Nervous Breakdown Symptoms and Treatment

To put it simply, nervous breakdown occurs when a person breaks down under pressure. It is like all the circuits going haywire causing physical, mental and emotional overload. The person suffering from a nervous breakdown finds it difficult to work at a normal level temporarily. Each individual has a threshold limit, under which he/she breakdowns or just ‘snaps’. Even though one may be on the verge of nervous breakdown, it does not necessarily imply, s/he may have a complete nervous breakdown.

What is Nervous Breakdown?
Nervous breakdown is not a medical term. It is not a disease by itself. It is just a figurative expression used by a common person to explain a larger problem. The major depressive episode can have similar symptoms of the characteristics of a breakdown. While DSM-IV (psychiatric classification system) or ICD-10 have terms like a psychiatric break, post-traumatic stress disorder, maniac break, panic attack, etc., the term nervous breakdown is absent from any scientific literature related to mental illnesses.

So, what is a nervous breakdown exactly? It can be called a symptom of a particular psychiatric condition. This condition is seen as an acute emotional or psychological collapse of a person. The individual develops loss of interest in all activities. He/she experiences symptoms such as confusion, disorientation, uncontrollable crying, etc. The person may also lose his self-confidence and self-esteem. In extreme cases, catatonic posturing is seen. In this condition, the person is unable to move. Nervous breakdown is a term that we tend to use loosely in our daily lives. For example, you may hear a student say, ‘I almost had a nervous breakdown the minute I heard I may not be able to get into the school’s basketball team!. This statement implies a state of ‘anxiety’ or ‘sudden panic’ one experiences.

This condition has several symptoms. Some suffer from insomnia and loss of appetite. Breakdown makes the person emotionally-drained. This may lead to anxiety attacks or depression. Affected individuals may sometimes show signs of delirium or amnesia. They may have frequent nightmares. Other symptoms include rapid heartbeat, dizziness, irritability, insomnia, shortness of breath, etc. The person experiences fear and anxiety. These symptoms are covered in the table to give you a better idea:

Physical Symptoms Emotional Symptoms Behavioral Symptoms
Anxiety or panic attacks

Appetite changes that cause one to eat a lot or less

Change in menstrual cycle

Diarrhea /Constipation

Constant exhaustion /fatigue

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Loss of memory or weakened memory power

Low libido

Migraine headaches

Problems with breathing

Problems with vision

Sleep disruption (insomnia or sleeping for long hours)

Alcoholism or drug addiction



Episodes of uncontrollable crying

Feelings of suicide or invincibility

Guilty feelings


Inability to carry out normal functions and maintain relationships

Lack of social life and alienation from friends and family

Loss of decision-making ability

Loss of self-esteem and confidence


Recollection of traumatic event(s) again and again

Agitated behavior

Begins to think life is meaningless


Strange behavior

Extreme mood swings




Talks less or stops talking completely

Tries to harm others or self

Violent anger

Contributing Factors
The main factor that contributes to it is stress. Unlike a panic disorder that can occur suddenly without any specific trigger or causes, nervous breakdown generally occurs due to stress. It is usually caused by the factors that affect an individual’s life dramatically. For example, death of a loved one, loss of job, severe debt, broken relationships, demanding job, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some other factors that contribute to the onset of breakdown include drugs/alcohol abuse and a family history of psychological disorders.

The most difficult part in the treatment is getting the individual to visit the doctor. People who have suffered silently for years find themselves getting better after speaking to psychotherapists. Depression is generally the main symptom of a nervous breakdown. People tend to think the sufferer is either tired or exhausted due to work or some other stress. But, it is very important to recognize the symptoms. The person begins to alienate herself/himself. They will call in sick for days together from work, or start missing their social appointments. They will not be able to carry out their daily tasks like eating properly, or even fail to maintain hygiene. Thus, if you suspect someone you know to be suffering from such symptoms, seek medical help. The treatment involves the use of psychotropic medications, psychotherapy, and counseling. Antidepressants and tranquilizers may also be advised by the doctor. There is no standard cure, but these measures are effective enough in treating majority of the affected people and getting them back on the normal track.

One can prevent a nervous breakdown by recognizing the signs of breakdown and seeking professional psychological help at the earliest. When stress levels increase and mood dips are frequent, it is time to be on a high alert. One may benefit by going on a vacation with family or friends. Practicing meditation and performing other relaxation techniques can certainly prove beneficial. Aromatherapy is also an effective method that can soothe frayed nerves.

Though stress is becoming an inevitable part of life, there are ways to cope with the ups and downs of life. One can overcome stress with the help and support of their loved ones, family, friends, as well as medical help. Do not wait till you reach the point of total breakdown. It is better to take a break once in a while from work and go on a short vacation or pursue a hobby. Try yoga to calm your nerves and eat healthy. There should be more time for laughs to keep stress levels as low as possible.