From burnout to mood swings: 6 signs you might be having a 'slow-motion breakdown'.

This post deals with depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders, and could be triggering for some readers.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: this year has been a YEAR. In fact, the last two years have been a YEAR. 

Between the pandemic, working from home, losing jobs, homeschooling kids, money worries and trying to exist in 'the new normal' - it's been enough to make anyone feel a little out of sorts.

And for some, the intense stress, overwhelm and anxiety that has come along with it has been slowly building up - steadily increasing without us even realising.

Enter: A 'slow-motion' breakdown.

Watch: Roxy Jacenko opens up about her nervous breakdown. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

While we're all aware that a sudden mental breakdown can happen during a period of intense mental distress, what you might not know is that the gradual building of stress over the years can trigger a 'slow-motion' episode.

"The day-to-day pressures of life can take a toll on anyone, yet how we respond to things can differ from person to person," explains psychologist Nancy Sokarno from Lysn.

"For some, a slow-motion breakdown can seemingly happen overnight (with those feelings usually bubbling under the surface over time for no one to see), however for others, it can seem as though a breakdown could have been predicted."

So, how do you know if you're dealing with one? And what can you do about it?

Below, we've asked Sokarno to help us round up some of the more common signs you may be experiencing a slow-motion breakdown.

1. You're anxious or stressed.

While there are a lot of things that can cause you to feel frustrated, angry and stressed out, if these are feelings that aren't really going away, this may be a sign you're struggling right now.


"If you feel perpetually worried, stressed or anxious on a day-to-day basis (without ever feeling any reprieve) this is a strong cause for concern," said Sokarno.

2. You're feeling burnt out and exhausted.

"Burnout and feeling generally exhausted by life can leave a person feeling physically, mentally and emotionally shattered, with many people feeling as though they can’t catch up even if they want to."

Sound familiar?

Whilst we can tolerate these feelings for a little while, Sokarno said feeling burnt out or suffering from prolonged stress and exhaustion can culminate into serious mental health concerns if ignored.

"In fact, The World Health Organisation has recognised burnout in its International Classification of Diseases, allowing healthcare professionals and insurance companies to acknowledge, treat and cover the symptoms."

3. You're having extreme mood swings.

If you’ve been experiencing mood swings where you might be feeling happy one minute then crying the next, Sokarno said this could be a cause for concern.

"If you’re experiencing days or weeks on end where it feels like you’re on edge, short-tempered and highly emotional, monitor your moods to see if you need to seek help.

"Sometimes the signs are a lot subtler and can be just a display of a different life attitude that leans more towards despair and negativity as if you’ve lost some of your lust for life."

4. You've lost interest in the things you used to enjoy.

If you're feeling a little disconnected from the things that used to bring you joy - whether it's relationships, hobbies or activities - this could be an early warning sign your mind is throwing out at you to help you cope. 

"Losing interest in things you typically enjoy is a common symptom of mental health concerns, especially if you find yourself withdrawing from activities or social occasions that you’d normally be excited for," said Sokarno.

5. You're presenting self-destructive behaviour. 

In some cases, risk-taking behaviour can be a sign of mental health changes and a slow-motion breakdown. 

While it's one we might not really talk about, that 'f**k it' kind of mind frame could be a red flag we're trying to escape our mental struggles.

"Changes in behaviour such as participating in reckless or self-destructive behaviour are also warning signs, as are substance abuse where you might seemingly be trying to escape the pressures of life through drugs or alcohol," said Sokarno.


6. You're experiencing physical symptoms.

While the term 'breakdown' will often make you think of mental changes, there can be physical changes, too. In fact, they're actually closely connected.

"There are a range of physical related symptoms that can point to a slow-motion breakdown such as stomach issues, recurring headaches, insomnia, and appetite changes that might culminate in extreme weight loss or gain," explains Sokarno.

If you're experiencing any new physical pain or symptom, you should always check in with your doctor regardless, but it’s important to keep in mind that physical pain can be an early warning sign that the mind is really struggling.

How do you deal with a slow-motion breakdown?

While symptoms are different for everyone, if you’re struggling right now, speak up and seek professional help.

"Knowing when to seek help can vary depending on the person, however, in most situations, it is important to address any symptoms right away," said Sokarno.

"Feeling constantly worried, stressed, anxious or under pressure in life is not an ideal way to thrive, and seeking help can ensure you find a better way to manage."

Sokarno said to draw on support resources like Lifeline and Beyond Blue that provide free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts that can help you through any mental health concerns. 

"Services like Lysn provide access to psychologists via video chat, which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home around the clock. These services can be instrumental in providing the support you need in day-to-day life and can hopefully avoid you reaching breaking point," she adds.

As well as seeking professional help, Sokarno said there are a few things that can help:

  • "Breathing techniques that focus on slow and deep breathing can help to keep you centred when things feel particularly stressful."
  • "Any form of exercise can help to manage stress levels and release tension, however, exercises that centre breath and focus (such as yoga) can be great for slowing you down."
  • "Mindfulness techniques such as meditation or journaling can be instrumental in alleviating worrisome thoughts or allowing you to track your moods."
  • "Avoid caffeine and alcohol during periods of high stress as these substances have been known to make stress feel worse."  
  • "[Consider] sessions with a psychologist who can provide coping techniques and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) where needed." 

"In all cases, if it feels as though you no longer have the motivation to get out of bed in the morning or the energy to keep going, or feel as though there is no way out of the pressures of your life, seek help immediately," urges Sokarno.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Can you relate to any of the above signs? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Feature image: Getty

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