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.
Once you understand how the controller works, you can manage controllable and non-controllable stressors. Strategies:
- Problem solving is the strategy to be implemented for controllable stressors. You analyze the situation and create a plan, for example if you are looking for a job you can implement a routine of searching and sending a CV.
- Positive revaluation is the strategy to manage uncontrollable stressors where difficulties are reconsidered as growth training opportunities. For example, reading something written in ugly or illegible handwriting may be easier to remember precisely because it required more effort.
- Even if the two strategies are successful, our controller may complain that progress is too slow, in which case the “redefinition of victory” is put in place, that is to redefine our expectations. Recognizing in advance that a task will be difficult will not irritate our controller when difficulties arise.
- Redefinition of bankruptcy: it must be recognized that bankruptcy can also have positive results.
- Know when to give up by making a list of:
- what are the benefits of persisting or giving up;
- what are the costs of persisting or giving up.
It must be remembered that managing stressors does not solve stress, these strategies must always be followed by completing the cycle.
3. What gives meaning to our life
What gives meaning to our life can derive from:
- Goals or results that leave a legacy to future generations.
- Spiritual calls.
- Emotional connections with others.
Sometimes you know what gives meaning to your life forever, other times it takes time to find out, but the situation is different for those suffering from the “caregiver syndrome”, since it pushes us to ignore our primary goal and dedicate ourselves completely to the care of human beings. The cure for caregiver syndrome is the commitment to pursue what gives real meaning to one’s life.
The real enemy to fight: patriarchal society
The patriarchal society in which we live is like a chronic background noise that we get used to and we no longer notice, but this does not make it less noisy.
Its elements are:
- Inability to express your opinion as much as men. It is a system that starts from elementary school.
- Disorientation, the tendency of society, affected by patriarchal blindness, to repeat to women that discrimination is only the result of their imagination, pushing them to doubt themselves, to feel trapped and to believe that they have created the situation themselves.
- Caregiver syndrome thrives in patriarchal society and at the same time makes us blind to it.
- Feeling of helplessness against a society that cannot be fought.
- Physical aspect “required” by society: the bikini industrial complex
These widespread problems are chronic minor stressors produced by the patriarchal society in which we live, but which in our century is now mistakenly considered defeated. To combat the sensation of derivative impotence one must “do something”, that is, complete the cycle.
This does not mean that we must strive to completely change the world on our own, but even small actions can make progress, for example: making purchases from women-only shops, inviting women to speak first in meetings, etc.
Fighting the bikini industrial complex is more complex because it is deeply rooted in our society and pushes us to consider our body as an enemy. Strategies:
- Learn to accept confusion, manage with contradiction and ambivalent acceptance thoughts of your body with compassion and kindness and at the same time the will to conform to social norms. Realizing that the enemy is not our body, but patriarchal society, we are already halfway there.
- Think of your body as the “new beauty”. Feel compassion for your body and redefine its value, accepting contradictory emotions towards it.
- Try to see everyone else as the “new beauty” regardless of their body, try to abandon prejudice towards others to be kinder to yourself.
- Listen to your body.
Win the battle against the enemy
There are several actions that can be taken to combat the elements that cause exhaustion on a daily basis.
- Connection / reports: although our society considers being independent of all as a form of force and superpower, the human being is basically a social animal, nobody can function 100% without any kind of relationship or bond. When the connection is created with someone we trust and with whom we share a “connected knowledge”, that is, the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others, an energy is created that renews us called the “Bubble of love”. There are signs that indicate the need to recharge our love bubble: when we get confused, that is, when we feel that there is something wrong with a situation even if they try to convince us of the contrary, the best solution is to turn to someone who can understand us; when you feel you are not doing enough; when you are sad or angry.
- Rest: our body is built in such a way as to have to swing from a state of rest to action and back to rest, we are not made to persist constantly. The caregiver syndrome considers rest as a selfish act, since the only goal of a caregiver is giving, therefore resting is an act of resistance against the forces of patriarchal society that push us to believe that we can never do enough. To ensure that you rest, you can create a calendar in which six to nine hours of rest are scheduled (the hours suggested by science to recharge your body).
- Become powerful: accept the most fragile part of us, what we will call the “madwoman in the attic” who keeps telling us that she is not enough. The madwoman is the part of us who continually tries to bridge the gap between who we are and what the caregiver syndrome requires from us. You can take a sheet and describe your madness in the attic (we all have one), you can describe your feelings, the moments when you are critical or a toxic perfectionist. Knowing your madness in the attic helps us to turn to it with compassion. Feeling compassion and gratitude for ourselves helps us understand the differences between who we are and what the world expects of us without blaming or blaming us. This process can be difficult because it is painful and frightening,