.

Everyone experiences grief differently. For some, it will be too much to handle in a healthy way while others may experience an emotional break and need more support and time to recover.

It’s not easy for anyone, but the pre-existing state of your mental health can certainly impact how severe your experience with grief can be.

Common Myths about Emotional Breakdowns

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for someone struggling with an emotional breakdown to be judged by others. People often won’t stop and think about the reasons why someone might be acting a certain way.

When someone is experiencing an emotional breakdown, they will be extremely uncomfortable and distressed. They might act out or seem rude.

While it’s important to control yourself, those struggling emotionally will have an extremely hard time doing so. Here are a few common myths about what it’s like to be experiencing an emotional breakdown.

Showing your emotions means you’re weak

Not only is this myth not true, but in order to open up to people you need to be incredibly brave.

When people say that showing your emotions is a sign of weakness and that people should keep that to themselves, they’re discouraging a healthy expression of what someone might be experiencing.

Not only is it healthy to open up to someone (I wouldn’t advise posting it on social media for everyone and their mother to criticize) but by doing so, you can work through situations better than you may have been able to  if you kept it to yourself.

It’s extremely important to find a small handful of people that you feel comfortable sharing your emotions with.

By doing this, you’ll be able to recover from poor emotional health faster, and maintain good emotional health better as well!

Plus, who wants to deal with the horrible feeling of bottling things up for no reason – not me!

Others are responsible for making you feel a certain way

That’s right! Other people are not responsible for how you feel in any given situation.

This can sound like good or bad news depending on how you look at it. The amazing thing about this is that you have the power and ability to control how people “make you feel”.

emotional breakdown symptoms

People don’t go around forcing feelings on you. They simply live their lives and their actions mean something to you which causes whatever feeling you get as a result.

By breaking down WHY you make certain actions mean whatever they do to you, you can get a better understanding of your own emotions.

You can then work on rewriting those feelings if you’re not happy with them. Depending on how intense the feeling is (extreme sadness/guilt/shame) and the relationship with the people who “make you feel what you do”, you may need to sort out your thought process with them.

Especially if it’s a loved one who is being intentionally hurtful.

Sure you can try to separate your own feelings from their hurtful actions but you also don’t have to subject yourself to that kind of treatment.

Talk to them, explain that you’re no longer going to make their treatment mean something bad and set boundaries with them.

By doing this, you’re taking their power in that situation away. All you have to do is refuse responsibility for however they’re trying to make you feel. You’re not obligated to feel a certain way just because they act a certain way.

Negative emotions are bad

Emotions are neither good nor bad. Experiencing negative emotions is part of our human experiences. Just because you feel guilt or shame does not mean that something bad is happening.

Those emotions are there to help you improve behavior or avoid dangerous situations.

If you’re not going out of your way to make poor decisions or hurt people, you can think of those kinds of negative emotions as valuable tools that help you navigate life.

There are several other myths around emotions but these are the most common ones that I hear typically discussed.

If you’d like to check out a few more, here is an interesting article I found on Forbes’ website. It’s “The 8 Myths about Emotions that are Holding Us Back”. This information can be used in everyday situations, not just in relation to an emotional breakdown – Enjoy!

I hope this article helped you gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be experiencing an emotional breakdown!

It can be helpful to have a “name to the face” of a problem when you’re experiencing something like this for the first time.

If you find yourself experiencing a mental breakdown, remember to try to not beat yourself up about it.

Check out this previous article on “What is an Emotional Breakdown” for more information and tips on how to achieve good emotional health.

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Hi, I'm Marissa! I'm passionate about mental and emotional health and want to share what I've learned over the years with others! I've seen first hand how mental health struggles can cause serious issues within relationships, work life, daily productivity, self-worth and more! I truly believe that we owe it to ourselves to bring more awareness to these life changing topics. Start your mental/emotional health journey by learning more today!

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