a woman holding her hands to her face.

Nervous Breakdown in 2023: Signs and Coping Strategies

Amber Murphy

It’s completely normal to have a nervous breakdown as we tend to have moments of high stress from time to time. On the contrary, having a nervous breakdown isn’t always medical-related, but mental or emotional fatigue can trigger it. When you’re having this kind of mental collapse, it hinders your ability to function in daily activities, which means you can’t perform at your full potential– not even for basic tasks. Several factors can cause a breakdown, such as difficult situations or intense stress. In this article, we’ll be sharing everything you need to know about nervous breakdowns, from what it is to signs and coping strategies.

What is a nervous breakdown?

A nervous breakdown no longer defines as a medical term but as a period of mental fatigue or stress. This exhaustion and stress happen when you’re unable to cope with either mental or emotional stress in your life. Your brain and body suddenly don’t know how to respond. As a result, this gets in the way of how you function in your daily activities. When difficult situations happen, and you don’t know how to respond to these situations, this usually is when a nervous breakdown occurs. To put it simply, you feel too overwhelmed with the number of emotions you’re feeling at a given period, and you’re unable to perform at your best potential because of this extreme stress.

Signs Of A Nervous Breakdown

Woman with her head in her hands

Anxiety or panic attack

Breakdowns and panic attacks are often confused with one another, but getting a panic attack or feelings of anxiety indicates that you could be close to having a nervous breakdown. You might even have other symptoms, such as shaky hands, palpitations, cold sweat, and trembling, that you can see in your behavior. The reason behind this is since you’re unable to process your emotions one step at a time, especially when you have anxiety. You can try a guided meditation for anxiety to help you learn how to stop panic attacks.

Extreme mood swings

Having extreme mood swings is one of the signs of a nervous breakdown. One minute you’re feeling okay, and then the next, you feel an overwhelming wave of emotions. You can’t pinpoint why you feel the way you do, and you can’t help having intense mood swings, no matter how hard you try to control them. Mood swings tend to happen when our minds are too loud and out of control. Being mindful of our negative thoughts can help minimize mood swings. Some people may need to be prescribed antipsychotics to help manage their mood, mainly if this lasts an extended period.

Flashbacks of trauma

Another sign of a nervous breakdown is having flashbacks of trauma. When you’re about to have a nervous breakdown, you get flashbacks of traumatic experiences in your past, and your mind will replay this repeatedly. These flashbacks can also suggest PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. You can try a guided meditation for PTSD in between therapy sessions with a trauma counselor or social worker. Trauma can be tricky to deal with on your own, so learning the tools and skills to cope with it from a mental health professional will result in better care.


Whether it’s because of a difficult situation or the inability to cope with your emotions, insomnia is one of the indicators that you’re about to have a nervous breakdown. Insomnia often arises from restlessness because of the overwhelming emotions you feel within the day. Sleep deprivation can take a significant toll on a person’s mental wellbeing. Aiming for 8-10 hours of sleep a night can improve someone’s ability to manage difficult situations. It’s far easier to be triggered by challenges when you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up from nightmares throughout the night. If possible, try relaxing activities before bed to help you wind down early in the evening so you can fall asleep a bit earlier to get a whole night’s rest.

Seven Ways to Cope with a Nervous Breakdown

1. Physical activity

Man lifting a barbell with weights in the gym

Habits and lifestyle play a significant role in coping with nervous breakdowns, especially when you incorporate good habits like exercise. Even if exercise directly affects your body, this goes even for your emotional and mental health. Exercise releases endorphins and dopamine to your brain, which are both hormones that make you feel good and happy about yourself. When you feel confident, there’s a lesser chance of having a nervous breakdown, even when the odds are against you. Exercise helps you have the mental clarity and resilience needed to deal with even the most difficult situations and cope with extreme stress. People who experience trauma will be able to minimize their symptoms by exercising an hour or two every day. If you feel unsafe being in public, you can follow along to workout videos at home to reap the benefits exercise provides.

2. Talk to someone you trust

Whether before or during a nervous breakdown, the best thing you can do is talk to someone you trust about how you feel. You could start by venting your frustrations to a mental health professional as they’ll validate and reassure you to feel supported and heard. A psychotherapist is someone who won’t judge you for having a mental breakdown, especially as it happens to even the best of us. By talking about your feelings and thoughts, the burden off your chest will feel lighter, and it can potentially help you become more capable of functioning normally again. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or even a significant other, what matters is you chat to someone you trust completely, even with your vulnerable feelings. During intense moments of nervous breakdowns, seek a professional who can provide better support for you than someone without mental health expertise. Remember, you can always fire a therapist who doesn’t support you in the way you need them to. Not all professionals provide support in the way you’ll need it. So don’t be afraid to try out a few professionals until you find one who communicates in a way you understand.

