Stress at Work: Signs You’re Headed for a Nervous Breakdown

Randall Pearson This Is Us Breakdown

Randall on This Is Us struggles with nervous breakdowns because of emotional stress. | NBC

We all experience some stress at work. It’s pretty much an unavoidable part of having a job. No matter how satisfied you might be, there will always be something about the work or the people in your office that will give you a headache every now and then.

However, intense, prolonged stress at work is a problem. A study by Bridge by Instructure found in order to cope with work stress, employees are turning to caffeine, sugar, alcohol, anti-anxiety medications, and sleeping pills.

If you find yourself in a place where work pressure is becoming unbearable and it’s affecting your daily activities, it’s time to take action. Unless you address the constant stress, you could be setting yourself up to have a mental health crisis. Some call this a nervous breakdown, but mental health experts usually refer to this as a mental breakdown. No matter which term you use, it’s important to recognize the signs and get help as soon as possible.

Here are signs you’re headed for a nervous breakdown.

1. You’re constantly on edge

Do you feel tense and edgy just thinking about going to work? Do you feel anxious as soon as you step into the office? Constantly feeling tense and uneasy at work eventually wears your mind and body down. Our bodies weren’t made to be under incessant emotional or physical attack.

Mike Dow, Psy.D., Ph.D., author of the upcoming book Heal Your Drained Brain, said intense, daily work stress can cause you to enter a state of fight or flight. “When you’re stressed out, your sympathetic nervous system (also known as your fight or flight response) takes over,” Dow told The Cheat Sheet.

Next: Hopelessness sets in.

2. You feel like you can’t cope any more

Depressed businesswoman rubbing eyes in office

If you’re constantly burned out, that could lead to something bigger. | iStock.com/MangoStar_Studio

This is more than just feeling a little tired or having an off day. Another sign is if you’re feeling so overwhelmed and burned out you feel you can’t function at work or in your personal life. This burnout can lead to conflict with others at work and poor performance. You might not see the warning signs of extreme burnout until it’s too late, so it’s necessary to be mindful of your emotional state.

Caleb Backe, a wellness expert and marketing team member for Maple Holistics, said if you’re on the verge of a mental breakdown, you’ll not only feel burned out but also appear to others as burned out. “Signs resembling those of depression may set in: hopelessness, sadness, anger, tiredness, and agitation coupled with lack of sleep,” Backe told The Cheat Sheet.

Next: Life isn’t as enjoyable.

3. You’ve lost interest in things you once enjoyed

African American depressed woman

A major shift in your personality is a bad sign. | Rawpixel Ltd/iStock/Getty Images

Another tell-tale sign the stress at work is starting to get to you is if you no longer want to do things you normally enjoyed or there are big changes in your daily habits and activities. For example, at one point you might have looked forward to meeting up with co-workers for drinks after work, but now all you want to do is leave the office as soon as possible and go straight home. You might even avoid people and stop talking to office mates you used to chat with often.

Next: Your behavior has changed suddenly.

4. You’re displaying sudden behavioral changes

feeling alone

This can show in big or small ways. | iStock/Getty Images

Dow said extreme stress can make even simple activities feel like a chore. Things you once did effortlessly might be done less often or not at all. “Are there major changes in your day-to-day life? This is sometimes seen in the small stuff. For example, you used to make your bed daily and now you don’t. It’s also in the big stuff, like changes in weight, mood, sleeping patterns, general outlook on life, or becoming isolated and wanting to stay in,” said Dow.

Next: You can’t get a handle on your emotions.

5. You’re having emotional outbursts

caucasian business executive yelling at two asian subordinates in office.

If you’re getting angry for no reason, that’s a bad sign. | imtmphoto/iStock/Getty Images

When the pressure becomes unbearable, it’s not uncommon to have difficulty regulating your emotions. You might be angry and yelling at a co-worker one moment, and then crying uncontrollably five minutes later. It’s important to pay close attention to how you’re feeling if you’ve been facing stress on the job. If you’re at a point where you’re suddenly having frequent moods swings, this is an indication the demands of the job, the work environment, or both, are becoming more than you can handle.

Next: Anxiety has taken over and you can’t seem to get enough sleep.

6. You’re exhausted and anxious

Young sad mad sitting by the window

If you’re feeling anxious and antsy, this could be sign of a mental breakdown. | Marjan_Apostolovic/iStock/Getty Images

You might also feel exhausted, anxious, and have trouble concentrating. Tina Bakardzhieva, a clinical hypnotherapist and a mindfulness teacher with Oxford Spires Hypnotherapy, said increasing anxiety is one of the most common signs of a mental breakdown. “Anxiety that has become unmanageable is central to all breakdown experiences. When you feel anxiety mixed with depression, the result is often terrible vulnerability, people describe being in a room and feeling that others can see right through them,” said Bakardzhieva.

Next: Know your triggers.

Paying attention to triggers

worried young man sits on the edge of a bed

If you wake up dreading going to work, talk to someone. | iStock/Getty Images

In addition to paying attention to some of the signs you’re starting to break down emotionally, it’s also a good idea to be aware of potential triggers at work. An unhealthy work environment is potentially dangerous to your mental health.

Chris Kernes, therapist and co-founder of LARKR, an on-demand therapy app, said there are many potential stressors on the job that could lead one to experience an emotional health crisis. Among the triggers are traumatic events at work, your current job not meeting your needs, conflict with your boss or co-workers, lack of support, or inability to keep up with the changing demands of your role.

Next: Here’s what you can do.

What you can do

Seek professional help if need be. | Monkeybusinessimages/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

  • Engage in self-care. If you feel you’re headed for a nervous breakdown due to work stress, it’s time to take a step back and take care of yourself. You can start by taking a day off from work to regroup. M. Reese Everson, attorney and founder of B.A.B.E.S. in the Workplace, told The Cheat Sheet whether you stay home or go on a vacation, it’s important to remove yourself from the stressor for a while so you can heal. “Take a vacation or a staycation! My favorite staycation is the Four Seasons Spa in Baltimore. For $155 you can buy a massage and have access to a full day of the sauna, steam rooms, scrub treatments, soaking in a vitality pool, enjoying the outdoor patio, and more. Self-love and self-care are critical” said Everson.
  •  Seek professional help. It’s also a good idea to book an appointment with a mental health professional. He or she can help you devise an action plan for managing your reaction to stress and provide a safe space to talk about your fears and concerns.
  • Form connections. It might be tempting to isolate yourself when you’re feeling bad, but connecting with others can help improve your outlook and provide an added layer of support. Work on forming a support group outside of therapy by reaching out to friends and family members.

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