7 Signs You’re Headed for a Nervous Breakdown

If you’re stressed and experiencing these symptoms, you might be ready to snap.

by Claire Nowak

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What exactly is a nervous breakdown?
“Nervous breakdown” isn’t an actual medical term or a mental illness, but it could indicate a serious health problem like anxiety or depression. The Mayo Clinic defines a nervous breakdown, or mental breakdown, as a situation in which someone cannot function normally because of overwhelming stress. There are physical, mental, and emotional warning signs for these episodes, but they may not be as obvious as you might think. Pay attention to the following nervous breakdown signs, especially if you have more than one and they last more than just a few days. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms so you can get the right kind of help to tackle your extreme stress and start feeling better.

You can’t concentrate
In the short term, stress can boost your brainpower by releasing hormones that enhance memory storage and improve concentration. But chronic stress fries your attention span—affecting your ability to focus on work projects (bad) or your surroundings while driving (really, really bad). In extreme cases, excessive amounts of the stress hormone cortisol can deteriorate your memory, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

You can’t stop eating
Stress causes the brain to release hormones, including adrenaline, which energizes your muscles for a “fight or flight” response. Once the adrenaline wears off, cortisol tells the body to replenish its lost energy stores with food. The problem is, when you’re stressed for reasons that don’t involve crazy levels of physical activity (say, running from a saber-toothed tiger), you’re biologically wired to eat when you don’t really need to. High-fat and high-sugar comfort foods increase pleasure chemicals in the brain to trick you into temporarily feeling better. (That’s why you crave a pint of ice cream after a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day). And you’re not alone. An American Psychological Association survey found that among 3,000 adults, 40 percent deal with stress through emotional eating.

Your stomach is acting angry

Stomach aches and cramps are often physical manifestations of stress and anxiety. If you notice a cluster of symptoms that includes abdominal pain, constipation, bloating, gas, and diarrhea, you could have irritable bowel syndrome, which research suggests is linked with, but not solely caused by, anxiety. IBS could be triggered by the immune system’s response to stress, though researchers are still studying this. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of those suffering from IBS have a mental health condition, like generalized anxiety disorder or depression. If you suspect you have IBS, talk to your doctor about options for physical and emotional relief.

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You stop caring about how you look
You spill coffee on your shirt on your way to work and don’t bother to blot the stain out. You may think you’re just feeling lazy, but a “meh” attitude that doesn’t go away could spell onset of a more serious problem. Stress taxes the mind and body, draining your energy levels. This fatigue is often accompanied by apathy. As it worsens, you experience a loss of happiness or lack of motivation for activities you used to enjoy, like getting dressed up for work. Doctors also suggest that keeping up personal appearance may seem too overwhelming for people with mental health problems.

You start slouching
In a 2012 study from San Francisco State University, 110 students were asked to walk down a hallway with a slouched back, and then skip down the hallway. The entire group agreed that slouching drained their energy while skipping increased it. Students who were generally more depressed felt these feelings worsen when they slouched. Poor posture may be a sign of a depressed mood; pay attention to your natural sitting state at work. Intentionally trying to sit up straighter may influence your outlook and help fend off feeling blue.

Your nose goes into overdrive
If your normally spotless home starts smelling fishy or acidic, it may be time to tune into your stress level. When test subjects at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were exposed to disturbing material, such as pictures or texts about car crashes and war, their brains mistook neutral smells for foul ones. As their anxiety increased, so did the intensity of the odor. Researchers concluded that bad odors could also increase anxiety, throwing the subjects into a cycle of distress.

You’re convinced something bad is going to happen
Constantly worried about something—but don’t exactly know what? Overwhelming stress can blow normal worries out of proportion. Extreme paranoia could also be a symptom of an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, especially if your fears disrupt your work and social life. These natural remedies may help relieve anxiety, but it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor to see whether he or she recommends medication or other treatments to help you feel better.

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