How Stress Can Lead To Emotional Breakdowns And What You Can Do To Avoid It

Updated October 7, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Stress alone isn’t a problem. It’s something that we all have in our life at times. But without proper stress management strategies, it can grow into a much larger problem. If you feel like stress has been building in your life, and it feels like it’s becoming more than you can handle, you may find yourself having an emotional breakdown.

The term nervous breakdown used to be used more frequently to describe mental health challenges. However, “nervous breakdown” is not a diagnosable mental health disorder. Therefore, it is not included in the DSM-5, which is what mental health professionals refer to when diagnosing.

Basically, a nervous breakdown is when the stress in someone’s life, either due to chronic stress or a stressful situation, has become too much for them to handle. It interferes with their ability to live their daily life. This can cause them to shut down from doing their normal activities, such as going to work. And it can cause them to withdraw from social interaction with others.

What Is An Emotional Breakdown?

You may have heard people referring to a time in their life when they experienced a nervous or emotional breakdown. While the term may still be common in some circles, an emotional breakdown is not a recognized disorder, but rather is indicative of something deeper going on, such as persistent stress. It is also not a medical term used by professionals, though in the past it was. Still, it’s possible for someone to contribute signs of stress to having an “emotional breakdown.”

Managing Stress Can Help You Live A Healthy, Peaceful Life

Below are some signs that stress may be significantly impacting your life:

  • You feel like you can’t function normally
  • Symptoms of anxiety or depression regularly impact you
  • You’re calling into work sick more frequently
  • You’re missing school
  • Insomnia is keeping you up at night
  • You’re neglecting friendships and avoiding social interaction
  • Digestive issues or other physical symptoms are causing you distress
  • Your eating habits are unhealthy or have shifted from your normal patterns

Everyone experiences stress differently. While one person might find themselves lying awake all night because of insomnia, another might be oversleeping as a way to escape their thoughts and feelings. A mental health professional can help you figure out for sure whether what you’re going through is a result of stress or something else, and how to work through it.

Causes Of An Emotional Breakdown

If you feel like you’re experiencing an “emotional breakdown” as a result of stress, there could be a specific cause behind it. Sometimes these are small issues that build up over time. Other times they are big events that knock you off your feet. Some possible causes of excessive stress are:

  • A major life event, like moving to a new city or getting a new job
  • Anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition
  • Lack of sleep
  • Experiencing financial issues
  • Addiction
  • A toxic work environment
  • Overwhelming responsibilities
  • Getting into a relationship or getting married
  • Going through a breakup or divorce
  • Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or emotional)
  • Grief
  • Trauma
  • Isolation
  • Chronic health conditions
  • And more

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, reach out right away to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance.

The reality is that almost anything can cause a person to feel stressed and everyone experiences stress to a certain degree in their life.One’s tolerance for stress might also differ from others. This doesn’t mean one person is weaker or less capable of coping, just that they may need to use different strategies to move past the stressors in their life.

If you feel like you’re going to have an “emotional breakdown,” it’s a sign that you’re under too much stress, and may need healthy outlets to help relieve it.When stress continues to build in your life, and you don’t have a way to relieve it, it can start to build up and feel overwhelming. When people have a healthy way to handle stress, even when they face difficult circumstances, they’re able to work through the stress and difficult times more successfully. Sometimes, however, it can be hard to deal with significant stress even with healthy coping mechanisms already in place. In such instances, reaching out for outside help can be beneficial.

If you don’t reach out for help or find healthy ways to cope, you may find yourself allowing the stress to continue to build, pretending like it doesn’t exist, or turning to unhealthy habits to cope with it. This can include things like drugs and alcohol, binge eating, sleeping too much or too little, and withdrawing from loved ones and activities that you enjoy. Your mental health is worth taking care of.

