Signs of A Nervous Breakdown

Katelyn Hagerty

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Updated 08/13/2022

You’ve probably heard people talk about having a nervous breakdown. Or perhaps you’ve seen a movie that depicted a really intense scene where a character has one and wonder if that’s what really occurs during a mental health crisis. 

A mental breakdown can look different from person to person, but there are some psychological and physical symptoms that tend to occur.

If you feel like you may be experiencing common signs of a nervous breakdown, you should speak with a mental health professional. Until then, read on to learn more about what may cause this mental health condition and what to do if you’re having one.

What Causes a Nervous Breakdown?

The phrase “nervous breakdown” is not a medical term or technical mental health disorder. Instead, it’s a term sometimes used to describe a mental health crisis

Though, because it has a negative connotation and is not an official term, it’s unlikely that a mental health professional will use the term. 

Simply put, having a mental breakdown means that you are dealing with emotionally stressful events and having difficulty coping in a way that is affecting your everyday life. 

There are many things that can lead to a nervous breakdown. And because everyone handles stress differently, a stressful situation that may cause a mental health issue for one person, may not for another.

Examples of things that could trigger an emotional breakdown include:

  • Lack of quality sleep 

  • Intense stress from work or elsewhere

  • Traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one or a job loss — these things could lead to post-traumatic stress disorder

  • Family or relationship problems

  • Chronic medical issues

These aren’t the only things that can cause mental distress that leads to an emotional breakdown. 

You should also know that you may be more sensitive to extreme stress if you have a personal or family history of anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder. 

If you have an underlying condition like a medical diagnosis or existing psychiatric disorder (for example, bipolar disorder, acute stress disorder, depressive disorder or another mood disorder), you may also be more prone to the kind of overwhelming stress that leads to a nervous breakdown. 

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Common Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown

If you’re on the verge of an emotional breakdown, it’s helpful to know the signs so that you can seek out a treatment plan as soon as possible.

Signs of a mental health breakdown include

  • Weight loss or gain

  • Poor hygiene

  • Severe stress or persistent stress that leads to mood changes like irritability, anger or anxiety symptoms 

  • Sleeping less than usual or more

  • Performing poorly at work or school

  • Withdrawing from things you once enjoyed

These signs can pop up slowly over time or come on quickly. 

You may also notice physical symptoms, such as nausea or an upset stomach, chest pains, dizziness, trembling and more. Common psychological symptoms include feeling very sad, having trouble concentrating, nightmares and more.

How to Seek Help

If you’re in the midst of a mental health crisis and find daily activities to be difficult to accomplish, you will want to rectify that as soon as possible. 

Finding a treatment plan will help you better manage symptoms of stress, get on with daily tasks, enjoy social situations and more.

Deep breathing exercises can help for some people. The idea here is to take a deep breath in, filling up your diaphragm. Hold it for three seconds and exhale slowly through pursed lips. 

Repeat this a number of times until you feel better. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing and research suggests it can reduce stress in the moment. 

But breathing may not work for everyone. If you are in a mental health crisis, you may need more dedicated help. Here are some things to consider.

Consider Talk Therapy

Therapy or online therapy is one of the main ways to address psychological stress — specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to help. CBT can help you deal with your stress in a healthy way so that it doesn’t affect your day-to-day. 

When you engage in CBT, you will work with a mental health provider to look at how this stress makes you feel, identify patterns that may not serve you and come up with ways to change that behavior.

Think About Medication

Medication is another way that significant stress can be treated. If your nervous breakdown is causing a lot of anxiety, a prescription for anti-anxiety medication may help. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used to manage anxiety symptoms.

SSRIs are also used to treat depression.So, if you’re having a mental health issue connected to depression, a healthcare provider may also suggest this type of medication

Examples of SSRIs that are often prescribed include citalopram, fluoxetine, escitalopram, sertraline and paroxetine.

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The Signs of a Nervous Breakdown

The term “nervous breakdown” is not a formal diagnosis, nor is it a medical term. 

In fact, some people may even find it offensive or like it doesn’t accurately describe what’s actually going on. 

What it refers to is a mental health crisis, which is often caused by major life changes or very high stress levels. 

There’s not one universal warning sign of a nervous breakdown. Instead, there can be a variety of symptoms and each individual may show different signs. Some common, intense symptoms include not sleeping well, mood changes, anxiety or depression and more.

If you are worried you are having an emotional crisis, it’s best to schedule an assessment with a mental health provider. They will be able to assess what is going on and give you treatment options.

5 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Nervous Breakdown. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from
  2. How to Help in an Emotional Crisis. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from
  3. Ma,X., Yue, Z., Gong, Z., (2017). The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from
  4. Anxiety Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from
  5. Commonly Prescribed Antidepressants and How They Work. Medline Plus. Retrieved from

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.

She received her undergraduate degree in nursing from the University of Delaware and her master's degree from Thomas Jefferson University. You can find Katelyn on Doximity for more information.

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