Merriam-Webster defines a breaking point as ‘the point at which a person gives way under stress.’
A breaking point is a time of stress that seems to overwhelm our ability to cope. We approach the breaking point when we try to keep things together for too long and eventually can’t help but let go in a stormy emotional release.
It feels like all of our emotions come pouring out at once and that the tears will never stop. There might be chest pain, a snotty nose, a sore throat, and rapid breathing. Once we reach the breaking point, we break down. We can’t hold it in any longer.
All of us reach a breaking point in life at one point or another. We have a habit of carrying our stress around and resisting asking others for help. We pile on this stressor and the next stressor and keep going until the load becomes too heavy to carry.
We tend to believe that it’s best to knuckle down and get on with things, not show vulnerability, to be entirely self-sufficient, and not ask for help. However, we’re only human, and we’re supposed to help each other.
Breaking points happen for different reasons among different people and manifest in different ways, but it all comes down to stress. More specifically, it comes down to poor stress management.
Poor stress management is not a fault or sign of weakness but rather a symptom of trying to keep up with a world that places relentless demands and expectations on us to be a certain way.
Stressful situations and unexpected events occur on a regular basis. We try to keep up with our work demands while also minding our fitness and hygiene while keeping up with our friends while simultaneously taking care of responsibilities at home, such as our birth family or the one we’ve created.
Beyond that, we strive to find things we love and are passionate about and to make time and space in our lives to follow those passions. We aim to educate ourselves, help those we love, and perform as best we can in all areas of our lives.
Eventually, something has to give. If we don’t give ourselves enough time and space to rest and get away from the mountain of demands that are placed upon us, we’re sure to collapse under the pressure. In this article, we’ll explore your options when it comes to managing a breaking point.
We’ll offer some useful tips and advice when you break down in a sea of emotion, and we’ll also offer some preventative measures you can take to help you recognize when you’re approaching your breaking point and how to overcome it.
Signs that you’re approaching breaking point
1. Your mood is affected
Prolonged chronic stress can impact your mood and mental health. If you’re nearing a breaking point, you might notice that you’re experiencing a lower mood than usual. Perhaps you’re more irritable, frustrated or pessimistic, and can’t identify exactly why.
When stress impacts your mood in this way, it permeates into other areas of your life. It might impact your motivation, making you less excited and focused when it comes to work, your social life, and even your hobbies.
The effects of stress on your motivation create a vicious cycle because when you begin to impact these important areas of your life, you might feel anxious or stressed about that impact, which might make you even less motivated.
Stress is exhausting. If it persists, as it often does in today’s society, it may overwhelm you. When we’re overwhelmed by stress, we’re more likely to be affected by depression, anxiety, frustration, and even hopelessness. As such, it’s important to be mindful of your mood and notice what’s influencing it.
Of course, we all move through moods just as the world around us moves through seasons, but if a low mood persists and is impacting your health and well-being, it’s time to take stock of what’s happening.
2. You have trouble sleeping
Stress has a direct effect on sleep hygiene. If you’re experiencing persistent stress, you may have noticed that you’re having trouble falling or staying asleep. As a result, you might have trouble waking up and staying awake in the morning. It can feel as though there’s nothing you want more than that to fall back under the covers and stay there all day.
If you’re not getting a healthy amount of sleep, you’re going to feel exhausted throughout the day. You might struggle to keep your eyes open at work meetings, be clumsy or forgetful, or load up on caffeine to keep yourself awake (ultimately making yourself feel more stressed and anxious).
If your stress-related sleep issues go on, you’re highly likely to reach that breaking point sooner rather than later. Sleep and stress levels are strongly correlated, so it’s essential to be mindful of how well you’re sleeping and address those obstacles to healthy sleep as soon as you can.
3. Poor attention and concentration
Breaking points are associated with stress and anxiety. All of us feel stressed or anxious at one point or another, but some cases are mild, while others are severe. If you’re approaching a breaking point, your stress and anxiety levels are likely on the rise.
As a result, your ability to pay attention and concentrate might be affected. A build-up of stress can lead to a state known as ‘brain fog,’ in which a person feels confused, disoriented, and forgetful.
With your concentration and attention jeopardized, keeping up with work and other demands becomes difficult, which only adds to the stress. If you notice that you’re less able to concentrate, cognize, remember, and execute plans than usual, it’s essential to check your stress levels and do what you can to reduce them.
4. Relationship difficulties
In the lead up to the breaking point and one of the many warning signs is the fact that increasing emotional exhaustion can make it hard to enjoy spending time with others. Sometimes we get home from work and just want to collapse into bed or shut our minds off completely.
