8 Early Warning Signs of a Mental Breakdown

This is a disclaimer that this article is for informative purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Please reach out to a qualified healthcare provider or mental health professional if you are struggling.

Have you been overwhelmed with stress lately? Do you feel like you’re not being able to cope? Like the stress is just adding and adding up, waiting on you to explode?

A period of intense mental distress is what it’s called a nervous (or mental) breakdown. The extreme stress makes it impossible for you to handle it and function in your everyday life. 

Even though this experience can be extremely scary, recognizing the early signs can help you seek help early on. 

Here are 8 early warning signs of mental breakdown.

1. Irritability

Ugh! Why are these people walking so slow! 
Can she talk even louder??
He’s late again, it’s like he has no concept of time!!

When you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown, even small things like someone being late or slow can make you angry and irritable. Even if you’re not usually a hot-headed person, suddenly you just can’t help yourself but to feel intense anger at everyone and everything. 

2. Excessive worrying

Is your mind just cluttered with worries? 

What will happen at work tomorrow? Will I ever pass that exam? Is my friend ignoring my message? Did I say something wrong at the meeting yesterday?

Everyone worries about something every now and then, but it’s a sign of a greater problem if you can’t stop worrying from the minute you wake up until you go to bed.

3. Withdrawing from friends and family

When stress eats you up, talking to someone you trust is a good self-care strategy, but oftentimes it just seems too difficult to hang out with anyone. You may feel like all you want to do is get away from people and spend as much time as you can alone in your bed. Talking to others may make you feel exhausted, and you may keep canceling plans, making up excuses for staying home, or just plainly ignoring anyone who tries to talk to you.

4. Changes in appetite

Feeling of intense stress can change up your appetite and your eating habits. It is possible that you go about your day and suddenly remember you forgot to eat. You could feel sick after eating, have problems like heartburn or IBS, or you may feel like something you used to like now has no taste at all.

On the other hand, you may indulge in overeating as a way to cope with stress. You may crave sweet and fatty foods and order fast-food more than you should. 

These changes in appetite can also make your weight fluctuate (gaining or losing weight).

5. Poor sleep quality

How have you been sleeping lately? Do you have trouble falling or staying asleep? Or maybe you’re sleeping more than usual?

Insomnia is another common symptom of mental breakdown. Difficulty falling asleep or waking up several times during the night is not only frustrating, but it can also worsen your other symptoms. Also, you could be sleeping too much which could make you groggy and sleepy during the day, too.

6. Difficulty focusing or remembering

Physical and emotional symptoms are not the only signs of being close to a mental breakdown. Did you notice you’re getting forgetful – misplacing your phone or keys or not being able to remember the time of your next appointment? Or maybe you can’t seem to focus during conversations or work?

Long-term stress can impact your brain structure, too. The stress hormone cortisol that your brain has too much during this time makes it difficult for you to remember or pay attention. If not taken care of early on, it could lead to more severe cases of memory loss, too.

7. Low energy and fatigue

When you take all the not sleeping, not eating and excessive worrying into account, you might be feeling like you’re driving on an empty reservoir. Low energy and fatigue could make it hard for you to function normally, making your quality of life drop. Fatigue and tiredness could be early signs of a mental breakdown, but they could also lead to a mental breakdown on their own if not treated.

8. Difficulty breathing

According to a study published in a Respiratory Medicine journal, there is a strong link between stress and respiratory symptoms.

During periods of intense stress, your body is trying to prepare itself to run away or fight for its life. This mechanism, called fight-or-flight response, may sometimes manifest itself as a shortness of breath.

You may feel like you’re barely able to catch your breath, suffocating, hyperventilating or having a tightness in your chest.

Closing thoughts

Having some of these symptoms and feeling your body and mind giving up under all the pressure certainly feels awfully scary. The best thing you could do to help yourself would be contacting your doctor or finding a therapist. They could help you take care of the physical symptoms to get your body in order, but also work on the deep mental roots of your problems. 

If that’s not an option at the moment, you could consider seeking support from friends or family, or changing your lifestyle if you can – regularly exercising, avoiding caffeine, alcohol or drugs, being mindful of what you eat and spending as much time as you can breathing in fresh air.

And while taking these little steps towards recovery, remember that nothing is forever – this too will pass, as long as you don’t forget to take care of yourself.


  • Huizen, J. (2020, September 30). What are the signs of a nervous breakdown? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321018
  • Leander, M., Lampa, E., Rask-Andersen, A., Franklin, K., Gislason, T., Oudin, A., Svanes, C., Torén, K., & Janson, C. (2014). Impact of anxiety and depression on respiratory symptoms. Respiratory Medicine, 108(11), 1594–1600. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rmed.2014.09.007
  • Scaccia, A. (2021, December 3). How to Recognize and Treat the Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/nervous-breakdown#symptoms
  • Signs of a Nervous Breakdown. (2020, October 20). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-nervous-breakdown

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