Symptoms of a Mental Breakdown

Unfortunately, a mental breakdown is a typical part of life at times. Last month we talked about mental breakdowns a little bit in this related post.

To recap, a mental breakdown (aka a nervous breakdown) is when an individual experiences an abrupt episode of anxiety, depression and extreme emotions. It can be a combination of any/all of those.

The mental breakdown can seem like it comes out of nowhere, but there are usually several underlying causes.

As is typical with mental health issues, a mental breakdown can have many symptoms, causes, triggers and treatments. Here is a closer look at what that entails.

Symptoms of Mental Breakdowns

Extreme Emotions

When you’re experiencing a mental breakdown you will feel totally out of control of your mood/emotions.

You may start laughing hysterically then burst out crying. You may just not be able to stop crying. Irritation is often seen as well.

When you’re experiencing a mental breakdown, your brain is trying to cope with the distress you’re experiencing.

It may seem like you’re losing your mind but really, it’s just your mind trying to find an outlet. Let your emotions out and commit to deep relaxation after.


Depression symptoms are common when experiencing a mental breakdown. Since you’ll feel like everything is spiraling out of control around you, hopelessness, lack of interest and self harm (or thoughts of self harm) are typical.

While mental breakdowns are not usually an ongoing occurrence, the depression you experience during your mental breakdown may last days.

mental breakdown

Depression can be a symptom of mental health just as it may be a gateway issue. If you develop depression, chances are, you may eventually experience a mental breakdown if it is not properly treated.

Being paranoid

While experiencing your mental breakdown, you’ll be aware that you’re not yourself. It’s important to take the time you need to be home and rest. Try talking to a loved one or speak to a therapist about your experiences.

When you’re feeling out of control, it’s only natural to think that people may be able to recognize that on the outside.

Some people are so paranoid that they believe that people are judging them or talking about them behind their back.

While it’s true that a mental breakdown can be a scary event, you do not need to be embarrassed or afraid that people may be judging you. Focus on what you need to be doing in order to get better.

It’s okay to not be okay at times.

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Neglecting Personal Hygiene

Neglecting your personal hygiene is a symptom of depression. It is commonly seen with those experiencing a mental breakdown as well.

When you’re at a place where you feel like your world is falling apart, functioning as usual will seem impossible.

This will include your desire to be social or go to work. Even just showering and getting ready for the day will seem like a taxing task.

mental breakdown

If you have to go to work, you may notice that you put a lot less effort into your appearance. This is typical when you’re about to experience a mental breakdown or going through one.


Rest and sleep are key for a healthy state of mind. Unfortunately, when you’re experiencing a mental breakdown, you may find yourself unable to sleep.

Obviously, this contributes to other symptoms you’ll experience so figuring out a way to make sure you get the best sleep you can is important.

In some cases, the use of prescription medication has been useful for those suffering with insomnia. Talk to your doctor about what your options may be.

Panic attacks

When you experience a fast and intense feeling of anxiety or fear you may be having a panic attack.

This is a common symptom when having a mental breakdown. A panic attack can be triggered by an external factor, or an internal one that you may or may not be aware of.

Usually, feelings of extreme stress will trigger a panic attack when having a mental breakdown but there are other factors it could be as well. It all depends on the individual’s experiences, triggers and how intense their breakdown is.

mental breakdown

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Substance Abuse

When someone does not not know how to cope with a mental breakdown they may turn to drugs and/or alcohol to ease the pain.

While this may seem to help temporarily, the depressive characteristics of drugs/alcohol will make the mental breakdown worse over all. A healthy state of mind starts with a healthy mind (physically).

Healthy balances of chemicals can only be achieved if you are not inhibited by substances such as drugs and alcohol. 

Physical Illness

Headaches, nausea and dizziness are just a few of the physical illness symptoms you may experience during a mental breakdown.

You may also experience extreme fatigue and be unable to deal with everyday tasks because of it. 

As you can see, there are several symptoms that one may experience during a mental breakdown. If you are able, take a couple days off and practice self care.

mental breakdown

Rest, exercise, eat good food avoid drugs/alcohol and do activities that you enjoy. It’s important to not put yourself down for needing to take a break as well.

If you force yourself to continue on when you should be taking care of yourself, it could lead to more serious mental health issues down the road.

Causes of Mental Breakdowns

While many causes are unknown due to the unique nature of mental breakdowns per the individual’s circumstances, there are a few common causes to keep in mind.


If you have a pre-existing condition and need medication, it’s important to understand how the medication is affecting your mind.

There have been reports of people who have been prescribed medications such as opioids and amphetamines that developed symptoms such as depression and anxiety which eventually lead to them having a mental breakdown.

If you must be on medication, make sure you understand the potential side effects and do everything you can to avoid them.

A healthy diet and exercise routine can help with this and even eliminate the need for medication altogether. Talk to your doctor to see what the best option is for you and your lifestyle.


If you’re experiencing a mental breakdown and have experienced a traumatic event in the past, that could be the cause.

It is known that external factors such as sounds, certain smells, time of year or certain people may trigger PTSD. Internal factors may trigger it as well.

mental breakdown

When you have internal triggers that aren’t as obvious, it may be harder to pinpoint. Internal triggers could be the way something makes you feel such as guilt, shame or neglect.

