What exactly is a nervous breakdown?
‘Nervous breakdown’ isn’t an official medical term or mental illness, but everyone has some idea of what the phrase means. Although there’s no precise definition, it generally describes the feeling of being under so much prolonged stress that you feel like you’re reaching a breaking point, says neurologist and psychiatrist Dr David A. Merrill.
Feeling you’re having a nervous breakdown can be indicative of an underlying mental illness and you need to talk to your doctor about it right away if it’s impeding your ability to live your normal life, he says. Talk to your doctor about all your symptoms of a nervous breakdown so you can get the right kind of help to tackle your extreme stress and start feeling better. “Nervous breakdowns need to be treated both medically and psychologically,” he explains. “There are lots of new treatments available, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
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You can’t concentrate
In the short term, stress can boost your brainpower by releasing hormones that enhance memory storage and improve concentration. But in the long term, chronic stress makes it difficult to block out external distractions, which affects your ability to focus on work projects (bad) or your surroundings while driving (really, really bad), Dr Merrill says. In extreme cases, excessive amounts of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to memory loss, according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Stress can be a symptom of a nervous breakdown.
You can’t stop eating
Do you reach for a tub of ice cream or packet of biscuits after a long day? There’s a good reason for that. Stress causes the brain to release hormones, including adrenaline, which energises your muscles for a ‘fight or flight’ response. Once the adrenaline wears off, cortisol tells the body to replenish its lost energy stores with food, Dr Merrill says. The problem is, when you’re stressed for reasons that don’t involve crazy levels of physical activity (say, running from a sabre-toothed tiger), you’re biologically wired to eat when you don’t really need to. High-fat and high-sugar comfort foods increase pleasure chemicals in the brain to trick you into temporarily feeling better, he explains.
If you can’t stop eating, try adding to your plate these 11 foods that can reduce stress.