What Does It Feel Like To Have A Nervous Breakdown?

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 3, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Debra Halseth, LCSW

A nervous breakdown, to say the least, is not something that anyone wants to go through. While it’s not a formal diagnosis, the term “nervous breakdown” is widely used to describe a period of extreme overwhelm that impacts a person’s functioning. A nervous breakdown is like a full system shutdown in many ways. Characterized largely by symptoms affiliated with anxiety and depression, a nervous breakdown often occurs when it all feels like too much. So, what are the signs of a nervous breakdown? What are the causes, and what can you do if it happens to you?

What Causes A Nervous Breakdown?

Do You Feel On The Brink Of A Nervous Breakdown?

Several things can contribute to a nervous breakdown, and it’s often a combination of factors, such as multiple life stressors, at play. Potential causes include:

  • Traumatic events. Examples of traumatic events may include but aren’t limited to natural disasters, the loss of a loved one, abuse*, losing one’s home, and physical health complications or injuries. Traumatic events can put us in a state of shock, leading us to a breakdown-like state.
  • Prolonged stress. A nervous breakdown will not typically occur after one isolated stressful day. Instead, if work stress, financial stress, familial stress, or stress from another source piles on, it can lead to a nervous breakdown.

*Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) if you or someone you know is facing abuse.

Someone may be at higher risk of a nervous breakdown if they live with an existing mental health condition. Life changes, such as a divorce, may also be a cause or contributing factor. Feeling alone or being unable to rest or take time off during stressful life situations makes it more likely that a person will reach this point, as both are affiliated with higher stress levels.

Understanding the symptoms of a nervous breakdown can help you understand what a nervous breakdown might feel like and identify if you or someone you love may need support. These symptoms should not be ignored, and the mind and body must get the rest they require.

The Symptoms Of A Nervous Breakdown

It is important to address the signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown – or what could be the start of one – as soon as you can. Here are some potential signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown:

Trouble Sleeping

Trouble sleeping can take a number of different forms. This might mean poor sleep quality, trouble falling asleep, sleeping too little, or sleeping too much. On its own, this is not necessarily indicative of a nervous breakdown. Trouble sleeping is a possible symptom of a number of different mental and physical health conditions. However, if it’s paired with other symptoms, this could be the case, and regardless, it is something to address with a medical professional, especially if the problem is ongoing.


When we are at our breaking point, it’s very common to feel irritable or agitated. A person undergoing a nervous breakdown may feel irritable or get irritated more easily. Mood changes, whether in the form of mood swings (for example, sadness to agitation) or a low or depressed mood, which may pair with symptoms such as loss of interest in activities, are also very common.

Excessive Worry

Excessive worry is a key symptom of generalized anxiety disorder, and it may also occur during a nervous breakdown. You might experience heart palpitations, racing thoughts, fearful thoughts, or even panic attacks.

Physical Symptoms

The extreme stress or shock to the body and mind affiliated with a nervous breakdown can come with several physical symptoms. These may include but are not limited to body aches, fatigue, GI distress, high blood pressure, and headaches.

Difficulty With Self-Care

Someone experiencing a nervous breakdown might start to have trouble with self-care. For example, someone might have trouble bathing, brushing their teeth, or taking care of their hair. They may also experience difficulty keeping up with their obligations, such as showing up to appointments or remembering what they have to do at work or in their home life.

Becoming Socially Distant

You or someone you know who is facing a nervous breakdown may become distant from the people in their lives. Sometimes, this can pair with irritability. A person might push others away and may seem unlike themselves. It could also be that someone stops replying to text messages, showing up to hangouts or events, and so on.

What If You’re The One Who Needs Help?

If you’re the one who is worried about potentially having a nervous breakdown, recognizing the symptoms is a positive thing. When you recognize the signs that something’s off, it’s the first step toward getting the help you need. Whether the concern is a mental health condition, life stress, or something else, you must get the help you need and take steps toward self-care.

It’s also vital to note that you do not have to reach a breaking point to ask for help. When it comes to preventing a nervous breakdown, the best thing that you can do is to:

  1. Slow down. Permit yourself to take a break. Lighten your load in any way that you can.
  2. Reach out. Tell someone what you’re going through, whether that’s a loved one, a mental health provider, or someone else.

If you’re experiencing a nervous breakdown or think that you might be, contact your doctor. They may be able to refer you to a therapist,  write a note for your workplace, or provide information about other treatment options if applicable. In some cases, a doctor may be able to prescribe medication for your symptoms. Make sure that you consult with your doctor before considering any medication options.

If you are looking for someone to talk to right now or need immediate support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.

Seeking Therapy

Do You Feel On The Brink Of A Nervous Breakdown?

Seeking therapy can help you address a nervous breakdown, recover from a nervous breakdown, and prevent future occurrences. In therapy, you will discover coping skills and ways to care for your mental health as a unique individual. Your provider should take your circumstances into mind.

If there are underlying concerns such as a mental health condition or trauma, a therapist or counselor will be able to help you address these concerns or find someone who can help you confront these concerns as well. If you’re seeking care, you can look for a therapist who practices near you or sign up for a reputable online therapy platform like BetterHelp. The BetterHelp platform makes it fast and easy to start working with a counselor or therapist. To get started, all you have to do is take a quick questionnaire, and you’ll get paired with a licensed provider. If you don’t like the first therapist or counselor you see, BetterHelp makes switching seamless.

Whether you want to talk about personal mental health, relationships, or something else, a licensed professional can help, so don’t hesitate to reach out to a provider in your area or take the first steps towards seeing an online therapist today.

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

What happens when you have a nervous breakdown?
How does someone act when they have a nervous breakdown?
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What triggers a nervous breakdown?
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