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- What is a Nervous Breakdown?
- Diagnosing a Nervous Breakdown
- What Causes a Nervous Breakdown?
- Help for Nervous Breakdowns
- More Information on Nervous Breakdowns
What is a Nervous Breakdown?
A nervous breakdown can be described as an acute emotional or psychological collapse. The term nervous breakdown is not a medical term, but rather a colloquial term used by the general public to refer to and characterize a wide range of mental illnesses.
It generally occurs when a person is unable to function in social roles anymore, experiencing severe depression or feelings of being out of touch with reality. This often occurs after a long period of stress which has not been adequately dealt with.
This inability to function can occur in both work and personal arenas, resulting in difficulty in fulfilling obligations. It also causes the individual to develop physical, mental and emotional symptoms. A person experiencing symptoms of a nervous breakdown may feel extreme tiredness, weakness, episodes of uncontrollable crying, confusion, disorientation and feelings of worthlessness.
There may also be a loss of self-esteem and confidence, extreme weight loss or weight gain, disrupted sleep patterns and feelings of guilt and despair. In severe cases, an inability to move, called catatonic posturing, may result. This is a serious psychiatric condition and should not be taken lightly.
Other Disorders Associated with a Nervous Breakdown
- Panic disorder
- Panic attacks
- Anxiety disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Acute stress disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Trauma disorders
- Psychotic disorders
- Mood (affective) disorders
- Bipolar disorder
Learning to manage stress and identify the early symptoms of a nervous breakdown such as anxiety, depression and panic disorders can help to prevent its onset. Many people have experienced being on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and it is this feeling of overwhelming helplessness that has forced them to revamp their lifestyles and has offered them the opportunity for growth and enlightenment.
Diagnosing a Nervous Breakdown
Your doctor will perform a physical examination to rule out any other medical conditions, and also ask you what symptoms you are experiencing. A course of medication may be prescribed as well as a referral to a psychologist or psychotherapist.
Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown & Early Warning Signs
There are physical, emotional and behavioral warning signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown. They include:
Physical symptoms of a nervous breakdown
- Sleep disruption - much longer periods of sleep or insomnia
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Breathing problems
- Migraine headaches
- Low libido
- Memory loss
- Disrupted menstrual cycle
- Extreme exhaustion/fatigue
- Feelings of persistent anxiety or panic attacks
- Significant changes in appetite, such as eating too little or too much (comfort eating)
- Visual/eye disturbances
- Agitation and restlessness
- Loss of confidence and self esteem
- Inability to stop crying
- Feelings of guilt, poor judgment
- Disinterest in social life and work or alienation from previously close friends and family
- Inability to pursue a normal life, normal activities or normal relationships
- Increasing dependence on alcohol or drugs
- Paranoid thoughts, such as the thought people are trying to harm you
- Seeing people who are not there
- Thoughts of dying or wish to die
- Thoughts of grandeur or invincibility
- Having flashbacks to a prior traumatic event
- Hearing voices
- Mood swings
- Strange behavior such as odd body movements or undressing in public
- Exhibiting strong or violent anger
In more extreme cases, psychosis can occur where the person will experience complete loss of contact with reality. The symptoms may include hallucinations or visions, feelings of victimization or persecution, strange speech patterns and behaviors as well as extreme guilt or grandiosity.
What Causes a Nervous Breakdown?
There is always a trigger or catalyst that sparks a nervous breakdown. Breakdowns usually stem from a change in a major life event such as a broken relationship, death of a loved one, a demanding job or financial difficulties. Factors that may contribute to a breakdown include:
- Alcohol and drug abuse, particularly cocaine
- Genetics (family history)
- Coexisting medical conditions, such as vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disorders, movement disorders, skin and limb problems, etc.
- Anxiety surrounding major life changes or disorders, such as pregnancy/after birth/labor, menopause, etc.
- Extreme guilt or emotional problems
Help for Nervous Breakdowns
There are many treatment methods and approaches for dealing with nervous breakdowns. Choosing the right one depends on the diagnosis of the individual case, as there is no standard cure. There are ways to prevent a nervous breakdown, conventional treatments, natural remedies, nutritional supplements and many other therapies to choose from.
Available Treatment Options for Nervous Breakdowns
Obviously the best approach is to prevent the breakdown from occurring in the first place. Recognizing the warning signs of a nervous breakdown and reducing and managing stress levels can often produce excellent results and prevent the total collapse usually associated with a nervous breakdown.
Conventional treatments once signs of a nervous breakdown are observed usually consist of anti-depressants or other psychiatric medications. These can have serious side effects as they are high schedule drugs. Prescription drugs alone do not offer a comprehensive treatment for any psychiatric or stress related condition. It is important to seek help in managing the conditions that led up to the breakdown. This is best done by consulting a psychologist.
Herbal and homeopathic remedies have the potential to address many of the symptoms of nervous distress and have the advantage of being safe and effective, without many of the side effects and potential for addiction commonly associated with the psychiatric drugs. By incorporating these remedies into your lifestyle, you are not only being proactive but also improving your physical, mental and emotional health.
Herbal and homeopathic remedies commonly recommended include ingredients such as St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), Passiflora incarnata, Lavender, Valerian and Melissa officinalis. Homeopathic remedies may also be very beneficial in addressing the underlying causes of the psychological distress and are very useful along with psychotherapy.
Signs of a nervous breakdown include stress which often means that the individual becomes deficient in certain vitamins and minerals especially if appetite is also affected. A good multivitamin can be very beneficial and special attention should be paid to taking extra vitamins in the B complex, particularly Vitamin B6 and B12. .
Aromatherapy, yoga, reflexology, Reiki and massage therapy can all be useful adjuncts to treatment and can greatly assist in aiding relaxation and stress management.
More Information on Mental & Emotional Nervous Breakdowns
Prevention & Treatment Tips for Nervous Breakdowns
Taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally is very important, especially with the hectic demands placed on our daily lives. These useful tips include:
- Eating a healthy diet and improving food choices
- Exercising regularly
- Actively seeking professional help for better coping mechanisms or help with emotional issues
- Taking a break from work and going on vacation
- Practicing deep breathing exercises and meditation
- Incorporating fun and laughter into your life
- Allowing more time for a good night's rest
- Limiting alcohol and tobacco intake
- Avoiding drugs
- Learning to relax by taking time for yourself
- Maintaining contact with family and friends
- Treating yourself regularly by playing a round of golf, or spending the day at the spa
Nutrition & Diet Tips for Preventing Nervous Breakdowns
While a holistic lifestyle that ties diet, exercise and natural remedy will give you the best results for supporting mental health and therefore helping prevent nervous breakdowns, the benefits of a healthy diet cannot be emphasized enough the old adage you are what you eat can really hold true, as foods are not only fuel but stress fighters, too!
- Complex carbs boost levels of serotonin, a brain-calming chemical. While all carbs actually boost levels of serotonin, complex carbs are best, which are digested more slowly. Good sources include whole-grain breakfast cereals, breads, and pastas, as well as old-fashioned oatmeal. Complex carbs also stabilize blood sugar levels, helping support mood.
- Avoid simple carbs like candy and soda, as are they are digested quickly, leading to a spike and subsequent crash in serotonin.
- Vitamin C has been studied and shown to reduce levels of stress hormones while strengthening the immune system.
- Magnesium helps regulate cortisol (stress) levels. Spinach, cooked soybeans, tuna and salmon are all high in magnesium.
- Almonds contain vitamin E and a range of B vitamins, which may make the body more resilient during bouts of stress.
- Calcium has been shown to soothe tension, ease anxiety and mood swings.