Nervous Breakdown Symptoms, Treatment, And Support

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated March 31, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Aaron Dutil , LMHC, LPC

Sometimes, stress can hit you so hard, you wonder about the state of your mental health. You might even ask yourself, “Am I having a nervous breakdown?” And that thought might be very frightening. But how can you know if your feelings are anything to be concerned about? One way is to learn about the symptoms of anxiety. Then, if you still think you might be having a nervous breakdown, you can get treatment and support to get past it.

What Is A Nervous Breakdown?

Nervous breakdown” is a term that people who aren’t mental health professionals describe as a sharp decline in mental health. To a psychiatrist or psychologist, a nervous breakdown is often a sign of an underlying mental illness. It could be the first sign of anxiety or possibly a mood disorder.

A nervous breakdown is a mental health condition that seems to start very suddenly, although the issues that contribute to it could have been going on for years. It is usually a very intense but short-term condition. It comes with extreme feelings of distress and a sense of being overwhelmed.

You can’t function as you usually do when this happens. Nervous breakdowns often occur when you’re under a great deal of stress and aren’t coping well with it. While a nervous breakdown isn’t a term clinical professionals would use with each other or as a diagnosis, they are familiar with this popular lay term. Many people find it a helpful way to describe this type of sudden mental health decline.

Symptoms Of Nervous Breakdown

Because a nervous breakdown may be related to many different mental conditions, it might not surprise you that there is a long list of symptoms associated with it. Here are some things you might notice if you or a loved one is having a nervous breakdown.

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Being unable to carry on daily activities
  • Missing appointments and work
  • Trouble concentrating, making decisions, and completing tasks
  • Isolating from others
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Poor hygiene
  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Unexplained pain
  • Getting sick frequently
  • Racing thoughts
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive crying

Losing Touch With Reality

Sometimes people who have a nervous breakdown experience a break from reality. They have psychotic symptoms, which only means that the signs show you are out of touch with what is real. Having these symptoms may mean that you have a severe mental illness that is suddenly coming to the forefront. However, many people have these symptoms only for a brief time, and then the psychosis goes away permanently after the breakdown is over. The following are some signs that indicate when someone has lost touch with reality.

Feelings Of Detachment

If you have feelings of detachment, you might imagine that you aren’t really yourself or aren’t a part of what’s going on around you. The connections you usually have with other people seem distant during your breakdown.


Having hallucinations means seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there. Mental illness can bring sights and sounds that seem to come from outside you, but they are really being generated from within your mind. Sometimes, people having a breakdown experience sights and sounds that are common in the real world but are out of place or different in some way. Other times, people see or hear things that are bizarre to them.


Delusions are false beliefs that you hold too firmly despite evidence to the contrary. People with mental illness can have any of a variety of types of delusions, such as:

  • That someone famous is in love with you
  • Overinflated self-image, believing that you have superhuman powers, knowledge, or talents.
  • That you are a historical or current famous person or religious icon


Paranoia is a special type of delusion in which you have false beliefs that someone is trying to hurt you in some way. You might think your romantic partner is cheating on you, for instance. Or, you might believe the people at your job are persecuting you in evil ways. People with paranoid thoughts usually organize these beliefs in a complicated, systematic way.

What Causes Nervous Breakdowns?

Because nervous breakdown is an acute mental illness that needs prompt attention, the clinical professionals who provide treatment for you might need to take care of your immediate needs for safety right away. But very soon after treatment starts, they’ll need to find an answer to what caused it in your case. The two leading causes of a nervous breakdown are related to coping with extreme stress and mental disorders.

Stress And Inability To Cope

Stress can wreak havoc on your body and mind. Sometimes, breakdowns happen after years of living in an extremely stressful situation. Other times, you might be facing an overwhelming crisis that occurs suddenly. In either case, your body’s normal stress reaction gives way to a more intense reaction that results in a breakdown.

