Photo by STIL
A few years ago, my mental health symptoms reached an all time high and spiraled out of control. Through therapy, stress reducing practices and a self care lifestyle, I’ve learned to manage my anxiety and mood swings over time. Now I monitor my mental health symptoms so I can nip them in the bud before a crisis occurs.
The symptoms I pay most attention to are racing thoughts, dread, over-excitement, insomnia, irritability, and fight, flight or freeze threat responses. Your list may look entirely different than mine, but these are the early warning signs that I’m struggling and need to take better care of myself. After years of healing and practice, I can usually feel relief within a few minutes or a few hours when I honor these signals and take measures to calm down.
For any given symptom, here are the three questions I ask myself to cultivate a deeper understanding of my mental health experience.
Frequency: How often am I experiencing a this symptom?
Feeling irritable once a week is just part of being human in my book. But when I start to feel irritable several days in a row, I know I need to make some changes. If I don’t, my irritability will slide into a near constant state. I’ll be ready to blow my top at the drop of a hat, which negatively impacts my relationships, my work and my happiness.
Duration: How long has this symptom lasted?
I’ve experienced my fair share of sleepless nights, and it’s not out of the ordinary for me to have a poor night’s sleep. But if my insomnia lasts for more than two or three nights in a row, I’m headed toward trouble. It’s time to get serious about coming home early and winding down before bed. When my insomnia lasts for a week, I am really hurting. I can expect to experience a boatload of additional symptoms as a result.
Severity: How painful or debilitating is this symptom?
My racing thoughts don’t cause me any pain at all when they first appear. In fact, it’s kind of fun to mentally zip from one thought or epiphany to the next. After a day or two, though, my head hurts from all of this choppy thinking. I can’t seem to complete a thought without my mind racing off to the next one, which leaves me feeling empty, lost and out of control. This ends up affecting every decision I make, every social interaction I have, and even my will to wake up in the morning. For these reasons, racing thoughts is one of the symptoms I take most seriously. Thankfully it’s easy for me to spot and cease with some deep breathing when I catch it right away.
Learning to pay attention to the frequency, duration an severity of my symptoms helps me know when I need to make a change so I can feel better, sooner.
How do you monitor your mental health symptoms? What strategies have you used to develop an increased awareness of how you’re feeling?