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Meltdowns – What’s Your Emotional Boiling Point ???

October 19
08:04 2019

By: Dr. Abigail Joseph

Medicine is a very intriguing field. There’s never a dull moment. As I am sure most jobs have in theirs. Having a healthy mind is key to success. Everyone has stress in their lives, some more than others, some with unavoidable stressors, others with unnecessary stressors – but it all depends on the individual. We may say that a particular stressor is unnecessary because we have no room for that type of stress in our lives or because what might be stressing someone else is not an issue for us. We all have different perceptions of what stress is and tolerance levels towards these stressors. This is what makes life interesting. However, it is important for us to maintain a healthy mind and recognize early signs and symptoms when stress is taking a toll on our mind.

Anxiety, emotional breakdowns, panic attacks and other mental health issues are experienced by everyone at least once in their lifetimes, but be assured that it’s a very common occurrence. Just because you experience it with frequency does not mean that something is wrong with you. It just means that you are having difficulty balancing life while tackling a particular stressor. I experience anxiety A LOT! It’s not something I am embarrassed of – quite the contrary. I recognize my weakness and I work on it.

I remember my rotation in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). For me as a young doctor I still think of it as my hardest rotation. Not because I wasn’t prepared for the work, but more along the lines of not being prepared emotionally for what happens in there. The NICU is not for the faint of heart. It’s a room where premature babies FIGHT for their lives! No one can do it for them, they are the ones that need to respond to the medication and the treatment plan the doctors have. There was one baby in particular I remembered that survived 4 months. She fought the best she could, but one day when I came to work the entire team was there doing CPR and trying all that could be done. She had no parents. They just left her and everyone grew quite fond of how she was progressing. Her death broke my heart, I remember walking out of there and just going home and crying. I was in a dark place for a while. My mind dwelled on how she struggled for life, no one but us to love her and in the end just dying alone – it broke me. That was the first of many breakdowns I’ve had in the early start of my young career. I couldn’t walk pass the hallway that led to the NICU and I didn’t step foot in there until I had my finals.

An emotional breakdown is not a clinical term, but rather mainstream jargon. The word “emotional meltdown/breakdown” is used to describe a psychological disorder. Before you put up your defenses it does not mean that you are “crazy.” In fact, that word is no longer used in psychiatry. Emotional breakdowns are used to describe a range of events from panic attacks to anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or psychotic conditions that are left untreated. Our brain responds differently to situations. For example, I was the only one in my group that cried when babies died. That type of event did nothing for the other young doctors. There are events that people go through that can trigger an abnormal response or rather a response contrary to what is expected by society. It’s that guy that you see walking dirty on the side of the road, sifting through garbage that your grandma explains to you was once a business man but his wife left him and he went “downhill” from there. It’s the student you heard about in med school years ago that they still talk about who committed suicide because he/she was unable to keep up with getting good grades, and the list of events can go on and on. People respond differently to life changing events.

Generally an emotional breakdown is used to describe an individual’s personal meltdown whereby a person is unable to cope with the circumstance. This may include episodes of uncontrollable weeping, withdrawal from friends and family and produces at times an inability to connect with everyday life. Like I mentioned earlier, each individual responds differently to certain situations, but there are conditions that facilitate the likelihood of a meltdown. These include being tired: not getting enough rest takes its toll on our body and wears down our ability to respond to stressors.

Being hungry: skipping meals or going a long time without food can lower blood glucose. This can make you feel light-headed and also reduces your ability to deal with stressors. Taking on too much: overloading yourself with new responsibilities or even agreeing to participate in too many social events can take its toll on the mind and leave you with a sense of feeling overwhelmed. Life transition: being in the middle of a life transition such as losing a job, difficult breakup, divorce, having a new baby are all examples of life transitions that can cause you to be emotionally vulnerable. Stress build up: conflicts whether in a work relationship, love relationship or family if left unattended can begin to fester and grow.

You can’t control every situation, but you can change how you respond to them. Yes, sometimes life can throw serious curve balls our way, but it is important to remember that we are the only ones that can change. Pay attention to your body. The next time you start feeling acute stress, you start feeling out of breath, your face and ears get hot or you just feel like you can’t handle a situation – pause, take a few deep breaths, and if counting helps count to 10, and if it is possible excuse yourself from the room. Have a stress reduction plan: listen to your body – our body reacts to stress build up. Look for signs of a headache, tightness – don’t ignore your feelings – it might be difficult but sometimes an early confrontation is better than one that festers over time. Learn to nip things in the bud before it starts.

Find someone to talk to – having someone in your corner is probably one of the best things you can do. Someone who won’t judge you or hold things against you but rather listens to you and is always there at the touch of a button.

Spend time in nature, or just make time for “play,” – whatever that may mean to you. Stay clear of people that are mean and unkind, and IF you find that you have not been coping well with stress, it’s ok to come into the clinic or your nearest healthcare facility. There are trained people waiting to sit with you.

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