10 Tips to Mindfully Survive a Nervous Breakdown

Written by Alexa Frey

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A nervous breakdown is defined as: “an acute, time-limited mental disorder that manifests primarily as severe stress-induced depression, anxiety, or disassociation in a previously functional individual, to the extent that they are no longer able to function on a day-to-day basis until the disorder is resolved”.

A nervous breakdown can have many causes such as having too much pressure at work, overwhelming family duties, a divorce or death, being diagnosed with a terrible illness, a traumatic experience such as abuse etc.

According to Helpline, the most common symptoms of such a breakdown are depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm, anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, trembling, insomnia, hallucinations, extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts or panic attacks. 

This can include chest pain, detachment from reality and self, extreme fear, and difficulty breathing paranoia, such as believing someone is watching you or stalking you flashbacks of a traumatic event, which can suggest undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A nervous breakdown can last from a few hours to a few weeks. If your breakdown has been going on for a while, and you need some relief, the following ten tips are for you. They will help you not only survive this difficult time, but they might even help you grow from this difficult experience.

 

1. Practice Meditation

 

Try to meditate at least once a day. That’s if you can meditate. If you’re too deep in a hole, meditation might be impossible. Your heart might be beating too heavily in your chest, or you might be experiencing uncontrollable tremors which make sitting - and keeping your head upright - hard. If you can’t meditate, then don’t. But maybe, once a day, do try to give it a shot. 

Anchoring your attention on sounds can be helpful, if the feelings or sensations in your body are too distressing. Mindful walking can also be very helpful, if sitting upright feels too torturous. If all this fails, you can always turn off the lights in your bedroom, and simply stare into the darkness - sitting or lying down. The sensory deprivation will hopefully help calm your mind and body.

When you do meditate, try to incorporate cultivation practices. Meditate on what you are grateful for in you life. When we’re in a hole, it’s good to remember the good stuff that’s still there in our life. Maybe that’s the beautiful tree outside of your bedroom window. Or you are grateful that you have best friends that support you. Also, try to give yourself compassion for what you are going through - give yourself all the love you need.

Lastly, do practice anticipatory joy by bringing up things you look forward to in the future. Maybe summer’s coming up and you’re looking forward to sunbathing. 

 

2. Ask Friends for Help

 

One of the hardest things when having a nervous breakdown is that you feel lonely. Not because you don’t have any friends, but because we are so weak that it can be very draining to be around people.

Make sure that you stay in contact with friends and family - even if you decide to be on your own. If phone calls are too much use WhatsApp (in moderation), or ask your friends to come over - but let them know that they can’t stay too long.

As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you will also notice which of your friends are friends that nurture you and which deplete you. You might have a friend that only texts you to let off steam. During conversations with this difficult friend use your mindfulness skills to notice how he or she makes you feel in your body. If this friend makes you feel tense, annoyed, sad, etc., it might be time to cut down contact with them.

As you are going through a nervous breakdown, you may also find that some friends decide not to be there for you. This can be painful, but it's also a great way to learn which of your friends are true friends.

 

3. Practice Self-Compassion

 

You want to get better. Every day. Obviously, nervous breakdowns aren’t fun. Also, there are many different reasons why people have nervous breakdowns - as mentioned above. Some nervous breakdowns like the one due to a work burnout, will most of the time, pass. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. However, other nervous breakdowns, might not pass as easily. Especially if the origin of the nervous breakdown stems from a chronic mental health disorder such as major depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Not only do such mental health disorders deplete and burn us out, they also often make it extremely hard to stay positive - a quality which in our society seems to be a must. However, how can one stay so easily positive if the very illness that one has been diagnosed with doesn’t allow a person to be positive or rational?

Whether we are in a breakdown due to a work burnout, a chronic mental illness, a death of a close one or another chronic illness, we can choose to treat ourselves with self-compassion. To be patient with ourselves, to allow ourselves to be angry, anxious or depressed and to give ourselves all the love that we have.

 

4. Common Humanity

 

When we’re going through a breakdown, we might feel very lonely. Alone in our room, we might feel like we are the only one that’s going through a hard time. Especially when we look through our window onto the street, and everybody else is going about their day you might feel like life is passing you by and that you’re missing out. In those moments, remember that you are not alone. There are many other people out there, right now, who go through a difficult time. Even though it seems like you’re alone, you are not.

Search the internet for stories of other people who have went through hard times in their life. Read their words and find out what deep wisdom they have learned by surviving such a difficult time. Ask friends and family for their stories.

Remember: you are not alone. We are in this together.

