Signs And Symptoms Of A Nervous Breakdown

signs and symptoms of a nervous breakdown

We all know or have heard of someone who has had a mental breakdown. But for all its familiarity, the fact is a “mental breakdown” is not a medical term per se – one that indicates you have a specific medical condition. Rather, it is your body and mind’s response to an underlying problem that’s causing you to react adversely. But it’s a fitting word all the same, isn’t it? It describes that sense of being overwhelmed to the point of “breaking down.”

We all experience anxiety and stress daily but it’s usually manageable. But when worry, anxiety, or stress increase to a level that starts impacting normal life, a person is said to be having a mental or nervous breakdown.


A mental breakdown can be triggered by stress from something specific, say, the death of someone close to you. It can also result from stress which slowly builds up due to pressures associated with financial problems, work, relationships etc.1

Here’s a look at some signs that could indicate a mental breakdown.


Emotional And Behavioral Signs Of A Mental Breakdown

Various emotional and behavioral factors could point to a mental breakdown.

Isolation And Indifference

You may lose interest in the company of friends and family or withdraw from daily activities. Check if the following statements resonate with you:

  • You feel disinterested in most things, even stuff that you used to like. Activities that you enjoyed earlier don’t appeal to you anymore.
  • You’re finding it difficult to make up your mind about things.
  • You can’t be bothered with everyday tasks like cooking or bathing. And your friends tell you your place has started looking messy. You may also feel too tired to get on with routine tasks.
  • You don’t care much about what you eat. You can even go without eating for long periods. You could also lose weight.2

Lack Of Focus And Concentration

You get easily distracted and find it difficult to focus. Some examples of this include:

  • You’re finding it difficult to stick with the logic behind an idea or what someone is saying.
  • You’re not able to keep your mind on two different things at the same time though earlier you used to be able to do a couple of things simultaneously.
  • You find that you lose the thread of what other people are saying in a conversation and, sometimes, even lose the thread of your own thoughts.3


You may feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. See if the following apply to you:

  • You feel depressed, low, or burnt out.
  • You’ve started to feel increasingly negative about yourself. Conversely, you may also feel very good about yourself for no reason.
  • You have mood swings and experience very strong emotions. You may feel uncontrollably angry, helpless, or fearful and even have emotional outbursts or crying spells.
  • You’ve become increasingly sensitive, taking what people say to heart. You also get upset very easily or brood over news that doesn’t have anything to do with you personally.4

Changing Thought Patterns

Some ways in which your thought patterns may change include:

  • You find that you jump to conclusions more frequently now.
  • You’ve started to feel that other people are the reason for your troubles. You may even think that they’re purposefully causing you trouble.
  • Sometimes, thoughts seem to race through your mind and you can’t slow them down. Or your thoughts get stuck on something and you can’t move ahead.
  • You’ve started spending much more time daydreaming.
  • Your memory seems to be going. You’re finding it difficult to remember things now.
  • You’re finding it difficult to plan things.5

Flashes Of Odd Happenings

Some things that you would notice include:

  • You may have striking flashbacks of a traumatic or stressful event, or see or hear things that are not there.
  • Unrealistic thoughts or beliefs or hallucinations become routine.
  • You’ve started to attach significance to things that have nothing to do with you. For instance, you may feel that people are laughing at you when they laugh randomly, though in the very next instant you may recognize that this is not true.
  • Sometimes, when you hear people speak, their voice sounds strange. For instance, their voice may sound hollow or like there are two people talking at the same time.
  • Time seems to speed up or slow down.
  • You find that your sense of sight, smell, taste, or hearing is distorted without any physical cause. For instance, colors or shapes may change or you hear echoes. Sometimes, you may experience changes in the intensity of things that you hear, see, smell, or taste.
  • You’re experiencing new thoughts and ideas and they’re affecting your behavior. For instance, you may think you can see the future, hear what people are thinking, or believe that you can save the world.6

Thoughts Of Self Harm

You have thoughts of harming yourself – of cutting or even burning yourself. Do speak to a counselor or doctor immediately if this is the case.

Deteriorating Relationships

Your relationships seem to be going downhill. See if the following statements ring true:

  • People don’t seem to understand your thought process nowadays and often try to persuade you that your logic is flawed.
  • While you used to enjoy the company of people before, now you try to avoid them. You feel worried about being around people or find it difficult to hold conversations.
  • You don’t seem to trust people anymore. You may also think that they’re talking negatively about you or plotting against you.
  • Your family and friends say that you’ve changed as a person.
  • People seem to get on your nerves.
  • Even though you don’t understand why, people that you work with have started complaining about your work.7

Physical Symptoms Of A Mental Breakdown

You may also experience a variety of physical symptoms when you have a mental breakdown.

Trouble Sleeping

While the ideal amount of sleep can vary from person to person, on average an adult needs around 7 to 9 hours of sleep in a day.8 But mental stressors like grief, depression, anxiety etc. can make it difficult for you to get a good night’s sleep. You may also find that you tend to sleep during the day and stay awake at nights.9



Anxiety and sleep deprivation can leave you feeling drained and exhausted. You may find that you lack the energy to deal with even day-to-day routine tasks.

Frequent Ill Health

You tend to fall sick quite often. This could be because exhaustion and stress are leaving you vulnerable to infections.


Stress can cause frequent headaches.

Muscle Pain

You may experience stiff or sore muscles. Muscle tension due to stress can cause pain particularly in your back or jaw.

A Rapid Heartbeat

Your heart is racing often or you have a sense of tightness in your chest. You may also feel like you have a lump in your throat or find it difficult to breathe.

The Sweats

You experience cold or hot flashes often. Your hands also feel clammy.

You may get stomach cramps, constipation, diarrhea, or irregular bowel movements.10

If you find that you’ve been experiencing a number of symptoms listed here, it’s time to see a doctor or counselor. Managing a breakdown properly can give you the opportunity to understand yourself and learn coping strategies to deal with life and stress better.