3. Practice meditation

Woman listening to a guided meditation app on the couch

Meditation is one of the most underrated ways to cope with nervous breakdowns. Why? Well, it’s a breathing exercise inclined towards helping you deal with negative thoughts and emotions. Meditation can help you gain control of everything you feel instead of letting your emotions control you. More importantly, it can help you incorporate calm and inner peace, given that a breakdown will rob you of any relaxing feelings. If you’re having trouble coping with your loud brain, even a short meditation helps you have the self-awareness to deal with your thoughts and emotions, even when what you’re feeling is all over the place.

Some people are hesitant to try meditation because they think it’s woo-woo or afraid of facing the negative thoughts in their heads. In this case, consider trying a guided meditation via an app like Declutter The Mind. A good meditation to try for people suffering from severe anxiety is a loving-kindness meditation which guides you to think loving thoughts towards other people instead of allowing your thoughts to surface through your mind casually. The calming voice of our guides will help relax you in cases of high stress. You’ll find meditations for as short as five minutes to as long as an hour to help you experience inner calm during your nervous breakdown.

4. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol

Both caffeine and alcohol are counterproductive when dealing with nervous breakdowns, and it’s best to avoid both these beverages as much as possible. Especially if you tend to feel anxious or suffer from overthinking, caffeine is the last beverage you should be consuming. Not only can caffeine potentially trigger a breakdown, but it can also prevent your capability of processing emotions and thoughts in a rational manner. Caffeine increases your heart rate, as does anxiety, making you physically feel worse since the heart rate is much higher. As for alcohol, even if it can potentially lift your mood and suppress your overwhelming thoughts, alcohol is never a solution for your breakdown. It would help if you were sober enough to deal with whatever it is you’re going through, and alcohol will do the opposite of helping your sobriety. Consuming both caffeine and anxiety will also trigger more stress in your body rather than prevent it.

In the short term of a stressful period, you may notice that a lack of alcohol or caffeine makes you feel worse due to withdrawal. While it can be tough to cope with the chaos of trauma or severe stress, you’ll be more likely to heal faster by cutting caffeine and alcohol out cold turkey. Often, people quit cold turkey by making a pact with themselves to give it up for a specified period. Usually, after the period is over, you’ll notice your alcohol or caffeine craving minimized, so you don’t end up relapsing.

5. Rest

Man sitting and resting on a bench in a park

Breakdowns can often occur as an indicator that you’re pushing your mind and body more than usual, which is a sign that rest is needed. Learn to listen to your body. You’d be surprised at how sleep can do more good for your mental and emotional health, and for some circumstances, rest can help you effectively cope with nervous breakdowns. Even when you’re overwhelmed with negative emotions, there’s always time to choose rest. Things like burnout and overworking can lead to several types of nervous breakdowns, which is why you really shouldn’t ignore listening to what your body needs.

When you’re well-rested, your brain is better able to make decisions that reduce the suffering you’re feeling. However, when you don’t take breaks to rest, you’ll notice your thoughts get a little bit louder.

6. Be kind to yourself

Even though it’s likely the last thing you do when having a mental breakdown, choose to be kind and compassionate to yourself. You’re not helping yourself by being harsh towards yourself but instead, choose to understand that in this given moment, this is what you need. As cliche as it sounds, remind yourself that nervous breakdowns are temporary. There’s always an end to the pain and suffering. Staying positive and treating yourself is the best thing you can do to deal with this mental collapse. By being harsh to yourself, you’re making your mental health much worse, dwelling in all the negative emotions you’re already feeling. Just like you would learn how to cheer someone up and speak to them compassionately, you should do the same for yourself. Treat yourself like a struggling friend who needs comfort and offer kind words of encouragement that you need. You deserve the kindness you show others.

7. Minimize checking your phone

Woman laying down and checking her phone

We’re not going to tell you to stop using your phone since we know that it helps in many ways. If you’re having a nervous breakdown, you might want to stay clear of social media. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed with negative thoughts, then there’s no reason why you should be using your phone because, more often than not, you’ll feel worse about yourself when you should be feeling better. Instead, consider a social media detox. Spend more time living presently in the world instead of scrolling endlessly through feeds, posting something you’ll later regret, or spreading your frustration to others. Consider spending some time outdoors in the sunlight. Get a breath of fresh air and enjoy a relaxing moment alone or with a spouse or friend. Communicating your needs in person will help ensure you’re correctly understood instead of having misinterpreted text.


Today, you learned everything you need to know about dealing with a nervous breakdown. When it comes down to it, having mental breakdowns isn’t something you should worry about as it’s temporary. Instead, focus on taking care of yourself by trying some self care ideas. A nervous breakdown is often a way for your body and mind to tell you what you need, such as taking a break from overworking. Remember that when one occurs, always be kind and compassionate to yourself and go easy on yourself. Even when you feel overwhelmed with several emotions, it will eventually pass if you give yourself enough time and rest. Take a deep breath, try a guided meditation, or go for a nice long walk to help you calm down. You’re going to be okay.

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