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what is a nervous breakdown

What Is A Nervous Breakdown?

Learn how a nervous breakdown works and how to fix it...

What is a nervous breakdown, what causes a nervous breakdown and perhaps most importantly - how do you effectively treat and recover from a nervous breakdown? Whether you are reading this on your own behalf or on the behalf of a loved one, understanding what a nervous breakdown is and how it works is an essential first step. So, let's make a start and address the question - What is a nervous breakdown?



What Is A Nervous Breakdown And Why Do People Have Them?

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Although frightening and extremely unpleasant, a nervous breakdown is a natural part of the human defence system. Thus the first important point to acknowledge is that going through a nervous breakdown (much as you may initially wish to disagree) is a sign that you are functioning correctly - not that you are somehow broken.

As humans we tend to associate things that hurt or feel unpleasant as being 'wrong'. However, when it comes to experiencing a nervous breakdown even though it feels bad, it is actually occurring to protect you from more serious harm.

A nervous breakdown occurs when the sufferer has experienced a severe emotional trauma or more often a string of multiple events each carrying a lesser but ever compounding emotional toll. As humans we are creatures of habit and we tend to stick with 'our way' of thinking and dealing with things. However, sometimes (and we're all guilty of this to some degree) 'our way' of thinking or dealing with things doesn't serve us particularly well.

When we repeatedly do things in a certain way which results (over and over) in us feeling bad at an emotional level - we start to accumulate stress. For most people they vent their stress one way or another and tomorrow is just another day. However, sometimes the stress doesn't get vented and starts to accumulate. The more the person continues to think in a certain way and deals with things accordingly, the more the stress levels grow.

Think of our mind as being like a partially inflated balloon. Blowing in some additional air is like adding stress. Normally that additional air (stress) is released naturally, but sometimes for some people there is no release. They simply keep blowing more air (stress) into their balloon. Such people become well aware that their balloon has become over-filled because it makes them feel bad. The more the balloon becomes over-filled the worse they feel. However, rather than encouraging the person to stop stressing and cease blowing more air into their balloon, what tends to happen is that because they feel bad - they stress even more!

Often they find themselves thinking:

  • "I must do X"
  • "I have to do Y"
  • "I should do Z"

This results in them putting further demands upon themselves, increasing their stress levels even higher and in effect over inflating their balloon.

Now let us consider how the mind and body will instinctively defend themselves. For example if you put your hand on something that is extremely hot, the moment your mind senses you could be burned you will instinctively snatch your hand away. You don't need to think about it - you're already wired to defend yourself from harm. Another example is if you voluntarily choose to hold your breath. If you're frail or unfit you may only manage a few seconds, whereas if you're healthy and strong you may be able to hold your breath for over a minute. However, no matter how much willpower you invest in continuing to hold your breath - at some point when your brain senses a threat to your safety it will override your willpower and will automatically take a breath. That's just the way we're hard wired to work.

The same is true for stress levels. When your mind senses your balloon is dangerously over-filled and you seem intent on trying to push more air into it - something has to give. Rather than your mind permitting you to over-inflate your balloon until you burst it (which would be psychologically catastrophic), instead it purges the balloon and vents it completely. This entails a psychological and often also a physical shutdown. This is what we label a nervous breakdown.

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What Sort Of Things Can Cause A Nervous Breakdown?

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As we discussed above, a nervous breakdown is caused by ongoing stress - but what sort of things can lead to that situation?

  1. Relationship breakup.
  2. Abusive relationship.
  3. Family problems.
  4. Long term illness, or caring for someone with a long term illness.
  5. Death of a friend or family member.
  6. Repetitive trauma.
  7. Ongoing anxiety or worry.
  8. Living with OCD or a related anxiety disorder.
  9. Caring for someone with OCD or a related anxiety disorder.
  10. Long term housing or financial difficulties.
  11. Ongoing work related stress and pressure (including redundancy)
  12. Long term depression.

The above list contains common contributors to nervous breakdowns. However, the list is not exhaustive so there are plenty of things that 'could' contribute to a nervous breakdown which may not be shown. Different things and situations affect people in different ways so it simply isn't possible to give a full list.