 

5. Listen to Your Body

 

When we are in the midst of a nervous breakdown, it is important to listen to our body. We may feel very sad or even depressed and that can make us feel sleepy (especially if we’ve been prescribed tranquilisers). Many people experiencing a nervous breakdown can also feel exhausted. It’s important to give our bodies the rest they need. However, do listen to your body for signs of oversleeping. Too much sleep can cause dizziness and brain fog, which we want to avoid at all costs.

Also, make sure that you go outside once a day if possible, for a walk in nature. However, do make sure that you choose a path that’s not too steep or too long and always be aware of how far it is to get back to your home. You don’t want to end up exhausted in the woods. If going for a walk seems like too much, try some YouTube exercise or gentle yoga videos. Yoga with Adriene has a few easy and relaxing options.

 

6. Reduce Technology

 

Having a nervous breakdown, we often feel like everything is too much. Sounds are too loud and laptop screens might feel too bright. This is why it can be helpful to keep minimise technology.

Order a hard copy book and immerse yourself into a story, which will make you feel good inside. The pages - just black and white - will help calm your mind. Audiobooks can also be useful. Close your eyes and listen. Just listen. You will notice that when your mind drifts off, you will quickly come back to listening - after all, you don’t want miss the plot. This will give you a break from the endless ruminating and worrying.

Try to use social media as little as possible. The endless scrolling won’t make you feel better, and trust me, if you see all the oh-so-happy version of your friends lives, while you can’t get out of bed, will not help. If you watch a movie, choose one that doesn’t make you anxious or sad. Instead choose something calming or happy!

 

7. Communicate Your Needs

 

Going through a nervous breakdown, we don’t have the energy that we usually have. It might be hard for us to pay those bills, clean our home, and complete other important tasks. In times like these, we need help from our friends and family. However, not all of us are good at asking for help, and not all the friends that we have are selfless enough to offer help. During a breakdown we already feel fragile enough, so having to feel disappointed because a friend lets us down, should be avoided at all costs.

Thus, go through a list of friends in your mind and pick the ones you think will be willing to support you. Let those angels one by one know about your situation and kindly ask for their help. Also, if they say or do things that might hurt or annoy you, do let them know in a gentle way. Not everybody knows exactly how to deal with someone in such a difficult situation, but most are willing to listen and learn.

 

8. Dropping into the Present Moment

 

During a nervous breakdown, we spend a lot of time worrying about the future. Will I ever get better? What if things get worse? Or we ruminate about the past. Why did I not take better care of my health? I should have eaten healthier. Why didn’t I go see the doctor earlier and ignored the all the signs? It is natural to think about the future and the past. During a nervous breakdown this tendency can deplete and exhaust us even more. Apart from that, if you pay close attention there are actually some positive, or at least a few emotionally neutral moments, even during a breakdown.

Try to become as present as you can in those moments by connecting with your senses. Say you’re having a bath, notice the warm water touching every part of your body. Notice the scent of the bath oil. Turn off the light and simply listen to the sounds that emerge out of the silence. Become present and know, that in this moment, everything is OK. In this tiny moment, nothing is wrong. It’s just you in a warm bath tub. That’s it. Everything’s OK right now. 

 

9. Seek Medical Help

 

In the midst of a breakdown, all we want is to just stay in bed (and sleep). We want to hide from the world. We might feel physically really weak, we might experience awful social anxiety which prevents us from leaving our house, or we might just feel too depressed to leave the bed. We might hope, that if we just give things a bit of time, that we’ll feel better soon. While for some of us that might be true, most of us will need professional help.

Your doctor might prescribe you medication to help you get you out of the worst anxiety or depression and a therapist may be able to help you with speaking therapy (try to find one who incorporates mindfulness). Know, that you do not need to get through this in your own. There’s plenty of help!

 

9. Self-Care

 

I wish to end this article with something really positive about going through a breakdown. Now is the time, to indulge in self-care. Try to let go of guilt, and just give yourself everything you need. If you can afford it, order a massage therapist to your home as often as you can. Buy yourself fresh flowers once a week to put next to your bed. Go on YouTube and listen to your favourite songs and sing along if you have the strength for it. Watch all the movies (in moderation) that you’ve always wanted to watch but never had time to. Have as many warm baths as you can. Meditate and use cultivation practices to feel good inside. Grab a pen right now, of all the good stuff that you can still do and go for it!

 

MEDITATIONS:

Body Scan

Animal Affection 

Gratitude

 

The Mindfulness Project runs a range of courses and workshops. Please note, these are not suitable if you are currently experiencing a mental health breakdown.  

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