Hidden Signs Of A Nervous Breakdown That High Achievers Often Miss

Hidden Signs Of A Nervous Breakdown That High Achievers Often Miss Shutterstock

Nervous breakdowns are not always easily identifiable, especially for high achievers accustomed to pushing themselves to the limit.

“Nervous breakdown” isn’t a medical diagnosis – but it is a type of mental health crisis that can make it feel like you’re trudging through the mud just to get through the day. A nervous breakdown includes an overwhelming amount of stress, anxiety, or depression that’s usually situational and negatively affects your ability to function in daily life, as defined by the Cleveland Clinic.

Recognizing these subtle signs and prioritizing self-care can help high achievers avoid the downward spiral of a nervous breakdown. Seeking support from loved ones or mental health professionals is crucial for addressing underlying issues and restoring balance to their lives.

1. Difficulty relaxing

Have you ever tried to chill out, kick back, or catch a show and found yourself squirming with discomfort? It’s like relaxation itself becomes a stressor because there are still other things to do! Who’s got the time to relax, right? Constantly feeling on edge and unable to relax, even during downtime, can signify chronic stress and looming burnout. High achievers might shrug off relaxation as a luxury they can’t afford, but self-care is paramount for your mental well-being. Remember, if you don’t allow yourself to rest, your body will make you.

2. Persistent fatigue

Hitting a mental brick wall can slam just as hard as hitting a physical one. It’s that bone-deep weariness that no amount of sleep seems to cure. High achievers often attribute fatigue to their busy schedules and workload, but persistent exhaustion that doesn’t improve with rest could be a sign of impending burnout. Ignoring this sign can lead to a crash and burn of both body and mind.

3. Increased irritability

Stress has a knack for turning even the most patient among us into ticking time bombs. However, deciphering the difference between a temporary annoyance and a warning sign can be tricky for high achievers. When your mental space has blown a fuse, every demand can feel like a mental invasion. If you find yourself snapping at loved ones or colleagues more frequently, it could indicate an underlying emotional strain that’s messing up your mental circuit board.

4. Difficulty concentrating

frustrated man sitting at computer

High achievers wear their ability to power through tasks like a badge of honor. So, when the mental gears start grinding to a halt, it’s tempting to write it off as a mere hiccup in the hustle. However, prolonged cognitive difficulties could signify a more serious issue. Experiencing difficulties focusing or making decisions is our brain’s way of waving the white flag, telling us to do anything but the things that would add to the existing stress because it just can’t handle it!

5. Changes in appetite

Significant changes in appetite, like sudden weight loss or gain, may indicate emotional distress. Some people “stress-eat,” while others can’t seem to stomach anything due to anxiety. The former can be a form of escapism, seeking fulfillment through consumption. On the other hand, the latter can stem from our flight-or-flight response system prioritizing survival over eating, says Healthline.com.

6. Insomnia or sleeping too much

Thinking, depression and asian man in a bed with insomnia, fatigue or sleep paralysis anxiety. Burnout, conflict and male person in a bedroom with overthinking stress, ptsd or mistake trauma in house

Disrupted sleep patterns are common indicators of stress and anxiety, but high achievers may disregard them as temporary personal faults. They might tell themselves they “just don’t have time for a full eight hours” or they’ve “just fallen off their routine and have been oversleeping.” However, persistent insomnia or excessive sleeping means your brain and body are not cooperating. It’s a sign of some serious stress and, if continued, can contribute to a downward spiral of mental and physical health.

7. Withdrawal from social activities

Thoughtful stressed young hispanic latin woman sitting on windowsill, looking outside on rainy weather, having depressive or melancholic mood, suffering from negative thoughts alone at home.

High achievers often prioritize work over socializing, so they may fail to recognize when they begin to isolate altogether. From dodging invitations to ghosting appointments, you might opt out of all social activity. It can even look like calling into work without reason (but hey, just a friendly reminder that mental health days are legit—they’re as valid as any sick day). However, isolation can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and contribute to a sense of detachment from others.

8. Physical aches and pains

Stress can manifest in some wild (but common) ways – including physically. It can wreak havoc on our bodies, showing up as headaches, muscle tension, stomach issues, changes to hair and nails, skin problems, and other bodily discomforts. High achievers might brush these off as the toll of hard work or even worry that it results from some outside health concern (cue the WebMD rabbit hole). While other factors may contribute to you feeling icky, these are classic indicators of a nervous breakdown that many experience.

