The work environment can be rewarding, and challenging. But sometimes, it can cause stress or anxiety, which in turn can lead to other emotional health issues. One such severe issue is an emotional breakdown.

An emotional breakdown (or nervous breakdown) can occur due to extreme stress brought about by frustration, burnout, upset, exhaustion, anxiety, or depression. When an individual faces overwhelming pressure to the point where his/her professional or personal wellbeing is compromised, signs of an emotional breakdown may start surfacing.

A work-related emotional breakdown can occur due to various reasons like unreasonable amounts of stress at work, a traumatic family event, or a significant change in relationships. These breakdowns can happen at any time under a variety of circumstances.

Signs of an emotional breakdown

While some popular theories show that emotional breakdowns occur out of the blue, in reality, it is the opposite. Emotional breakdowns are a mixture of several struggles and symptoms that get built up over time. The signs can vary, but the common ones include:

  • Having general regular aches and pains that are unexplained.
  • Experiencing muscle tension
  • Feelings of anxiousness, agitation or restlessness, trembling and shaking
  • Feeling depressed, tearful, or irritable
  • Feeling physically and mentally exhausted
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Experiencing too little or too much appetite
  • Sudden loss or gain of weight
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Increased sleep or sleepless nights
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Low self-image and low self-esteem
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Difficulties in getting along with or tolerating people
  • Lack of interest and motivation to do something interesting
  • Difficulties with concentrating and remembering
  • Loss of energy to do everyday chores
  • Regular racing heartbeat
  • Gastrointestinal and digestive symptoms
  • Frequently missing appointments and calling in sick at work
  • Feelings of panic or threat when there is no physical indication of the same
  • Thoughts of harming oneself

All the above signs are related to mood swings, depressive symptoms, and panic attacks. But once we figure out these signs and symptoms of emotional breakdowns, they become easier to manage.

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Here are six ways to manage an emotional breakdown at work.

Take frequent breaks

Taking time off during your working hours can lighten your mood. It can be as simple as a short walk after your lunch or breaks with your colleagues. You can also listen to some guided meditation audios at your desk. There are various free apps where you can find these.

Trim your to-do list

Breaking big tasks into smaller and manageable goals can take you a long way. That does not mean you cram your to-do list with never-ending goals. Fill your list with practical short-term goals, break down your big goal into minor achievable goals, and set a limit for the day. It will encourage you to work and make it less daunting. Feeling helpless and stressed when the workload seems unrealistic can contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress.

Identify triggers

There can be many triggers for depression or anxiety at the workplace: from stressful meetings to impossible deadlines, a toxic manager, and so on. Sometimes the environment itself can create more anxiety and can be toxic.

Hence, it is essential to understand and track the situations that trigger your workplace anxiety and prepare yourself. If you are unaware of your triggers, you can keep a journal and track the things that have caused you stress and anxiety at work in the past. Once you learn the causes of these uncomfortable feelings, start identifying what relaxes you the most. A few helpful techniques to manage stress are: taking a short walk, stretching, doing breathing exercises, or practicing mindfulness. Doing these can help alleviate the triggering situation.

Live in the present

We are often fixated on disturbing or disappointing thoughts about our past or spend our energy worrying about our future. By doing this, we end up not living the present to the fullest. You will only end up aggravating your unhappiness and anxiety by choosing to hover over things you cannot control or change. Sometimes these unhealthy thoughts can be a significant factor in causing an emotional breakdown. Start to take control of your thoughts and practice making a conscious effort to live in the present. You will start enjoying the events in your life rather than letting them pass unnoticed. You will slowly notice that you’re becoming more productive at work and in your personal life, since your mind is worry-free.

Take control with small steps

It is nearly impossible to live in the present world without worries. Moreover, sometimes minor things can cause anxiety that can build up to eventually cause a nervous breakdown at work or at home. Try and eliminate these situations that are stressors in your life instead of constantly dealing with their effects.

Start by identifying a couple of things that are causing you the most stress consistently – for e.g., meeting deadlines -- and then figure out micro steps you can take to lessen this stress. For example, you can have a discussion with your boss to make the deadlines more reasonable or allocate more colleagues to the project.

When you cannot eliminate a stressor, challenge yourself to handle the situation differently by changing your perspective. Sometimes visualising the situation beforehand can be beneficial.

Ask for help

Know that you are not alone and do not have to suffer in silence. Taking help is essential, and it will be empowering. Understand that feelings of depression, anxiety, mood swings, and panic attacks can be overwhelming, and expecting to fix all this on your own can be taxing. You can reach out to friends, family, or a professional and take their support to bounce back.