3 Signs That You Are About to Have a Mental Health Breakdown and What You Can Do About It

Dr. Caroline Leaf
4 min readMar 14, 2019

If we do not learn to manage stress correctly it can negatively impact both our mental and physical wellbeing. Prolonged periods of stress, for example, can affect our ability to digest food and sleep, while laying the foundation for mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. It is therefore vital that we recognize when our body is in toxic stress so we can quickly move out of the “danger zone”.

Once we are aware we are in the “danger zone” we can make stress work for us by reconceptualizing the problem and turning it into something constructive. This process of awareness and reconceptualization will allow the blood vessels around our hearts to dilate, which increases the oxygen flowing to our brains. This, in turn, increases our cognitive fluency and clarity of thought, that is our ability to not only face a challenge but overcome it. This increased blood flow also balances the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, allowing a number of neurophysiological and genetic processes to work for us by fueling intellectual growth. Additionally, a genetic switch will be turned on inside the hippocampus of our brains, which strengthens our bodies, allowing us to cope in a difficult situation and stay strong amid adversity.

So what are some of the signs that our brain and body is in toxic stress?

  1. Digestive Issues. Our mind and gut are interconnected, and thus happiness, joy, and pleasure, as well as anger, anxiety, sadness, and bitterness all trigger physical reactions in our digestive systems. As a result, when we are stressed we can often experience digestive issues such as a change in appetite (like craving sweets because they can boost our serotonin and make us feel better), a loss of appetite, bloating (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS) and constipation.
  2. Foggy Thinking. If we get stressed about being stressed, our brain tends to go into overdrive, which can hinder our ability to think clearly and reasonably about the situation we are facing. Indeed, “foggy thinking” is often associated with uncontrolled stress — the hypothalamus doesn’t tell our brain and body that things are okay, so they are constantly working overtime to just try keep us on our feet, which takes energy…
Dr. Caroline Leaf

Mental health expert. I have spent the last 30+ years researching ways to help people manage mental health issues in school, work, and life: drleaf.com