As is usual with any symptom, there could be any combination and level of severity with PTSD symptoms. Working on understanding your unique case of PTSD can help you avoid triggers and know how to positively deal with them if they arise.

Extreme stress

Juggling work, family, appointments, and other personal responsibilities is no joke. While many of us are used to the non-stop routine, taking too much on while simultaneously experiencing too much stress can be a common cause of experiencing a mental breakdown.

Triggering Factors/Events

Here are several factors that could potentially be triggering with those suffering with any level of PTSD.

Family Issues

If your home life is stressful or you’ve had a recent loss or traumatic event, this may be a contributing factor to your mental breakdown.

While typical stress within a family (like demanding schedules and other obligations) is hard to deal with at times, this is usually not the cause of a mental breakdown – although in some cases it can be.

Usually, the type of family issues that can be triggered are the loss of a loved one or a rough divorce.

When a family goes through a big change like either of these, it can bring up negative thoughts or feelings that can lead to an enormous amount of stress.

This is especially true when people do not know how to effectively communicate during situations like these. Having the right resources in place can help you cope through events like this and avoid mental breakdowns in the future.

Financial struggles

“Money problems” are some of the most stressful issues that adults have to deal with. If you’re experiencing financial hardship and not doing anything to help yourself, the stress that comes with that can be crushing.

Having a plan of any kind can help reduce a little stress. Working with a financial planner will help get you on the right track and eliminate stress as well.

It can be a hard cycle to break out of but make smart financial decisions that help you in the long run instead of giving in to the instant and temporary satisfaction of poor decisions.

Traumatic personal experiences

Similar to family issues, traumatic personal experience can trigger a mental breakdown as well.

The loss of a job, isolation, abuse or an accident are just a few experiences that have been known to contribute to experiencing a mental breakdown.

Talking to a certified counselor can not only help you cope with the trauma, but you will also learn new skills to continually improve your mental health.

Work overload

We’ve all experienced what it’s like to have a lot on our plates at work. However, if being overloaded with work all the time is normal for you, you may experience a mental breakdown at some point.

If you feel like there’s never a “light at the end of the tunnel” when it comes to your work, you’ll lose motivation and stress will start to take over. Balance is key!

Lack of Sleep

As I briefly mentioned earlier, getting enough sleep is crucial for maintaining mental health and avoiding a breakdown.

If you’re continually not getting enough sleep, you will eventually start to feel the effects of that. Depression is a common result of not getting enough sleep as well as potentially having a mental breakdown.

Make a point to go to bed at a time that will allow you to get enough sleep – regularly.

Treatments and Ways to Avoid a Mental Breakdown

Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Caffeine is a stimulant that is known to help with focus and feeling more alert, however, if you’re prone to anxiety and/or depression, it can also induce those.

Alcohol is a “downer” drug. If you’re already in poor mental health, alcohol will make your state of mind even more unstable.


The key to avoiding a mental breakdown is deep relaxation. If you’re able to get massages regularly, this could help you avoid increased levels of stress that lead to a mental breakdown.

Not only this, but getting massages regularly can help you avoid related symptoms such as insomnia and depression.


Learning to slow down your mind and get control of your thoughts through meditation is an amazing tool for managing stress. It’s free, relaxing and takes only a few minutes a day (when practiced daily) to see results!

Stress Management Therapy

As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, there are two forms of therapy that have been proven useful for a variety of mental health issues. 

The first form of recommended therapy is Psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy is one of the top treatments with any personality disorder, not just OCPD.

Psychotherapy is known as “talk therapy” and the oldest form at that. This is used for a variety of disorders and emotional support. Psychotherapy is great for working through the daily struggles that individuals with OCPD face.

Working with a professional therapist in psychotherapy will help control the disorder’s symptoms and give the patient a better quality of life.

Depending on the severity of the individual’s disorder, psychotherapy can be a short process or can last for years.

According to research and this article the majority of people in psychotherapy typically see helpful results. The professional skills and knowledge a therapist has can help rewrite destructive patterns of behavior.

This will lead to better outcomes in every area of the patient’s life such as relationships, their job, and even their relationship with themselves

The second form of recommended therapy is Cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is also a form of psychotherapy (“talk therapy”), although its focus is slightly different. CBT specifically targets eliminating negative thought patterns.

This focus may be an appropriate treatment if someone has self-esteem issues that affect a variety of areas in their life. If you think about it, what we think about ourselves shapes who we become.

If you have negative subconscious thoughts/beliefs about yourself and see them as facts, you’ll base important areas in your life around that.

By working with someone to eliminate negative thoughts/beliefs, you open a door to endless possibilities for yourself.

There are also a variety of other personality disorders that benefit from CBT. You can see how starting with yourself and then working to external factors is essential for laying the groundwork for success.

mental breakdown

Understanding the warning signs of a mental breakdown and taking proactive measures to avoid it can have amazing effects on your quality of life.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but picking a few helpful activities to practice regularly can significantly reduce your chances of developing a mental breakdown.

As previously mentioned, here is my discount link to sign up for online therapy (plus the “extras” toolbox) at 20% off! GET HELP ONLINE 20% OFF

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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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