Understanding how your mental health ebbs and flows is key to maintaining good mental health. It’s important to note that just because you have good days and bad days, does not mean that your mental health is doing poorly. Recognizing the signs and symptoms you experience when your mental health is beginning to decline is crucial for understanding when you need to take the next step.
Often times, reaching out for help and support when you need it is the most difficult step. Wouldn’t it be nice if before you got to your breaking point, you were able to implement strategies to protect yourself from a breakdown? What you look like and what you experience before a mental breakdown may look vastly different from what someone else may experience. Knowing your specific “warning signs” is only going to allow you to begin implementing coping skills earlier, which in turn will likely shorten the length of the mental health decline.
Common “Warning Signs” of Mental Health Decline:
- Feeling keyed up or on edge
- Loss of interest in things you normally enjoy
- Lack of motivation
- Feeling especially tired
- Isolating yourself/pushing important people out of your life
- Racing thoughts
- Lack of appetite
- Frequent headaches
Do any of the above signs ring a bell? Are there any signs that don’t fit? This list is very short, with several other signs/symptoms being left out, but it can help you begin exploring your own warning signs. A good idea is to look back to your last bad mental health day/week/month, and try to recall what the days leading up to that looked like for you. Did you stop responding to important text messages that you normally would have responded to? Did you take a sick day from work? Did you struggle getting out of bed? All of these signs and symptoms will shed light onto what you need to be on the lookout for in the future. Write them down, look at them often, become familiar with them, and continue to add to the list as you identify more signs and symptoms.
So now that you’ve identified your “warning signs”, what can you do to ease the blow or avoid it altogether? This is where knowing and using your coping skills is invaluable. Coping skills are actions you take to help yourself calm down when you are feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious.
Common Coping Skills:
- Deep Breathing
- Listening to Music
- Going to Therapy
- Connecting with a Trusting Friend
- Write in a Journal
- Take a Bath
Just as “warning signs” are helpful on an individual basis, so is coping skills; what works for you, may not be helpful for someone else, and vise versa. Try out coping skills when you are feeling stressed out or sad. See what helps you the most, and practice them often. Then, the next time you see yourself displaying your “warning signs”, start implementing your coping skills intentionally to ward off a mental health decline, or soften the blow. And as always, never be afraid to seek professional help. If you are experiencing frequent mental health declines, or your symptoms worsen, those may be signs that professional help is warranted. There is nothing wrong with seeking help, and it may lead to you understanding your mental health even better, in turn, reducing the amount of bad mental health days you experience.
Alexis Dunlap, MFT, M.S.Ed.