Having said that, what is absolutely pivotal when it comes to nervous breakdowns is how we respond to situations. For example you may have ten people each doing exactly the same job, for the same company and all are made redundant on the same day. Two out of the ten go on to suffer nervous breakdowns, whereas the other eight do not. The reason is simple. It's not the event which causes us to feel stressed or have a nervous breakdown - it is how we respond to the event which dictates our stress levels, which in turn dictates the likelihood of us having a nervous breakdown.

Much of what happens to us in life are potential triggers for stress and anxiety - but they are not the cause. The real cause is the way we deal with the things that happen in our head. Some people seem very laid back regardless of what life throws at them, yet others may worry and stress about the most insignificant thing. You can guess which group produces nervous breakdowns.

In reality there is little in life that we can truly control. So what we have to do is to deal with what life throws at us in the best way possible. Many people assume dwelling, worrying and feeling anxious somehow prepares them - but in reality it merely creates additional stress. Dwelling on something doesn't change the reality - it merely makes you feel bad whilst the reality remains what it is.

Thus if someone has been made redundant they may worry about not being able to find a new job. This worrying and stressing does not change the reality that they've been made redundant, nor does it help them find a new job. In fact being stressed will hinder their efforts to find work. Many people will respond to this to the effect of - "I can't help it, that's just how I am... that's how I think". This is why stress, depression and nervous breakdowns are so common in our society. It is down to the way we THINK.

This is where our expertise comes in. We specialise in helping people to have new options and choices not only in the way they think - but also in the way they respond to situations. What if you could simply choose not to stress or worry? What if you could be one of those happy go-lucky people instead? This is not only possible... it's a reality. We help people turn their lives around each and every day and that's an option you now have. Whether you've suffered a nervous breakdown or whether you are the loved one offering support to someone else - together we can make a huge difference provided you're willing to help yourself.

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Understanding How A Nervous Breakdown Works...

nervous breakdown nhs

We've already touched on how a nervous breakdown works in the above section - 'What is a nervous breakdown and why do people have them'. However, here is an analogy to help you understand that having a nervous breakdown means you are working correctly and are not in any way broken:

The modern electrical system in houses consists of a consumer unit with 'trip switches'. The trip switches are there to protect the fragile wires under your floor boards from overheating in the event of a power surge. So if there is a problem like you've been a bit liberal with the water when you iron a shirt, the trip switch senses the power surge and breaks the circuit.

If the trip switch wasn't there the surge could cause the wires under your floorboards to overheat and the plastic jacket around the wire could burst into flames. If you consider how dry most houses are beneath the floor boards and the fact that builders have a habit of leaving wood shavings and newspapers under there - it's an inferno waiting to happen. Thus the trip switch breaking the circuit may seem inconvenient at the time but it's there for good reason and could prevent your entire house from burning down.

Now let us consider how we relate to this analogy. When we stress over the long term that's the equivalent of a power surge. The brain is very delicate in terms of how our psychology works so it needs to protect the sensitive neural pathways we use for 'thinking'. When the brain feels these pathways are in danger of being overloaded by stress, it flicks the internal trip switch and 'resets' the entire system. This feels very unpleasant and we label the process as a nervous breakdown.

However, in truth the nervous breakdown is a natural part of your defences and is designed to work that way. Sure it feels bad BUT it has saved your mind from serious damage. What you need to learn from this is that you have to change the way you deal with things in the future. You've had your warning. If you persist in doing what you've always done - you're going to get more of the same. Now is the time to get the help you need and to turn things around.

We only work with ordinary everyday people just like you... and if you're willing to help yourself you'll not only recover - you'll also have a much higher quality of life. It's entirely up to you.

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Factors That Can Antagonise A Nervous Breakdown...

nhs nervous breakdown

As we've already discussed, worry, dwelling, anxiety and emotional stress will all antagonise a nervous breakdown. However, there are also other factors we should consider:

Stimulants are a group of foods and chemicals which 'up the ante' in our minds as well as affecting us physically. The most common stimulants are caffeine (in coffee, tea and cola), refined sugar, nicotine (in cigarettes), cocaine and amphetamines. If a person is uptight or anxious then any of these stimulants will multiply the problem.

Alcohol is often used to relax or feel better, but in reality it is a depressant. Later we'll discuss how nervous breakdowns share much in common with depression so purposely taking a 'depressant' to somehow feel better or remedy the situation is a frankly irresponsible thing to do.

