Terms like ‘mental breakdown’, ‘nervous breakdown’ and ‘emotional breakdown’ are not clinical terms, and like ‘sanity’, they are used only to generally refer to a state of mind. These terms are mainly used to describe a feeling of exhaustion due to daily demands made on an individual.
Emotional or nervous breakdown may refer to a number of things. It may mean anything – a panic attack, the manic phase of bipolar disorder, a psychotic episode or a feeling of being emotionally extended and exhausted by continuous hassles. It may also refer to bottled up stress that is ultimately released.
The medical term that is used to describe this condition is ‘emotional exhaustion’ or ‘burnout’. Emotional exhaustion is detailed as a state of physical and emotional enfeeblement marked by a set of insensitive behaviors and negative self-assessment. It is normally referred to in relation to emotional depletion caused at the workplace.
The degree of emotional exhaustion that one experiences depends directly on an individual’s personal resources, coping skills and the culture one belongs to. Personal resources like status, finances and social support play an important role. People tend to defend and retain their social support and status, money and autonomy, and must spend resources to protect them. Depletion of these resources tends to affect emotional wellness. Individuals with higher resources and high levels of autonomy are better protected from experiencing emotional exhaustion.
Your ability to cope with life situations also determines the degree and frequency of emotional ‘breakdown.’ People who meet situations head on and do not hesitate to seek help from others tend to enjoy better emotional health than those who use the escapist route or keep feelings bottled up.
Different cultures also have an impact on your emotional health. People belonging to cultures that promote self-restraint in expression of emotion tend to experience a higher degree of emotional exhaustion. Impulsive expression of emotions works as a buffer against stress and exhaustion, and people belonging to the cultures that encourage such behavior are less susceptible to emotional distress.
Besides these, the environment in which one works, personal issues and mental illnesses can also lead to burnout. Emotional exhaustion can also lead to a plethora of physiological and psychological illnesses. Your emotional wellness is within your control. It involves learning how to be objective and approach life situations calmly with a positive attitude. Medical intervention is required only in cases of serious mental illnesses like clinical depression, bipolar disorder and excessive anxiety.