What is a Nervous Breakdown? The Cause and the Symptoms.

November 7, 2013

What is a Nervous Breakdown? The Cause and the Symptoms.

We live in a modern world and enjoy an easier and more pleasurable life than our ancestors, yet the thought of losing our lifestyle and place in the society turns out to be our greatest fear. We live to acquire things. The race to get more possessions than the person next to you causes cravings and creates conflicts among us. The attachment to a materialistic lifestyle has blurred the prominence of family and the importance of building healthy relationships. This race is unsustainable and eventually leads to a nervous breakdown.

So, what is a nervous breakdown?  It has no real medical definition, and it is the term typically used by a lay person to refer to symptoms related to one or more of frustration, stress, anxiety and depression. It helps to explain the condition of a person who can’t participate normally in their day-to-day life. They may lose interest in their life, get anxious easily, suffer from panic attacks and severe headaches, and may act irritably.  People affected by nervous breakdowns don’t experience chronic episodes, but they still require attention and care.

If we lived in the middle ages, we would have seen a practice of labeling any mentally ill person as possessed by demons. They would be tortured and burned as witches. In a modern world we have a little bit more knowledge about the mental illnesses, so the person who is suffering from some form of psychological or psychiatric condition can count on at least some understanding of people around him. While some people may still attribute nervous breakdowns to demons possessing the person, most of us understand that nervous breakdowns are the result of some unfavorable external events and internal conflicts caused by these events or circumstances. If you feel you are suffering from nervous breakdowns, you need to immediately seek help. Get yourself out of the blues as soon as possible because the condition becomes more problematic when it persists and you can end-up with full blown depression.
Intensity of nervous breakdowns can vary from person to person. Look for the common symptoms of nervous breakdown if you or your loved ones seem to be suffering.  The sufferers may isolate themselves because they want to recover from an upsetting situation, but their social withdrawal is just an indication that they are in need of help. They lack excitement and lose interest in things and people. Life loses its charm and flavor for them. Lack of sleep makes them dizzy and they can’t concentrate on work. They can get extremely anxious and display mood swings. They feel like crying most of the time and want to run far away from everything. In severe cases, they may suffer from delusions or hallucinations. They can also show physical symptoms of nervous breakdown like difficulty in breathing, headaches, upset stomach, trembling, dizziness, irregular or fast heartbeat or high blood pressure.

A paper “Responses to nervous breakdowns in America over a 40-year period,” published in American Psychologist, shows that 19% of respondents had experienced an impending nervous breakdown in 1957, but in 1996 the number increased to 26%. I am sure with recession, unemployment, and constantly escalating work stress the numbers today will be even more alarming. We see exponentially increasing number of people suffering from stress-related anxiety and depression and our mental health system is simply unable to deal with this increase.

Nervous breakdowns are especially dangerous in teenagers. They see life in black and white color and, being already at the verge of their emotions, they reach a depressive state very easily. They can become depressed and suicidal after failing their exams, after breaking up with their partners, and  being rejected or bullied by peers. Most often the cause is not the failure itself but the inability to handle insults and criticisms form the family, friends and society.

Nervous breakdowns are often attributed to ‘burned out’ effect, especially in executives and people suffering from perfectionism (in fact, “perfectionism” is a DSM5 listed mental condition). Being exhausted by the lengthy and brain-busting work, they feel miserable and useless, and everything seems bleak to them.  Divorce can be a precipitating factor as well.  Stressed out people do not bend easily to changes in their life, and adjusting your life without your partner can be challenging and difficult. Traumatic events including death of loved one and losing your possessions in some natural catastrophe can be really testing as well. Investment losses, loss of job, or other financial difficulties often lead to nervous breakdowns. Inflation, poverty and low socioeconomic status give way to tension and frustration.

Modifying our lifestyles to avoid or minimize stress, using relaxation techniques, and psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help remedy nervous breakdowns. CBT can help you change the way of thinking about life circumstances – everyone knows that it is not the stress that tortures us, but our perception of life under stress.  We are the ones responsible for regulating and modifying our thoughts.

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