Symptoms Of Stress To Watch Out For

The symptoms of a nervous breakdown aren’t clear-cut because it is not a diagnosable health condition.However, people who are struggling with stress to the point of feeling like they’re going to have an emotional breakdown may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Insomnia or sleep trouble
  • Paranoia
  • Hopelessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Unusual mood swings
  • Tension or pain in the body
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Lack of self-care in regard to things like eating and sleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed

People who are struggling with feeling like they may have a nervous breakdown may also be experiencing some the symptoms that go along with anxiety and depression.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of a nervous breakdown, it can be incredibly helpful to seek out help from loved ones and/or licensed mental health practitioners. There are many different forms of treatment and strategies that you can use in your life to overcome this feeling of emotional overwhelm and stress.

Treatment Options

There are several different types of treatment that you can use to address stress and anxiety in your life to stop it from growing into a potentially bigger problem.

Talk To Your Doctor

The first thing that you may want to consider if you begin to experience symptoms like those listed above is that there could be an underlying health condition responsible for it. This is why it can be a good idea to talk to your doctor as your first step in seeking treatment. A doctor can talk with you about the symptoms that you’re experiencing in your life to see if any tests need to be done to rule out any health conditions.

Some health conditions can cause similar symptoms as mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression, so ruling out any physical health conditions can help you know if stress is the cause of what you’re going through.


If you’re dealing with a lot of anxiety in your life, you may be struggling with a mental health challenge. Your doctor or a psychiatrist may find that it’s in your best interest to try taking medication to address your symptoms.  While medication might not be the best solution for everyone, and it may be just a temporary solution, it can be the exact treatment that some people need to gain a bit of an edge with taking steps toward deeper and more long-term solutions.

Anxiety and the symptoms that come with it can make it difficult for you to address the challenges that you’re facing in life. Taking medication to help relieve the symptoms can be just the thing you need. If your doctor prescribes you medication for your stress and anxiety, it doesn’t mean that you’ll need to be on it long term. You can talk with your doctor about options for how long you’ll need to take it and how to ease yourself off of using it when you’re ready. Always consult with a medical professional before deciding to start any new medication as they each can come with potential side effects or could interact with any other medications you may be taking.


You may benefit from speaking with a qualified mental health professional about the challenges you’re facing in life. Sometimes an outsider’s perspective and an unbiased opinion is what we need to help make changes to our habits. Whether you have already identified the source of your stress or are still searching for the root cause, a therapist can help you sort it out.

Knowing when to see a therapist can be difficult at times. Since we all go through stress, how do you know when it’s time to reach out for help? If you find that you’re neglecting important tasks, have difficulty functioning normally from day-to-day, or cannot process your feelings, it may be time to see a mental health professional. Once you’re connected with one, they can help equip you with tools for managing your stress and regulating your emotions. They will also help you with problem-solving so that you can eliminate the source of your stress, if possible. Some stress can be good for you, but when it gets overwhelming or out of control, that’s when you know it’s time to involve the help of an expert.

You may choose to meet with a therapist online or in person, whichever works best for you. More than likely, your therapist will come up with a treatment plan to address the issues you’re experiencing. You may go to sessions multiple times a week, once a week, monthly, or however often is recommended. Everyone’s journey will be different. The important thing is that you’re getting help.

Stress Management Strategies

Separate from the formal types of treatment like medication and therapy, there are many stress management techniques and strategies that you can use in your life to overcome anxiety and stress.You may find that you need to use a trial-and-error approach to discover which strategies are most effective in your life. A combination of the treatments above and the tips and strategies below may be what you need to relieve stress. Different people respond to treatments in different ways. So, you must continue working to find what combination of treatments will be the best fit for you. If your efforts seem to be in vain, and you still feel stressed, continue trying different options and ask a mental health professional for help to address it.Sometimes, these things take  a bit of trial-and-error, but it’s worth it once you find the strategies that work best for you and help you get back to feeling like yourself.

Practice Self-Care

In addition to seeking treatment options like those explained above, it can be important to practice good self-care habits in your life. You may find that when stress starts to build in your life, you avoid doing things that could help you feel better.

