Nervous breakdown / acute stress reaction

Nervous breakdown / acute stress reaction

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There is colloquial talk of a nervous breakdown when an acute mental stress situation leads to massive psychological complaints, which in turn can manifest themselves in the form of tantrums, crying tears, depressed moods, exhaustion or even physical symptoms.


There is no clear medical definition of the colloquial term "nervous breakdown". It is the response to a traumatizing event which, according to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10), is best attributed to neurotic, stress and somatoform disorders. Here, the nervous breakdown falls into the category of adaptive disorders and includes symptoms such as the acute stress response (short-term nervous breakdown immediately after an event) or post-traumatic stress disorder (long-term psychological or social impairment due to traumatic events).

The victims literally collapse. It envelops a massive weight. Patients report a feeling of massive emptiness. This can be caused by long-term humiliation, bullying, sexual assault or even violence. However, sudden events such as accidents or death messages from close friends or relatives are often the cause. The victims fall, cry and seem out of control.


Traumatic events that can be the reason for a nervous breakdown include impressions of a serious traffic accident, a natural disaster or war experiences. But personal fates such as rape or kidnapping are associated with such extreme psychological stress that those affected often experience a nervous breakdown. Furthermore, the loss of particularly close people, such as one's own children, often has a traumatic effect. However, the nervous breakdown does not have to be based on extreme events; rather, supposedly harmless experiences, such as persistent bullying or relationship stress, can sometimes trigger a psychological overload. Whether someone has a nervous breakdown is therefore not only dependent on the events they have lived through, but is closely related to the individual requirements. Personal coping strategies and options play a key role here.


A nervous breakdown can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms. For example, in the context of acute stress disorder, a certain mental absence of the affected person can often be observed and the patients tend to irrational actions. They also show strong emotional fluctuations, with an alternation of intense sadness, anger, aggression and indifference. Physical symptoms such as excessive sweating, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, nausea and vomiting can also be part of the symptoms. Some sufferers start to tremble uncontrollably all over the body in the acute phase and cringe. So long after the stressful event is over, so-called flashbacks can still appear, in which the patients relive the situation again. It is therefore not unusual for you to try to avoid comparable situations in order not to be exposed to the psychological stress again. This is usually associated with considerable restrictions in everyday life.

If the patient suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, in addition to many of the symptoms mentioned, long-term dissociations (lack of connection or association between perception, memory, sensory impressions, etc.) and changes in personality also usually appear. Affected people are also increasingly prone to (auto) aggressive behavior and suicide attempts. Their ability to form personal bonds is permanently disturbed and they often develop accompanying depression. More unspecific complaints such as nightmares and sleep disorders may also be part of the symptoms.


While a nervous breakdown in the form of an acute stress response often subsides again after a relatively short time (a few hours to a few days) without further therapeutic measures, the post-traumatic stress disorder generally requires comprehensive therapy that helps those affected to process the traumatic events . Psychotherapy is very promising here, depending on the extent of the symptoms, outpatient or inpatient treatment can take place. Furthermore, the approaches of psychotherapy differ depending on the individual situation of those affected. For example, some patients urgently need to stabilize their psychological state before they can start trauma therapy or deal with the traumatic events.

In the case of post-traumatic stress disorder, an essential part of the treatment is usually specially adapted variants of cognitive behavioral therapy, in which there is also a confrontation with the traumatic experiences (confrontation therapy). In addition, there are numerous other different, mostly highly specialized treatment approaches for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, which are used depending on the individual symptoms. In addition, psychotropic drugs such as benzodiazepines (special sedatives) are sometimes used, although long-term use is extremely critical in view of the risk of side effects and the risk of dependency. Trauma therapy is also used. It tries to transport what is experienced from the cold storage to the warm storage of the brain. As a result, what has been experienced is reprocessed.

Naturopathy in the event of a nervous breakdown

Naturopathy offers a number of promising approaches to relieve acute stress reactions, for example based on soothing herbal preparations (valerian, hops) or the use of relaxation techniques (autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation). A preventive effect is also attributed to these. If patients feel close to a nervous breakdown, they can achieve a certain protective effect with the help of relaxation techniques and herbal preparations. Homeopathy with potassium phosphoricum also offers an effective prevention option. However, all of these naturopathic prevention options require an impending nervous breakdown to be recognized at an early stage.

However, it is not uncommon for those affected to experience a nervous breakdown relatively suddenly after an unexpected traumatic event. There is only the possibility of subsequent treatment here. Which naturopathic procedures are used here depends heavily on the individual symptoms. With long-term complaints, a combination with psychotherapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy is often used. (fp)

Image 1: Gerd Altmann / pixelio.de

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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Video: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - Bad Behavior (December 2022).