Have you ever felt like the world is closing in on you? Your heart starts racing, you can’t catch your breath, and everything becomes hazy. You’re not alone. Millions of people experience mental health crises, which can sometimes be hard to differentiate. Take nervous breakdowns and panic attacks, for example. Both share similar symptoms, but they are two separate mental health issues. So how do you distinguish between the two? Let’s start with the basics.
A nervous breakdown is a mental health crisis that occurs when you experience a severe emotional or psychological disturbance. It’s not an actual medical diagnosis but a term that has been used for years to describe a mental health crisis brought on by overwhelming stress that can impede everyday life. According to mental health professionals, individuals with a history of anxiety disorders or depression are at a higher risk of experiencing a nervous breakdown. Additionally, suppose you’re dealing with a significant life stressor, like a divorce, job loss, or severe illness. In that case, you may be more susceptible to a nervous breakdown if you don’t have adequate coping mechanisms.
Signs and Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown
The symptoms of a mental breakdown can vary from person to person, but they typically include psychological, behavioral, and physical symptoms.
Common symptoms of a nervous breakdown include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Emotional outbursts
- Difficulty focusing
- Extreme fatigue
- Low self-esteem
- Panic attacks
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Loss of appetite
- Rapid heart rate
- Difficulty breathing
- Unexplained body aches and pains
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Avoiding social situations
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Frequently missing appointments and calling in sick for work
- Misusing alcohol and drugs to cope
A nervous breakdown may also indicate an undiagnosed physical or mental health condition. Consult a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.
If you’re experiencing a nervous breakdown, seeking immediate help is essential. If you feel like you may harm yourself or are contemplating suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.
How Long Does a Nervous Breakdown Last?
A nervous breakdown may last for a few hours or weeks, depending on various factors, such as:
- How long has the stress been building up – If you’ve felt overwhelmed for a while, your nervous breakdown may last longer.
- Steps you have been taking to mitigate the stress in your life – If you’ve been practicing self-care and seeking support, your nervous breakdown may not last as long
- Any undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions – If you have an underlying mental health condition that hasn’t been addressed, it can make your nervous breakdown last longer.
- The state of your social support system – If you have a great support system, including friends, family, and a therapist, your nervous breakdown may be shorter.
- The treatment plan – If you seek appropriate treatment, such as therapy or medication, your breakdown may not last as long.
Regardless of how long your breakdown lasts, seeking help is crucial. Prompt treatment can help minimize the severity and duration of a nervous breakdown. So don’t hesitate to reach out for support when you need it.
On the other hand, a panic attack is a sudden and overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), panic attacks can be unexpected or expected. Random attacks happen without any apparent reason, while expected attacks can be triggered by various factors, including:
- Chronic pain
- Acute or chronic stress
- Negative life events
- Flashbacks of traumatic events
- Alcohol or drug withdrawal
- Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or asthma
While panic attacks aren’t life-threatening, they can be terrifying and significantly impact your quality of life.
Signs and Symptoms of a Panic Attack
Panic attacks typically include a combination of psychological and physical symptoms and can vary from person to person.
Common symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Fear of dying or losing control
- Sense of impending doom or danger
- A sense of detachment from the world or oneself
- Racing heartbeat or heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Trembling or shaking
- Hot flashes
- Abdominal cramping
- Upset stomach
- Dry mouth
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Numbness or tingling (paresthesia)
The symptoms only last a few minutes but can leave you exhausted and drained afterward.
How Long Does a Panic Attack Last?
Depending on the person, panic attacks can come on suddenly, peak after a few minutes, and subside within 10 to 20 minutes. Multiple panic attacks that occur in waves for at least an hour are also possible. Even after the physical symptoms subside, you may still experience shortness of breath and chest and stomach pains for a bit longer. However, the most persistent symptoms are usually behavioral or cognitive. After a panic attack, generalized anxiety may persist, and you may also experience fatigue and muscle strain.
Panic Attack vs. Panic Disorder
For most people, panic attacks occur only on rare occasions, such as in stressful or frightening situations. However, panic attacks are a regular occurrence for people with panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder. They happen unexpectedly, often while the person is going about their daily life, and are accompanied by a persistent fear of having another attack. This fear can lead to avoidance behaviors, like avoiding certain places or situations to prevent an attack from happening.
Panic disorder is more common than you might think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 4.7% of American adults experience panic disorder at some point. While it can affect anyone, it’s more common in women than men, and it often starts in late teens or early adulthood.
Treatment Options for Nervous Breakdowns and Panic Attacks
Nervous breakdowns and panic attacks can be incredibly debilitating. However, there are treatment options available that can help you manage your symptoms and prevent future episodes. The main treatments for nervous breakdowns and panic attacks are psychotherapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and medications.
Your therapist will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan based on your symptoms, medical history, and physical exam. They will also rule out any underlying medical conditions or mental health disorders that could be causing your symptoms.
In addition to receiving professional care, there are also several strategies and lifestyle changes that you can implement to prevent future mental breakdowns or panic attacks.
- Engage in complementary therapies – Massage therapy, aromatherapy, and activities such as yoga or pilates can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
- Practice deep breathing exercises – These exercises can help you manage stressful situations and reduce anxiety.
- Stay active – Commit to at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily to help manage stress and improve overall health.
- Eat well – Maintaining a healthy diet can help support your mental health and reduce stress.
- Reduce and manage sources of stress – Identify and manage sources of stress in your life to prevent future episodes.
- Join a support group – Participating in a support group can provide a safe environment to obtain practical advice and beneficial information from others who have experienced similar situations. When searching for a local support group, your primary care physician, mental health provider, or local religious institution is often the best place to start. You can also look for a local meeting on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and Mental Health America (MHA) websites.
- Avoid stress-inducing substances – Sugary food and drinks, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco can stress the body and trigger symptoms.
If you’re struggling with a nervous breakdown or panic attack, know you’re not alone. Seeking professional help, engaging in self-care strategies, and joining a support group can all help you manage your symptoms and prevent future episodes. Remember, prompt treatment is critical to preventing these conditions from worsening.
At Turning Point Centers, our dedicated mental health treatment program can provide the care you need to get back on track. We offer comprehensive care for various conditions, including substance use, mental health, and co-occurring disorders. At Turning Point, we treat more than just the symptoms. We believe in treating the whole individual, addressing your mental health disorder as well as your general well-being. That’s why we offer a range of wellness interventions and support services to help you lead a healthy, fulfilling life.