I really don’t have to go into any detail about how to know whether you are having a nervous break down because if you’re having a nervous breakdown, you know it. It is very similar to an anxiety attack that doesn’t seem to end. You may feel like you’ve lost touch with reality. Exhaustion consumes you. It is debilitating to the degree that you can’t carry on with day-to-day life, even the smallest task is too difficult. Instead, it feels like you are forced to simply surrender and allow the feelings to take over your body like an emotional version of the flu. The most common causes of nervous break down are past traumas, problems in intimate relationships (such as break ups or divorces), experiencing the death of a loved one, problems relative to occupational pursuits like career or schooling (such as sleep deprivation or a schedule that is too rigorous or inter office conflicts), health problems (such as injuries or chronic illnesses) and financial problems (such as debt or poverty).
Why did I list these common causes? Because it is important to realize that breakdowns happen for a reason! When you’re in the middle of the breakdown, you will be feeling crazy or mentally ill and like you’ve lost your capacity to control yourself, you will feel like the potential reasons for it happening are not big or bad enough to justify the way you feel. And most importantly, you will not feel like it is temporary. You will feel like you have lost it for good.
So what should you do if you’re having a breakdown?
1. A breakdown is like a rip tide. If you fight it, you will only drown quicker and be drug under the water in such a way that you can no longer breathe. So, let it take you. Do not resist a break down. Treat it like an emotional flu… Like a healing crisis. If you had a bad viral illness, you literally couldn’t function. Treat your breakdown the same way. Intentionally let go to the experience. The worst thing you could try to do during a breakdown is try to function. You may fear that if you give into the breakdown and what the breakdown is compelling you to do to cope (like curing up in bed) that it will never end, but the opposite is true. So don’t go get a psychiatric medication prescribed. Try to get help from others with the things that “have to be done”. Of course question whether something has to be done or whether you’re choosing to do it because you’re telling yourself it has to be done. If you haven’t yet, watch my video titled “How to Heal the Emotional Body”. During a breakdown, you may choose to apply the technique presented in that video or give yourself permission to not do any personal work on yourself, but you will notice that the most interesting thing about a nervous breakdown is that during a nervous breakdown, your body is forcing you to involuntarily do the very process I ask you to voluntarily do in the video because it is attempting to self generate a healing. Instinctive healing forces are at work during a breakdown. And remember, these feelings are not trying to hurt you. They are not something happening to you. They are instead like small, completely powerless and frightened children begging for your help. 2. The breakdown is telling you that change must be made to your life. You cannot let your life go back to normal. So don’t think that just surrendering to it for a while and letting it pass and then returning to life as normal is going to cut it. Once you identify the stressor that tipped you over the edge, brainstorm changes you could make to that specific area of your life to reduce the stress level of it. Seek help with it from others. Both trusted friends and/or professionals. A nervous breakdown happens when stressors uncover your deepest fears. So the time is ripe to discover what those fears really are and to address those fears directly when you feel capable. 3. Stop living for the future or for plans. Literally reel it in and live five minutes at a time or an hour at a time. Live for whatever decreases your stress. Live according to the question: What would feel like just a little bit more relief at this moment? Maybe it’s eating a bowl of mashed potatoes, maybe it’s watching a funny move, maybe it’s laying on a blanket in the forest, maybe it’s crawling under the covers. Whatever it is, do it and then when you feel done with that, ask the question again. When you begin to feel more energy and less incapacitated, you will naturally begin to do normal daily life activities again, so contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have to be forced.
