I’m having a nervous breakdown. You may say this (or at least think it) when you’re overwrought and ready to snap. But what is a nervous breakdown, exactly? And what should you do when you feel like you’re about to fall apart?
It turns out that “nervous breakdown” isn’t a clinical term. And it’s not considered a mental illness, says Erin Engle, PsyD, assistant professor of medical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a serious issue. “[A nervous breakdown] is a situation in which a person cannot function normally because of overwhelming stress,” Engle says.
That stressor can be anything from a bad break-up or money issues to grief or psychological burnout. The symptoms will vary from person to person. “Our bodies and minds respond to stress in different ways,” Engle explains. But here are a few typical signs of a nervous breakdown:
Symptoms of anxiety and depression
“Anxiety and depression are common, common reactions [to stress],” says Engle. “Where you get into problems is when that stressor is ongoing and persistent, and the person’s coping resources are overwhelmed.” If you’re headed for a nervous breakdown, you might feel weepy, or even experience episodes of uncontrollable crying, says Engle. Some people suddenly struggle with self-esteem and confidence. “Feeling guilt is a big one,” she adds.