What Are The Symptoms Of A Nervous Breakdown?

The term 'nervous breakdown' is often used colloquially to describe an individual's reaction to stressful events. Once used to refer to a wide range of mental afflictions, such as depression and anxiety, it more accurately describes an intense period of extreme mental distress. While it is not technically a medical term, it does describe a certain set of symptoms of stress. During a nervous breakdown, the individual is unable to function in their everyday life, finding even the most mundane and ordinary tasks too overwhelming to accomplish. Though the definition is not set, professionals generally believe a nervous breakdown occurs when emotional and physical stress reaches the point of being so intolerable that functionality is significantly disrupted. 

Panic Attacks


Panic attacks, especially when experienced often or regularly, are one of the most obvious signs of an impending nervous breakdown. Every individual experiences nervousness or panic at various points in their lives. Stressful, daunting, or high-pressure situations elicit this natural response in the brain, causing a human being to worry about the potential consequences and outcomes. 

Panic attacks, however, often arise without these stimuli. They can appear seemingly out of nowhere and have a rapid onset, with no stimulus instigating the subsequent response. During an attack, an individual can experience a sudden, rapid increase in heart rate, racing mind, and debilitating sense of worry or dread, among other physical manifestations. These incidents may last a few minutes or even longer, varying on a case-by-case basis.

Tense Muscles


Tensing of the muscles is another common symptom of a nervous breakdown. Again, this is not necessarily true if there is another physiological explanation, such as regular poor posture or intense physical activity. Rather, tense muscles in this scenario appear to evolve for no reason, indicating the patient has been clenching and in a non-relaxed state regularly. 

Sensations can vary from tension and tightness to chronic pain. The most common muscles affected by nervousness, anxiety, and depression are in the upper back, shoulders, neck, and face. Regularly stretching, practicing relaxation techniques, and attending yoga classes can greatly reduce the appearance of this symptom and contribute to general feelings of increased well-being.

Clammy Hands


Clammy hands are commonly reported by patients suffering from a nervous ailment. An uncontrollable and often embarrassing symptom, it can arise at any time. The hands become cold and moist with nervous sweat, often lasting for minutes or even hours. Some individuals who may be on the verge of a nervous breakdown can experience clammy hands nearly all the time. While sweating is the body's natural response to overheating, it is an attempt to cool the body, individuals suffering from mental struggles can sweat at seemingly inappropriate times. When the body regularly sweats in situations that are not responses to extreme heat or physical exertion, it is a sign of a more severe medical condition.

Trembling And Shaking


Unless an individual is directly presented with an imminent source of sadness or fear, most typically for grievous bodily injury, trembling and shaking are not typical responses. Severe anxiety increases an individual's blood pressure and leads to involuntary bodily movements. These movements can be small or dramatic and can affect either certain areas, such as the extremities, or the body as a whole. Sometimes, in fact, the vibrations the patient is feeling may not even be visible to others. During these times, some doctors suggest trying to focus on tightening and releasing the muscles to stop the tremors and regain control of the body. This exercise also takes one's mind, at least temporarily, off of the mental happenings that occur during an episode.

Trauma Flashbacks


While the aforementioned symptoms of a nervous breakdown manifest in a physical sense, flashbacks to a previously experienced traumatic event are not always visible. Sometimes, these events only occur in the individual's mind, making it more difficult for loved ones or practitioners to identify and intervene. Trauma flashbacks are often a sign of diagnosed or undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder or another mental illness. 

When symptoms of a flashback to trauma do present visibly, the patient will likely be experiencing any of the previously mentioned physical symptoms, such as clamminess, sweating, panicking, and tensing of the muscles. However, they may also have widened, darting eyes, a clenched jaw, or show facial signs of extreme distress. The patient may also make abrupt movements in response to sounds or movements by others.

Feelings Of Paranoia


An individual experiencing abnormal, intense and frequent feelings of paranoia may dealing with a nervous breakdown. Paranoia is a term used to describe when an individual has fearful or anxious feelings and thoughts associated with conspiracy, persecution, or threat. Both psychotic disorders and mental disorders can cause paranoia. Feelings of paranoia can stem from delusions, where the affected individual's irrational beliefs and thoughts become so ingrained into their mind that there is no way to convince them their delusions are not true. 

An individual who experiences feelings of paranoia tends to have great feelings of suspicion or mistrust in other people and things. These feelings can easily induce a sense of anger, fear, and betrayal. A nervous breakdown can cause feelings of paranoia because it involves the degradation of numerous emotional and mental functions related to assigned meanings and reasoning.



A nervous breakdown occurs when individuals lose their ability to cope with pressure or stress, which causes them to go into a mental health crisis. Insomnia describes when an individual experiences difficulties with the actions of falling asleep and staying asleep. When the lack of sleep causes an individual to be unable to carry out their normal tasks and functions, they have insomnia. Other symptoms of insomnia include general grumpiness, negative feelings, fatigue, memory issues, falling asleep during the daytime, and problems with concentration. 

When insomnia occurs because of another underlying medical condition or disease, it is considered secondary insomnia. A nervous breakdown causes insomnia because the process of falling and staying asleep has requirements that are not able to be met when feelings of paranoia and anxiety are present.

Extreme Mood Swings


An individual having a nervous breakdown may experience extreme mood swings. Extreme mood swings describe when an individual's rapid changes in mood cause them to be unable to carry out their everyday tasks and functions. It is abnormal for an individual to be in an extremely happy mood and immediately go into an extremely depressed mood on a regular or frequent basis. When an individual loses their ability to cope with pressure or stress, their mental capacity to regulate their mood can become impaired. 

Mood regulation is an individual's ability to react to experiences and situations with behaviors appropriate for the applicable circumstances. A particular factor can help an individual dealing with a nervous breakdown to switch from a depressed mood to a positive mood quickly, and vice versa with other factors. Nervous breakdowns can produce brief episodes of excitability because they allow their emotions to dictate their behavior.

Upset Stomach


An upset stomach is when an individual's digestive system is not functioning properly and causes them to experience discomfort or pain. An upset stomach is a common physical reaction that occurs in the body when an individual's emotional state interferes with the normal release of certain hormones. Stress hormones are released more often in an individual experiencing a nervous breakdown, which can cause the nausea center in the brain to become activated. 

Rapid changes induced by the release of certain hormones, like increased heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure can trigger the nausea center and produce stomach issues. Also, a nervous breakdown can produce an upset stomach because of the complex connection between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve. A nervous breakdown can cause overstimulation of the vagus nerve, which produces irritability in the digestive tract and function.

Withdrawal From Society


An individual who is withdrawn from society may feel no one else understands what they are experiencing. Social withdrawal is a term used to describe when an individual actively avoids contact with others and activities they would usually find joy in. Individuals who withdrawal themselves from society may feel it is too upsetting or exhausting to be around others. Situations that arise when a healthy individual is around others can usually be dealt with by using healthy coping techniques. 

An individual who has a nervous breakdown has lost their ability to cope with even the smallest mishaps or mild stress levels. An individual who cannot cope with everyday situations in a socially acceptable way may feel they should not be in contact with others frequently. They may feel embarrassed by the way they react to certain feelings and situations, which can cause them to spend less time around others.


    HealthPrep Staff