Making Sense of Random Breakdowns in Mental Health Recovery

June 2, 2020 Megan Griffith

I've been in recovery from mental illness for several years now because recovery is a slow, and often lifelong, process. There are many aspects of recovery that I have a pretty good handle on at this point, like opening up in therapy and sharing my experiences with others to make all of us feel a little less alone, but one part that still throws me for a loop every time is the "random" breakdowns in mental health recovery.

I put "random" in quotes because something I'm learning through self-compassion and trauma work is that breakdowns are never completely random. There are plenty of reasons you might experience a breakdown while in recovery, even if you are generally doing very well.

5 Reasons for Breakdowns in Mental Health Recovery

  1. Unmet physical needs -- Self-compassion has taught me that I feel my best when I take care of myself like I would take care of my son. If he's upset, I don't yell at him or shame him, I assume he simply isn't having one of his needs met. I see if he needs a bottle or a nap. Now, I am trying to take that same approach with myself when I have a breakdown out of the blue. I get myself a snack, a cup of coffee, or some water and see how I feel after that.
  2. Triggers -- If you're having a seemingly-random mental health breakdown, try to map out what happened before the breakdown started. If none of the major events seem to have triggered you, look more closely to see if a small event may have been the trigger. Sometimes, something as minuscule as someone's tone of voice can trigger a full-blown meltdown in my mind. Instead of shaming myself for being "too sensitive," I am trying to simply notice what triggers me and accept it with compassion.
  3. Limited free time -- I am really bad at giving myself downtime. I am always working on something, whether it's my work, blog, house, or son. I like being busy because it keeps me from dwelling on my negative emotions too long. However, this strategy has its drawbacks too. Without proper time to reflect on my emotions, I may start to react to situations with my emotions without understanding them, which can lead to breakdowns.
  4. Boredom -- One reason I'm always so busy is that I absolutely loathe being bored. Boredom can cause a breakdown for me just as easily as overstimulation can. I try to combat this by having a few activities in the back of my mind that I know I can do if I have a breakdown and can't figure out why it's happening. If doing the activity helps, I may have simply let myself get too bored.
  5. Loneliness -- Sometimes I have a breakdown out of nowhere because I am lonely and I need some human contact. Even if I can't physically see someone, I can always text a friend, mail a letter, or set up a video call with my family.

How to Cope with Breakdowns in Mental Health Recovery

Your greatest tools for coping with "random" breakdowns in mental health recovery are curiosity and compassion. Instead of approaching myself with judgment and shame when I have a mental health breakdown, now I try my best to be curious about why I'm feeling the way I am, and compassionate for the parts of me that are hurting.

This strategy is far easier said than done, but there are a few practical tips for increasing your curiosity and compassion.

First, when you notice that you are upset or melting down, try to think of yourself as a friend. Don't make any snap judgments about yourself that you wouldn't make about a dear friend.

Second, try to think of all of your emotions as data. You can use this data to learn about yourself instead of seeing emotions as signs of weakness or failure.

Finally, to help make all of this happen, I highly recommend journaling. I write in my journal several times a week and it really helps me keep my mind and heart open to myself because it forces me to slow down and process instead of relying on my negative core beliefs.

Do you have other tips for coping with unexpected mental health breakdowns? If you do, share them in the comments.

APA Reference
Griffith, M. (2020, June 2). Making Sense of Random Breakdowns in Mental Health Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Megan Griffith

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