When someone says, “I am having  a nervous breakdown,” do you know what they mean?

“Nervous breakdown” isn’t a medical term. Most often it refers to becoming physical or emotionally overwhelmed related to life stress. You “break down” under the pressure and are not functioning like your normal self. You may have heard someone refer to this as a meltdown or being at the end of their rope.  But a better way to describe this is, they are having a mental health crisis. Basically, they feel overwhelmed. It’s not weakness or failure, rather an indication that stress has piled up and resiliency is faltering.

Sometimes this happens when there is an underlying mental health or health issue. Stress pushes you over the limit of coping. But having a breakdown doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental illness. It can develop from a gradual build-up of life problems and stress. Or a relationship problem can take front and center and cause unusual distress, like a contentious divorce or severe family problems. In fact, anything can trigger a breakdown depending on the tolerance for stress you have. Even the most resilient person can go through adversity and feel highly stressed.

When this happens, a person may skip work, take sick days, isolate and drop out of normal activities. Along with this, self-care usually declines, sleep is problematic and the person can feel hopeless or stuck. Often, it feels like you are losing control.  More signs to look for include unusual sadness, worry, frustration or hopelessness. In addition, concentration may be difficult and thoughts of self-harm may occur. Many people feel highly anxious and even panic when they reach this point of breakdown. It’s not a good place to be, but hopefully it is temporary.

The best thing to do is talk it out with someone you trust. Try to understand how the stress is impacting you. Then focus on ways to cope better and calm your mind.  Give yourself a “time out” to regroup and get centered again. Prayer and meditation on God’s Word can settle the mind and spirit. No matter our stress, God is with us and promises to walk us through it to the other side.

To prevent a breakdown, re-evaluate the ways you relax and deal with stress. Also take care of your physical body as good eating habits, sleep and exercise make an important  difference when it comes to coping. Even something simple such as limiting caffeine can decrease anxiety. Consider ways to be organized and take breaks in your life to reboot and refresh periodically in order to keep stress from building. Finally, if you need it, see a counselor who can work with you to both prevent and handle a break down.

If someone you know experiences a mental health crisis that is causing severe distress, they can call, 988 or the  988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. or Lifeline Chat. The is also a Spanish-language phone line at 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free). These lines are open every day, 24 hours a day. And if you are a US  veteran, press 1 on the 988 call and get the Veterans Crisis Line. Or text 838255. Or chat online.

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