Prescription medication in our society tends to be considered to be 'safe' on the grounds that all prescription drugs go through rigorous testing before being approved. Unfortunately 'being approved' and 'being safe' are two completely different things. It was a known fact during testing right back in the 1980's that Fluoxetine (Prozac) caused a 1300% increase in the likelihood of suicide - yet millions of prescriptions for this drug are still given to the British public each and every year. Does that sound like a safe drug to you?

We're not trying to give you medical advice here - that's between you and your GP. However, there's nothing stopping you from checking the effects of any drugs (particularly anti-depressants) you are taking online. SSRI's (a large family of anti-depressants) are known to antagonise a nervous breakdown in some people.

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The Relationship Between Nervous Breakdowns And Depression...

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Earlier we discussed how stress and anxiety contribute to a nervous breakdown. It is also common for depression to to be a factor in a nervous breakdown, sometimes in the lead up to the nervous breakdown but more commonly following the nervous breakdown.

Depression isn't just a psychological condition. The truth is that during depression physical changes take place in the way the brain functions and processes information. It is common knowledge that the brain has two sides or hemispheres each responsible for different things. Most people process logic and sequences on one side whereas they process language and music on the other.

However, there is a lesser known split in the brain which involves the top and bottom parts of the brain. This has been scientifically proven in many evaluations using brain imagery. The top part of the brain deals very well with rationalisation, reason and analysis. In a healthy person day to day decisions are made using this part of the brain. The bottom part of the brain is more reptilian and woks based upon strong emotions.

When a person is depressed (regardless or whether or not they've experienced a nervous breakdown), the top part of the brain physically shuts down. This means that the depressed person's ability to analyse, rationalise and apply reason is compromised. What happens by means of compensation is that the lower part of the brain goes into overdrive, taking over the decision making processes that were previously performed by the top part of the brain.

To understand how this affects the sufferer, let's consider a couple of examples from our own lives:

Remember a time when you felt intensely angry. Now think back to what you said and the way you behaved during your fit of anger. Did you think or behave rationally? How good were your decisions when you were in that angry state?

Remember a time where you felt intensely jealous. Again, remember how you thought and the way you behaved when you felt intensely jealous. Did you think or behave rationally? How good were your decisions when you were in that jealous state?

Now, the reason your decisions (and hence your behaviours) were poor was because during intense emotional states the top part of your brain temporarily shuts down and the bottom emotional part of your brain takes over your decision making processes. Unfortunately the resulting decisions and behaviours are generally lousy.

What you need to understand is that following a nervous breakdown it is common for the sufferer to get 'stuck' in this bottom brain emotional thinking. The reason depression seems to last for so long (when left untreated) is that the sufferer makes bad decision after bad decision which in turn keeps them where they are. Obviously the sufferer does not choose to be irrational - it's just a function of the brain under certain circumstances, namely during depression or commonly following a nervous breakdown.

Being stuck in bottom brain emotional thinking can go on for years or even decades if left unaddressed. Although for some people medication can provide some temporary respite, it will not fix the underlying problem. The correct treatment will progressively cause the top part of the brain to fire up enabling the sufferer to see reality with more clarity, think rationally and get their life back on track.

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Nervous Breakdown Prevention, Treatment And Recovery...

treatment for nervous breakdown

Prevention is always better than cure, so if you're in the position where you fear an impending nervous breakdown - NOW is the time to do something about it. You will save yourself a huge amount of unnecessary suffering if you get help now and prevent the nervous breakdown from occurring.

However, if you or a loved one have already experienced a nervous breakdown, don't worry we can still make things right.

There are essentially two options available depending upon your circumstances. If you are the person who has suffered the nervous breakdown and want your life back - we can work with you directly. If you're reached the point where you've had enough of suffering and are prepared to take action to help yourself... you're ready to recover.

Alternatively we work with an ever increasing number of carers, family members and loved ones who want to help someone else with their recovery - but don't know where to start. We can give you the tools and techniques required to help kick-start and then progressively help a nervous breakdown sufferer through their recovery. This service is provided one to one by the very same Consultants who work at our Clinic.

Whether you choose to work with us to help yourself or whether you need support in helping someone else - the Consultants and the fees are exactly the same. To find out more about our very reasonable fixed fee rates as well as our no quibble zero risk guarantee - choose from the following options:

I can attend the Anxiety Clinic for a Consultation (Stoke on Trent)

I don't live locally to Stoke on Trent so a Telephone / Online Consultation would be best. (Rest of UK)

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