For example, you may find that when you’re overwhelmed in life that you struggle to eat because you don’t feel hungry, you stay up too late trying to get control of things in your life, and you may pull away from spending time with friends because you’re just too tired and drained. Doing this can cause you to experience even more problems in your life. You may find that it becomes harder to manage stress, emotions, and anxiety.

Practicing good self-care means that you continue to take care of yourself even when you’re feeling overwhelmed. You make sure that you eat each day and get the rest that you need at night. You spend time with friends and do things that you enjoy. Other examples of self-care include:

  • Journaling
  • Listening to music or playing an instrument
  • Doing artwork
  • Eating a proper diet
  • Exercising
  • Hanging out with friends and family
  • Doing yoga
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Meditating
  • Getting out into nature
  • Cooking or baking
  • Doing things that you enjoy and that help you feel whole

You may feel like you don’t have time for these things when you’re overwhelmed with stress, but these types of things are the things that can help you to have the energy you need to overcome the stress.

If you’re experiencing a lot of stress in your life, don’t ignore it. Look for ways that you can better manage the stressful situations in your life. If you feel like the struggle is becoming too much for you to handle, you can reach out for help from a mental health professional.

Develop Healthy Habits

Perhaps the best way to reduce stress in your life is to have healthy habits. This includes things like:

  • Eating regular, nutritious meals
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting on a good sleep schedule
  • Connecting with friends and family regularly
  • Getting enough sunlight
  • Limiting time spent on social media

Many of us would prefer to do everything they can to prevent stress rather than have to figure out ways to cope with overwhelming emotions caused by mismanaged stress. While having healthy habits will not guarantee that you will never experience stress in your life, it can certainly help. Make sure to set aside time for yourself and don’t put your needs on the backburner. Learning how to manage stress effectively can take time, but it’ll pay off in the end.

Make Time For Hobbies

Managing Stress Can Help You Live A Healthy, Peaceful Life

Making time for activities you enjoy doing is vital to keeping stress at bay. You don’t have to dedicate hours to these hobbies; even 20-30 minutes spent on them each day can be helpful. Pick something that is somehow relaxing to you. Some examples of relaxing activities you might consider picking up include:

  • Doing puzzles or brain games
  • Coloring, painting, or other arts and crafts
  • Listening to music
  • Working out or exercising
  • Playing board games
  • Knitting
  • Scrapbooking
  • Writing
  • Biking
  • Reading
  • Journaling
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Playing a sport
  • Gardening
  • Baking or cooking

Having a hobby that you can turn to in times of distress can be helpful for managing your emotions. Hobbies can also be healthier ways to cope as compared to other riskier behaviors that could result from stress. These might include things like addiction or substance use, which can be harmful to yourself and possibly even other people. Try switching up your hobbies if you find yourself getting bored. There are an endless number of options for you to pick from.


You may feel like you’re having an emotional breakdown, but it is most likely a side effect of overwhelming stress. Whatever you choose to call it, stress can be very difficult to handle. Everyone experiences it from time to time for different reasons, but it can quickly get out of hand if ignored or pushed to the side. The best thing you can do is confront stress head on and practice plenty of prevention techniques. Prevention is always better than having to figure out how to reduce stress once it has already taken hold in your life.

Sometimes you’ll be able to identify the source of your distress on your own and know which steps to take to eliminate it or healthily cope with it and work through it. Other times, you may need the help of a mental health professional to guide and support you. Although none of us can fully escape the feeling of stress, we can all find our own unique ways of coping with it.

Therapy With BetterHelp

Many different forms of therapy can help you in dealing with the stress and anxiety in your life. A licensed therapist, like those at BetterHelp, can help you work through the major causes of your stress and help you come up with solutions for addressing them. Talking about your problems can make a world of difference. BetterHelp is an online platform that lets you connect with your therapist through your phone, laptop, or tablet. It makes getting care easy and , and it is often more affordable than traditional in-person therapy, too.

Even if you don’t initially know where your stress is coming from, your therapist can help you figure it out. They can also help you uncover past trauma and teach you new strategies for managing and coping with the stress in your life. 

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