Life After a Nervous Breakdown
A nervous breakdown happens when stress builds up to a level that you can no longer cope with and leads to a mental health crisis. After seeking professional treatment, you can begin to put your life back together by learning and using healthier coping strategies for stress and by relying on friends and family for social support. You should also be aware of warning signs of an impending breakdown and use stress relief strategies to prevent it happening again
What Happens During a Nervous Breakdown?
A nervous breakdown is a mental health crisis rather than a diagnosable condition, but it can be just as serious and it can be very frightening. If you suffer a nervous breakdown you may feel extreme anxiety or fear, intense stress, and as if you simply can’t cope with any of the emotional demands you feel. This crisis will leave you unable to function normally, to go to work or school, to take care of children, or to do any of your usual activities. Symptoms of a nervous breakdown may include emotional distress as well as physical effects, like chest pains and difficulty breathing.
This kind of breakdown typically comes after experiencing a great deal of stress that you find you can’t cope with in healthy ways. Exactly what will trigger a nervous breakdown, how much buildup of stress it takes, and how long it lasts depends on each individual. Everyone has a different breaking point, but people with healthy coping strategies are less likely to suffer from a nervous breakdown. Another contributing factor, in addition to stress, may be an underlying and untreated mental health condition, like an anxiety disorder or major depression.
Treatment for a Nervous Breakdown
If you have experienced something that resembles what is often referred to as a nervous breakdown, seek out an evaluation from a mental health professional. Your diagnosis is likely to be a mental health crisis, although a psychiatrist may also determine that you have an underlying mental illness that may or may not have contributed to your current crisis.
Once you have been evaluated you can work with a psychiatrist or therapist to develop a treatment plan that will help you better cope with stress and avoid future crises. Depending on the severity of the crisis, you may want to consider a short stay in a residential treatment facility. This can help by giving you the chance to focus only on your well-being as you heal. Your treatment plan may include several types of therapy, stress relief and relaxation strategies, group support, and possibly medication.
Making Lifestyle Changes after a Nervous Breakdown
Knowing how to recover from a nervous breakdown is not something that will come naturally, and this is why treatment is so important. Therapists and other mental health professionals can teach you the strategies you need to recover and to take steps to prevent having a mental health crisis again in the future. One of the most important things you will learn is how to change your lifestyle to reduce stress and minimize the chances of having another nervous breakdown, including:
- Changing what causes you stress, such as your job or a bad relationship
- Cutting back on responsibilities that may have become overwhelming
- Asking people close to you for help with responsibilities you cannot totally eliminate, like child care
- Spending more time doing things you enjoy and relaxing
- Quitting smoking and reducing or quitting drinking or other substance use
- Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise
- Getting enough sleep every night
- Practicing relaxation techniques regularly and implementing coping strategies as needed
Learning and Using Healthy Coping Strategies
One of the most important things you can do as you get back to life after a nervous breakdown is to use healthy strategies for coping with stress and for relaxing. Not having these strategies is part of what led to the breakdown in the first place, but if you go through a good treatment plan you will learn these tools and practice putting them to use. Here are some ideas for coping with stress in a healthy way if you feel it beginning to build again:
- Back off from whatever is causing you too much stress. This doesn’t mean you have to quit your job if that is your stressor, but if something is causing your stress levels to climb, take a short break from it. Just one day away from work can help.
- Get exercise and fresh air as stress builds. Exercise is a great stress reliever, and all it really takes is walking. Do whatever exercise you like, but do it outside if possible.
- Talk to a close friend who is a good listener. When stress is getting to be too much, someone who is good at listening will allow you to vent and share your feelings.
- Sit with a hot tea or coffee, not alcohol. A hot drink can be very soothing, but a lot of people are tempted to use alcohol to relax. This can backfire, so avoid alcohol or other substances when you’re feeling stressed.
- Try meditation, slow breathing, or yoga. Relaxation techniques are easy once you learn how to do them. If you went through a treatment program after your breakdown, you probably were given some of these tools. Turn to them when you start to feel overwhelmed again. Even just five minutes of focusing on your breathing can take your stress levels down.
The Importance of Social Support after a Nervous Breakdown
Getting back to normal, or to a healthier lifestyle, after having a breakdown should involve increasing your social support and time spent with others. Socializing is a natural way to combat stress. Just talking to someone who will listen is a great way to relieve stress, even if it doesn’t solve any concrete problems that are causing stress.
A big part of increasing your social support is investing time and effort in your closest relationships. It can be easy with a busy life to let these relationships slide, but if you take the time to cultivate them you will both get benefits. Schedule blocks of time to spend with family, individual friends, and groups of friends. Carve out that time regularly, even if you can only spare 15 minutes, so that you can maintain your supportive friendships and relationships.
It also helps to look for social support outside of your closest circle. If work is a major cause of stress in your life, cultivate friendships with coworkers. Get involved with work social activities. This will give you a healthy way to cope with stress on the job. You can also look for support groups for people who have gone through a similar mental health crisis. Meeting up with this group once in awhile is a good way to reflect, share, and support one another.
Identifying and Watching for Warning Signs
One of many great reasons to get professional treatment after a nervous breakdown is that it helps you to reflect on what triggered the crisis. If you understand what led to it, and you learn what the early warning signs of a breakdown are, you can watch out for them and take steps to prevent it from happening again. As part of your recovery from a nervous breakdown, be more self-aware. Journaling a few minutes a day is a great way to practice that self-awareness and to notice early signs you may be heading for trouble again.
These are some examples of early warning signs:
- Your performance at work or school is declining in small ways, or your responsibilities at home are starting to slide. You feel like you’re not keeping up.
- Your appetite has changed, and you are losing or gaining weight.
- You feel a lot of pressure.
- You’re struggling with concentration, memory, or completing tasks.
- You have started to neglect your appearance or hygiene.
- You feel disengaged and isolated.
- Your mood is low, and you feel depressed or anxious.
- You are turning to old, unhealthy coping strategies, like drinking more.
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Diagnosing and Managing Mental Health Conditions
Many people who have suffered from a nervous breakdown had an underlying mental illness that contributed to it. Any mental health condition could contribute to a crisis, but some of the more common ones are anxiety disorders and depression. If you are still struggling to manage your stress and your mood, be sure to get a professional mental health evaluation. If you are diagnosed with a mental illness, stick with the treatment plan over the long term, even as you start to feel better. This maintenance will help you prevent having a nervous breakdown in the future.
Having a nervous breakdown can be frightening, and the idea of recovering may seem daunting. With intensive residential treatment, followed up by ongoing care, lifestyle changes, healthy coping strategies, social support, and management of any mental illnesses, you can return to a better way of life and prevent burning out in the future.