What Exactly Is a Nervous Breakdown?

What Exactly Is a Nervous Breakdown?

stressed man
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A nervous breakdown was a term used years ago, but isn’t used that often today. A nervous breakdown, sometimes referred to as an emotional breakdown is not an actual medical diagnosis. When someone uses this term, they are describing someone who is temporarily unable to function in their daily lives due to stress. When a medical professional does use this term, they are often referring to an acute case of anxiety.

Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown

The symptoms of a nervous or emotional breakdown vary. It also depends on what the cause of the breakdown is. Those who end up not being able to function normally due to overwhelming stress may exhibit the following signs:

  • Excessive worry, fear or anxiety
  • Extreme and prolonged stress
  • Sweating
  • Rapid thoughts
  • Irritability
  • Crying spells
  • Yelling about things that typically aren’t that big of a deal
  • Fatigue
  • Periods of not responding to people or stimuli
  • Tense muscles
  • Shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Repeatedly calling in sick to work or school, sometimes for days at a time
  • Isolating themselves from friends and family
  • Missing appointments
  • Not being able to eat or sleep normally
  • Not caring about personal hygiene


The treatment for someone who is exhibiting signs of a nervous breakdown depend on the cause. It may be that they have an underlying disorder such as anxiety or depression.

If you or someone you care about is showing signs of a nervous breakdown, call the doctor or go to the hospital. Medications, therapy and sometimes time away from the current situation can help.