4. If you have a tendency to have chronic nervous breakdowns, you can be sure that there is a chronic stressor that needs attention in your life. Most often this chronic stressor is unhealed trauma left over from childhood. And on this note, I’m going to expose a common pattern amongst those who have chronic breakdowns. That common pattern is un-safety. People who feel chronically unsafe have a diminished capacity to deal with other stressors. It’s a bit like trying to tightrope walk when you are also piggybacking an elephant. The likelihood of collapse is much higher. And on top of that, when we feel unsafe, we tend to use people to feel safe. Many people who chronically experience nervous breakdowns have the subconscious belief that there is going to be a negative consequence to being well or happy. So, if you chronically experience nervous breakdowns, ask yourself this question and think way outside the box to discover potential answers: “Why do you need to be weak or unhappy or in need of rescue? What bad thing will happen if you’re powerful, happy, and healthy with no need for rescue? Put yourself in the position of being happy and powerful and healthy and see if there are any negative feelings associated with that condition. Some of us find that being well means being abandoned by others so only by being unwell, can we guarantee connection or support. Some of us find that by being well, we feel we will be attacked, so by being unwell we send up a white mercy flag that says to others “I’m the underdog, have mercy on me”. Don’t take this to mean that you’re faking nervous breakdowns in order to have people around, rather see that you can’t stop having breakdowns because of the absolutely incapacitating fear you have of abandonment or harm. 5. When we are having a nervous breakdown, something in our life is going really crappy. And we have begun to spiral as a result of that. One exercise you can do that is really beneficial is to look at the situation that is really bad and ask yourself “what has this caused me to know that I want” or “what possibility exists as the exaltation of this circumstance?” And then brainstorm both things you could think and also things you could do to bring you closer to that possibility or thing this situation has caused you to know that you want. Make sure you do this when you have the energy and inspiration to do it. This should never be forced. Forcing something during a breakdown will actually just cause further breakdown. For example, say you’re having a nervous breakdown and you realize that the trigger for that breakdown was that your husband just said that he wanted a divorce. Potentially the circumstance has caused you to know you want to be valued for who you are and to feel like you have value. To get closer to that state, you could perhaps sit down and write a list of valuable attributes that you possess that others might find attractive. You might buy and read a self-esteem book and try out the exercises provided in the book. You might get a makeover. You might sign up to a life transforming workshop or seminar. You might fill your schedule with things that you know cause you to feel more confident, like a hobby you are particularly good at. Or maybe you could get on a plane and go visit a friend who makes you feel valued.
6. Do things that make you feel safe. Safety is a difficult feeling to access when we are feeling unsafe. But if you’re having a nervous breakdown, you are feeling unsafe and need to find ways to feel safer than you currently feel. For this reason, I like to have people make a safety list. A list of all the little and big things that cause you to feel safe, like listening to the sound of a cat purr or the smell of cinnamon or warm towels fresh out of the dryer or the sound of someone’s voice etc. Make this list as long as possible and whenever those feelings of un-safety arise, go pick something off of the list and do it. One of the things that feels the best to people who feel unsafe is the feeling of being cocooned. So allow yourself to be cocooned. Visualizations of being cocooned in light or in a flower bud, or any other type of thing that creates a safe sense of containment are great. Letting yourself hide under the covers is a good thing. Potentially even creating a secret hideout for yourself, regardless of whether or not you are an adult is good too.
7. Do trauma release exercises. If you are having a nervous breakdown, your nervous system is shot. One of my favorite techniques for helping your body to release trauma was designed by David Berceli. It is called the “Trauma Releasing Exercises” or TRE. So look them up and try them.
8. Give your body something to build upon. Go for a walk, even if it is just around the block. During a nervous breakdown, you may lose your appetite entirely. But you need to try to sip and nibble so as to not feed the cycle of your stress hormones wreaking more havoc on your body than they already are. Do NOT indulge in junk foods; this will only exacerbate the problem. Instead, eat tiny bits of healthy foods or protein shakes that require no preparation. And get out into the sun for 20 minutes a day. Just pull a blanket outside to a chair or to the ground and lay out in it. Vitamin D is a mood stabilizer.
The way our society is set up is ripe to cause nervous breakdowns. And the worst part is, it’s not set up to allow for them, the very thing it creates. Many of you might watch this video and say, “Teal obviously doesn’t live in the real world, where things have to be done and so I don’t get to have a nervous breakdown… I wish she’d just tell me how to stop a nervous breakdown so I can get on with life as usual”. But trying to get on with life as normal is why you’re having the nervous breakdown in the first place. We need to create a life for ourselves and eventually a society that allows for things like breakdowns and illnesses. We can’t expect ourselves to function under the stress of most of our lives. The serious reality is that if we do not allow ourselves to have a nervous breakdown if it occurs, our body will find a way to stop us and usually it does this through debilitating chronic illness so my question to you would be, do you want to willingly do it today and make hard changes that guarantee you a life that feels good, or do you want to wait for your body to literally force you to do it unwillingly? Also, I hear the excuse often that “I can’t have a nervous breakdown because of my kids”. The question to ask yourself then is, “what message do I want to be sending to my kids with my actions?” Do I want to be sending them the message that they need to cope with life and do what has to be done, no matter how they feel? Or do I want them to thrive as a result of sculpting a life according to what feels good to them? Children do not need you to be perfectly strong for them all the time, what they need is a secure connection with you. They can handle the reality that people have a hard time and get sick, what they can’t handle is the repercussions of you treating them like they are just one more reason that you have to keep it together. Can you feel the guilt and pain of being saddled with the perspective that you are a burden or one more item of pressure from your parent? The parents, who handle breakdowns the best, reassure their children of their unconditional love and the security of connection while still allowing themselves to have a breakdown.
Letting yourself intentionally melt into the breakdown, is the quickest way through. There is no way to come out the other side the same and time will only ever show an improvement as a result of it. So repeat after me, “It’s ok to not be ok”.