That’s fine sometimes, but we may also have relationships that need tending to, and if we have no physical or mental energy left after a long day, week, or month, spending time with others can be even more exhausting.
Stress and emotional exhaustion impact your ability to connect. You might notice that you’re picking fights with your partner over things that usually wouldn’t bother you. You might begin to judge them or feel angry with them for no particular reason.
Stress causes physical and mental tension, but it also causes tension in your relationships. This tension is self-perpetuating because it can disconnect you from your partner, making it all the harder to ask for emotional support when you need it.
How to deal with stress and the breaking point
If you want to better cope with a breaking point, or prevent yourself from getting there in the first place, then it’s crucial that you understand how to manage stress. Stress is one of the leading causes of both physical and mental health issues. It is also often responsible for much absenteeism in the workplace, and often underlies the breakdown of many relationships.
Therefore, stress management lies at the heart of keeping your physical and mental health, workplace well-being, and relationships afloat.
While it’s true that we’re breathing every second of the day, it’s also true that many of us don’t know how to use our breath to relax. Breathwork is a powerful tool freely available to us at any moment to help us come down from a heightened, panicked state and return to a calm body and a peaceful mind.
If you’re in the throes of a break point, breakdown, or you’re with someone having a panic attack, it helps to know how to breathe properly and functionally so that you can use the breath to feel more grounded and safe. The key is to slow down the breathing rate and draw it deep into the diaphragm at each inhale.
Deep, diaphragmatic breathing is an excellent grounding tool because it encourages greater parasympathetic nervous system activation. This is the branch of the autonomic nervous system responsible for calmness, rest, and digestion.
Check out this guided video on diaphragmatic breathing and become familiar with it so that you can help yourself or someone else find some ground in a time of emotional overwhelm.
2. Focus on what you can control, let go of what you can’t
Moments of stress, anxiety, and breakdown all have one thing in common – a perceived or anticipated loss of control. Even in the build-up to a breaking point, before you’ve reached but when you sense that it’s coming, shifting your attention and focus to things within your control and letting go of those which are not can prevent the breakdown from happening in the first place.
We’re human, so naturally, we want to be as in control as possible. We have a deep-rooted fear of uncertainty and often go to great lengths to restore a sense of agency in control of our lives.
However, life is inherently uncertain, and it’s impossible to control everything. To keep your health and well-being in check, it’s important to learn how to let go of things that are outside of your control.
3. Identify your stressors
To effectively pull yourself back from breaking point, it’s important to identify and acknowledge the stressors that have led you to that point in the first place. Think back to the previous week, month, or even year and try to figure out those things which have been causing you the most stress.
Are demands and responsibilities at work becoming too much to handle? Are you experiencing difficulties or doubts in your relationships? When you think of something that might have been a stressor, how do you feel in your body when your stress hormones are released? How did you feel in your body at the time? Do you feel like you have begun to lose control?
When we listen to the body, we gain a lot of insight into how events in our lives make us feel. The mind wants to push through and get things done or ignore feelings of discomfort, but the body doesn’t lie. The more you can bring your conscious attention to your body and your physical sensations, the easier it becomes to identify stress.
4. Set boundaries
For example, if your friend is asking you to hang out all the time, but you’re busy on a deadline, your boundary would be that you can’t hang out as much they would like to, and then when they keep asking despite you telling them why you can’t, you’ll be less likely to hang out with them in the future.
Another example where you can set a boundary is in the workplace. Suppose you’re staying late to finish some work, and another colleague who also has to stay late is trying to distract you or is talking negatively about other coworkers.
In that case, you could tell them how uncomfortable or frustrated you feel, then ask them to respect your need for peace and quiet, so that you can get your work done. If they don’t respect you, you won’t continue to engage with them when they try to distract you.
Remember that boundaries are something we do for ourselves. They are not something that others have to uphold for us. We set our own boundaries and take necessary action to keep those boundaries in place if someone doesn’t respect them.
Know when to seek help
If stress and anxiety have been building up and you feel you’re on the verge of a breakdown, there’s no harm in speaking to a mental health professional. A licensed counselor or therapist can help you address the root causes of your chronic stress and help you develop healthy coping skills to deal with it whenever you feel overwhelmed.
Many stigmas still surround mental health and those who seek support, but for your own benefit and the benefit of those you love, it’s essential to make a conscious effort to let go of the stigma and to speak to a professional if necessary. All of us struggle with the breaking point at one point or another, so there’s no need to have any shame or guilt about it.