Having a nervous breakdown may feel very unlikely, or like it's looming in the near future. Either way, it never hurts to know the signs. And even though the word "nervous" might imply that it's emotional, the truth is there are some very physical, visceral signs of a breakdown coming. In fact some of them, like heavy breathing or sweaty hands, are things you might ignore because they are so common place.
"Many people don’t understand the cause of these symptoms — believing it's 'just part of life,'" Dr. Robert Huizenga tells Bustle. But in some cases they are representative of something more. So don't panic if you recognize some of these symptoms in yourself.
"The presence of anxiety, of a depressive mood or of a conflict within the mind, does not stamp any individual as having a psychological problem because, as a matter of fact, these qualities are indigenous to the species," Charles Goodstein, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical Center in New York City, writes on WebMD. It's about severity, frequency, and whether you're constantly feeling like you're at the end of your rope. That's when there's a real sign of a larger problem.
Here are some of the physical signs that a nervous breakdown might be coming, because it's always good to know:
1. Breathing Quickly And Feelings Of Anxiety
Feelings of anxiety are often a precursor to a larger problem, especially if they're frequent and intense. "The physical symptoms of anxiety are horrible, intense and hard to ignore," Jodi Aman, a psychotherapist with more than two decades of experience and the author of You 1 Anxiety 0, tells Bustle. "You often feel like you are going to die."
Tensed muscles, sweaty hands, quick breathing, and feelings of panic are not uncommon.
A lot of mental health stressors, such as anxiety, can lead to insomnia — which means that you can often feel fatigued, or downright exhausted, by the time you reach breaking point. "For many, anxiety causes insomnia as people get caught up in thoughts about past events, have excessive worrying about future events, feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities or a general feeling of being overstimulated," Shoshana Ungerleider, an Internal Medicine Physician based in California, tells Bustle. Too many sleepless nights can lead to feeling fully exhausted — and to a breakdown.
3. Smelling Something That Isn't There
Not all hallucinations are audio/visual, if you're reaching breaking point some people can actually smell things that aren't there. "People can sometimes smell a scent that isn't actually there prior to or during an anxiety or panic attack... [a] phenomenon known as phantosmia," Dr. Janelle Louis, MD, licensed naturopathic doctor at Focus Integrative Healthcare, tells Bustle. "If a person experiences a stressful situation in the presence of a certain smell, they make new neuronal connections, connecting the part of the brain that controls smell with trhe part that is firing during anxious states or states of panic. The result is that the next time this person experiences similar anxiety or thinks about past trauma, he or she may have an olfactory hallucination of the same smell."
4. Feeling More Gassy
When you're feeling anxious or panicky, that can lead to feeling gassier, due to increased acid in your stomach. "One of the physical changes that happens is increased acid in your stomach causing [gastrointestinal] upset as well as swallowing too much air, leading to belching," Ungerleider says. So if you're feeling bloated or burping a lot, it can be a sign that something isn't right.
5. Cold Hands And Feet
If your body really goes into overdrive, you may notice that your hands and feet get cold. That's your body panicking and setting off its fight-or-flight response. "When we become anxious, adrenaline gets released into our body, causing several physical changes that could help you fight 'danger' or run away from it," Ungerleider says. "Blood is shunted away from our hands, feet, and abdomen to our large muscle groups such as thighs and hips. This is a primitive, evolutionary reflex to help us flee from an emergency."
6. Dry Mouth
You know when you want to swig your water bottle a million times when you're nervous? That's totally normal. "Feeling anxious or stressed can reduce the flow of saliva in your mouth leading to dry mouth," Ungerleider says.
7. Having A Short Fuse
If you feel yourself seeing red and anger rushing through you, that can be a sign that you're close to breaking point. According to WebMD, "Are you fine when you're by yourself but frequently get provoked to an explosion by your spouse, children, friends, or co-workers? If so, you may be on stress overload, a situation that is dangerous to your physical and mental health —and unhealthy for those around you." In other cases, paranoia, withdrawal from socializing, and flashbacks to traumatic events can also signal an impeding nervous breakdown.
A lot of these symptoms are totally common to feel from time to time, but if you are in regular emotional or physical distress, make sure to talk to your doctor and take care of yourself.