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

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Stephanie Deaver, LCSW

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.

How Stress Can Lead To A Nervous Breakdown


Everyone experiences stress to a certain degree in their life. However, not everyone experiences it to the point of feeling like they’re going to have a mental breakdown. If you’re feeling like this, it’s a good sign that you’re under too much stress, and you don’t have a healthy way to manage it in your life right now.

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. This can include stress for work, family situations, health concerns, financial trouble, and any other situation that is difficult to handle. When people have a healthy way to handle stress, even when they face these situations, they’re able to work through them successfully.

But if you don’t, 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, and withdrawing from loved ones and activities that you enjoy.

Other Causes Of A Nervous Breakdown

You may feel like you’re on the verge of an emotional breakdown due to specific situations in your life. Here are a few examples:

  • Grief
  • Trauma
  • Abuse
  • Isolation
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Family history of anxiety

Learning how to recognize stress in your life and what strategies you can use to cope with it healthily can be a crucial step in learning how to avoid having a nervous breakdown.

Symptoms Of Stress To Watch Out For

The symptoms of a nervous breakdown aren’t as clear-cut as diagnosable health conditions. Because it is not technically a mental health disorder, there is no set list of symptoms that are used to describe it.

However, people that 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
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Tension or pain in the body
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Lack of self-care in regards to things like eating and sleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities

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

If you are experiencing the symptoms of a nervous breakdown, you must seek the help that you need. Even though you may feel like the situation is hopeless, it’s not. 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 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 in your life 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 to you about the symptoms that you’re experiencing in your life to see if any tests need to be done to rule out any other 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 for some people, it can be the exact treatment that some people need to get started.

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 to find the motivation, energy, and focus on working on using another stress management technique. 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.


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 see what you can do to address them.

This can be very helpful even if you don’t initially know where your stress is coming from. Your therapist can help you discover what the triggers are in your life that you’re struggling with. This can include things like past trauma.

They can also help you learn important coping strategies to learn how to manage your stress effectively. This can be the exact thing that you need to avoid having an emotional breakdown.

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. And, you may find that a combination of the treatments above and the tips and strategies below are what you need to relieve stress and avoid a nervous breakdown. 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 in your life. If the first thing that you try doesn’t work, and you still continue to feel stressed at a high level, continue trying different options, and asking a mental health professional for help to address it.

Self-Care To Avoid An Emotional Breakdown


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 begin to avoid doing things that could help you to feel a little 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 pull away from spending time with friends because you’re just too tired. 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 overwhelmed. You make sure that you eat each day and get the rest that you need at night. You spend time with friends or doing things that you enjoy. 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 and not give in.

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. And, if you feel like the struggle is becoming too much for you to handle, reach out for help from a mental health professional. It can be just the step that you need to take to avoid a nervous breakdown.

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