9. Heightened anxiety

man on couch covering head with palm

Anxiety is no stranger to high achievers striving for perfection. Still, when worry spirals out of control, it’s a clear warning sign. I’ve pushed myself to the point where I feel disconnected from reality due to my anxiety levels, and only the tasks at hand seem to tether me back. It begins to feel like the world is crumbling around me unless and until I accomplish every single thing on my to-do list to perfection. Ignoring escalating anxiety levels can lead to panic attacks and further exacerbate mental health issues.

10. Loss of interest in the things you like

High achievers may sacrifice hobbies and leisure activities as they chase their ambitions, but when even the things that once sparked joy lose their luster, it’s a big flashing sign of mental and emotional turmoil. According to Health Direct, loss of interest is one of the key diagnostic criteria for conditions like depression and other mental health issues. Understanding this shift as more than just a passing phase is vital – it’s a sign to delve deeper and address the root causes.

11. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

stressed man at work desk

High achievers set lofty standards for themselves, but persistently feeling guilty, unimportant, or never good enough are signs of deeper struggles with self-esteem. When we have mental breakdowns, our self-worth flounders. Brushing aside these emotions only fuels negative thought patterns, potentially making us spiral even further.

12. Increased substance use

close-up of man drinking beer

Whether it’s alcohol, drugs, or even prescription medications – high achievers may reach for substances to deal with stress and anxiety. You might not even realize you’re doing it because you justify it as your only relief. Yet, leaning on substances to numb the pressure can pave the path to addiction and further aggravate mental health challenges. Viewing substance use as a coping mechanism is a stark indicator of a breakdown in progress.

13. Escapist behaviors

Diving into excessive gaming, television sprees, or spending hours scrolling through social media is an easy escape from life’s stressors. You might brush it off as harmless distractions, yet these behaviors can morph into unhealthy coping mechanisms. Recognizing these patterns as red flags is crucial in mitigating the risk of a full-blown breakdown.

14. Perfectionism

sad woman in orange cardigan on couch

While striving for excellence is a hallmark of high achievers, perfectionism can become detrimental when taken to extremes. You may find yourself being especially nit-picky about things. Maybe you’re looking over your work over and over and over again, searching for any and every flaw. This is a sign of a nervous breakdown. Obsessive pursuits of perfection can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and, ultimately, burnout.

15. Hypersensitivity

guy with his palm on his cheek

High achievers may pride themselves on their resilience, but increased sensitivity to criticism or rejection can leave them feeling exposed and vulnerable, especially when teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Ignoring it when this comes up only deepens feelings of inadequacy and amplifies underlying mental health challenges.

16. Difficulty setting boundaries

For high achievers, setting a boundary can be a struggle – in both personal and professional realms. The relentless pursuit of accomplishment often blurs the lines between work and life. This tendency to overcommit, driven by a desire to excel, can erode personal well-being. Without clear boundaries, you sacrifice your mental and physical health on the altar of success. Even though it can be uncomfortable, learning to assert boundaries is essential for preserving a healthy balance. It’s not just about saying “no” to others – it’s about saying “yes” to oneself.

17. Procrastination

While procrastination is often seen as a productivity issue, it can also be a sign of underlying anxiety or perfectionism. While high achievers may rationalize procrastination as a momentary setback – a byproduct of their hard work or a flaw in their character – it often masks a deeper struggle with fear of failure or inadequacy. Understanding procrastination as more than just a time management issue is the only way to begin unraveling its underlying emotional roots and implementing strategies for healthier productivity habits.

18. Forgetting things

young man with headache on couch

Memory and organizational skills are major assets for juggling multiple responsibilities—especially when striving for high achievement. When increased forgetfulness creeps in, high achievers may hastily attribute it to external factors, dismissing it as things being lost in the whirlwind of their work. However, persistent lapses in memory can be a sign of cognitive overload. It isn’t just a passing glitch; it’s urging you to slow down!

19. Denial or minimization

Perhaps the most significant hidden indicator of a nervous breakdown is the tendency to deny or downplay your struggles. High achievers may recoil at their vulnerabilities and be reluctant to admit them. While high achievers are used to taking on their burdens with steely resolve, there is such enormous strength in acknowledging when you’ve exceeded your capacity. Seeking help and support is far from an admission of defeat – it’s a lifeline.

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I am a 29 year old writer from Milwaukee, WI. Currently living a life of freedom in Tucson, AZ. Virgo, wine-drinker, lover of bad dancing. Insanity and getting into trouble are my fortes. Writing is my medium.