But it does not just have stress in your life that’s behind the mental illness. It also has to do with your inability to cope with stress. Perhaps you’ve never learned how to manage stress in healthy ways. Or, maybe the current crisis is much more challenging than any you’ve ever faced before, so you have no experience to fall back on.

Nervous Breakdowns And Anxiety Disorders

Often, breakdowns are related to anxiety disorders. If this is the case, you might have noticed anxious feelings and physical anxiety symptoms for some time before the breakdown happens. Even though you might not have considered getting treatment, the breakdown might make you realize that you can’t wait to get help any longer.

Sometimes, the major stress might be a traumatic event, and the underlying disorder might be PTSD. Acute PTSD symptoms can happen after traumatic events, such as being in military combat, being assaulted, or living through a natural disaster. Another anxiety disorder that might be at the root of a breakdown is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). If you have GAD, it might be hard for you to immediately find the source of your anxiety, because the symptoms can often seem to come out of nowhere.

Nervous Breakdown Treatments

Getting help immediately is essential if you think you’re having a nervous breakdown. Whether you need intense treatment or weekly one-on-one counseling, it’s vital to get started with treatment as soon as possible. There are several different types of treatment available.

Inpatient Treatment

If you’re having psychotic symptoms or your mental illness symptoms are endangering your life or the lives of others, you need to go to an ER or an inpatient mental unit immediately.

So, what happens in an inpatient psychiatric hospital? First of all, they protect you from yourself and help you deal with your symptoms as they’re happening. They’re always there, day and night, to be sure you’re safe.

After diagnosis, you might need to take medications, at least for a while. Also, you might participate in counseling, group therapy, or stress management classes during the day. This may continue as long as you are in inpatient care and possibly if you are in outpatient care as well. The goal is to help you get through the mental breakdown and regain your mental health or even improve it beyond what it was before the breakdown.


The types of medication your psychiatrist might prescribe depends on the breakdown symptoms you’re having. Also, if your doctor diagnoses you with an underlying mental illness, they might prescribe you medications designed to help with that disorder. Sometimes you might need to take anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, or sleep medications.


You can start by talking to a therapist, who can refer you elsewhere if you need more intensive mental health interventions. A counselor can help you in the hospital or during outpatient sessions. Therapy can take place in a clinic or counselor’s office, or you can get private treatment online at BetterHelp. Counseling through virtual meetings can help you learn to deal with the stress disorder causing your symptoms. Online therapy is convenient because you can participate in it from wherever you are, at a time that’s best for you.

So, what happens in therapy? Therapy for the traumatic stress associated with breakdowns can involve many different approaches and techniques. Some of the main goals of counseling for you might be to:

  • Express feelings
  • Understand yourself better
  • Learn to deal with stress more effectively.
  • Change thoughts that increase stress.
  • Choose new behaviors that are conducive to better mental health.
  • Make practical plans for getting back to your usual life.

Group Therapy

Many people who have breakdowns go to group therapy, sometimes in the hospital and sometimes in an outpatient setting. Group therapy has several benefits. It might give you opportunities to:

  • Practice communication skills
  • Express your feelings
  • Talk about and get insight into the breakdown and what preceded it.
  • Learn to deal with criticism from others

Stress Management Classes

Because breakdowns are related to stress, stress management classes can be beneficial. They prepare you to get back to your everyday life with the tools to deal with any stress that comes up along the way. These classes can help you learn how to reduce demands on you, find resources for managing stressors, and develop coping skills.


Mental breakdowns can happen to just about anyone if they’re faced with a high degree of stress and don’t have the coping ability to manage that stress. If you’re worried that you might be having or about to have a breakdown, consider the list of symptoms and see if they apply to you. Then, if you decide it’s time to seek treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out to whatever mental health professional you choose. Getting past the intense experience of a breakdown comes first. Then, you can move forward to deal with any stress disorders or other mental health problems so you can function better and live a more peaceful life.

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