The technical term “nervous breakdown” was born in 1975 thanks to Herbert Freudenberger, who defined it with three characteristics:
- Emotional exhaustion, which occurs when you get stuck in the same emotion for too long due to situations that cause it or the inability to find a way out of the emotion.
- Depersonalization, a reduction of empathy.
- Reduced sense of accomplishment, nothing we do seems to make a difference.
Very often the nervous breakdown coincides with what is called the “caregiver syndrome” by the philosopher Kate Manne. Society is divided into human beings and carers (very often women) and they are expected to voluntarily offer their time, affection, attention and body to the former without needing anything or disturbing anyone with their emotions.
Carers cannot complete the “emotional tunnel”, that is, the processing of an emotion until its end, and therefore remain stuck in the same emotion for long periods, until exhaustion.
Stress and stressors
To define stress, one must first differentiate between stress and stressors.
- Stress is the neurological and physiological response that is activated in our body when we are exposed to stressful agents. It is an adaptive evolutionary response that is present in all living things.
- Stressors are the elements or situations that trigger stress in our body. For example: family, money, cultural norms, etc. Our body identifies them as potential threats.
In the past, a stressed agent could have been the attack of a wild animal that would have triggered a multisystem response in our body, whose goal was to pump oxygen and energy into the muscles in anticipation of escape.
The possible results could be two: being devoured by the wild animal or being able to escape, reach one’s village and rejoice with family and friends. In that case our body would have understood that the threat had been eradicated and therefore the “Stress Cycle” was complete.
Nowadays the types of threats have changed, but the “stress cycle” remains the same, once you get rid of the stressors it is not over there, you have to manage the stress, report to your body that the threat has passed, thus ending our body’s response to stress.
The nervous breakdown is very often due to an emotion that is blocked and is present for a long period, this does not allow to complete the stress cycle. Three most common reasons for the inability to end the cycle are:
- Chronic stressors, such as a lion waiting for us every day, ready to hunt us and from which we only flee to start all over again the following day. We are stuck in a situation that continuously activates stress.
- Social adequacy, for example when we cannot follow the response to the stressful agent suggested by our body since it would go against the social norms of kindness and education, such as responding to a vulgar or sexist comment expressed on our head.
- Safety, sometimes it is safer not to respond to verbal harassment on the street so as not to worsen the situation, it is a survival strategy but that postpones the body’s need to complete the stress cycle. A special form of response to stress is “immobility”, it occurs when the brain analyzes the threat and decides that there is no way to escape or fight it, at which point the only chance of survival is tanatosis, that is, pretending to be dead hence the inability to move or act, we get stuck. Our society can consider this specific response to stress as a moment of weakness, but we must understand that it is a natural response of our body and there is no need to feel guilty.
3 Weapons we have to fight stress
1. Complete the cycle
- As mentioned above, stressors activate a response to stress in our body that prepares to escape, so what better way to complete the cycle than physical activity? The movement tells our brain that the threat has been defeated and we are saved. Twenty to sixty minutes a day of movement.
- Breathing can help when stress is not at its highest levels, you can breathe for up to five, hold your breath for five seconds and then breathe out for up to ten, a five-second break and start again, up to three times.
- Positive social interactions such as laughter, demonstrations of affection with humans (twenty second hugs or six second kisses) or animals and spirituality, that is, feeling connected to something bigger, can communicate to the body that it is safe and sound.
- Traditional crying does not change the situation but can make us feel more relieved.
- Creativity can help us express our emotions and complete the cycle.
There are many other ways to complete the stress cycle and for each of us it is different, but the main rule is to “do something” to communicate to our body that we are safe, for sure to tell ourselves that everything is fine, it doesn’t work, the cycle completion process is not psychological but physiological.
We can identify signs of high stress that indicate the need to manage stress before we can manage stressors:
- Constantly repeating the same pointless action with self-destructive behavior.
- Sudden and sudden bursts of pain and suffering.
- Hiding, for example spending whole days on the sofa eating or watching TV.
- Constant diseases such as chronic pain, wounds that do not heal, etc.
2. Manage the “controller” and stressors
The part of our brain that analyzes the situation in which we are compared to our objectives is called a “controller” and has a precise opinion on the right balance between what our objective is, the effort invested in achieving it and the amount of progress made. To make him happy, the proportion must be: less effort> more progress. But if the opposite occurs: great efforts> minor progress, then our controller will go into crisis, creating a sense of frustration.