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A good part of mental health management is understanding when your mental health is on the decline.
By learning the signs, you can better identify when you or someone you care about is having a difficult time.
In addition, it’s helpful to know these signs if you are trying to be there for someone who may be having a hard time or living with a mental illness.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to see when you start sliding if you are mentally ill. Having a loved one who can notice for you can be so helpful. It’s much easier to connect when you can approach someone you care about and say, “Hey, you haven’t been eating or sleeping well recently. Is everything okay with you?”
And then you have self-management. Part of living with mental illness healthily is monitoring your own symptoms so you can pick them up before they get too out of hand. If you can spot your symptoms, you can kick in whatever self-management techniques you have to keep yourself from spiraling.
Please note that this article is not an effective replacement for mental health care rendered by professionals. These things won’t just stop mental health troubles in their tracks. They are just common suggestions in the sphere of mental health that can help you mitigate some of these issues before they become a big problem.
Do talk to a doctor or therapist if you feel you’re having difficulty with your mental health.
So, let’s look at some common signs your mental health is declining.
1. Increase in symptoms and their severity.
If you live with a mental illness, there are symptoms of that mental illness that will pop up.
For example, if you have anxiety, you may find that you are fixating on problems, have difficulty controlling feelings of worry, experience an increase in anger or depression, feel overwhelmed, and struggle with sleep issues.
In general, you may be able to manage those symptoms. But when your mental health is deteriorating, you may find that they are becoming more intense and problematic.
What to do? Increases in symptoms and their severity may have a direct cause. Stress is a big factor when it comes to worsening symptoms. Any way to lessen your stress, get more sleep, and maintain your self-care may help. Exercises like walking, running, and yoga can all help mitigate stress. And reduce contact with stressful people if at all possible.
2. Personal hygiene.
A lack of self-care and letting personal hygiene go are common symptoms that your mental health is getting worse.
Why would you bother showering if you don’t have the energy for it and you’re just going to hole up in bed? What’s the point of brushing your teeth when you don’t deserve to be clean? Wash and comb your hair? Why bother?
Personal hygiene is an important part of the social contract. So when that starts to slide, it should be some cause for concern.
What to do? There are times that you can’t rely on your own motivation to practice good hygiene. One way you can circumvent that feeling is to just make a habit. Don’t give yourself the option to back out of it. Instead, determine a schedule and stick to it like you would adhere to a work schedule or take your medication.
For example, you get up in the morning and brush your teeth, not because you want to, but because that’s what you do when you get up in the morning. You don’t allow yourself to back out of it.
3. Punishing yourself.
Assuming your internal monologue is neutral or kind to you in the first place, you may find that it gets worse as your mental health declines.
You may find yourself punishing yourself for mistakes or perceived mistakes. Some examples include calling yourself stupid, making yourself feel as though you are unworthy, self-harming, withholding pleasure, or withholding meals.
What to do? These kinds of symptoms can vary in intensity. There aren’t many good ways to self-manage them. If you experience an uptick or desire to self-harm or punish yourself, the best thing you can do is seek out help from a professional before it can get worse. This road can easily lead to suicide attempts if it’s allowed to go too far.
4. Feeling depressed.
Depression can be a tricky thing. There are a lot of causes of depression. Often, when people hear “depression,” they think of it in the context of a mental illness, like Major Depression Disorder.
However, not everyone who experiences depression has a depression disorder. Lower case “d” depression can be a symptom of various things like physical ailments, other mental illnesses, unmanaged stress, and difficult life situations.
What to do? There are several ways you can try to combat increasing depression. Things like exercise, getting out in the sun, reducing stress, not eating garbage food, and staying away from sugar can help.
However, it’s not always that simple. If you are experiencing chronic depression or your depression is getting worse, you’d want to talk to a mental health professional to get to the root of it.
5. Isolating from family and friends.
People experiencing mental health problems often isolate themselves from their friends and family. There are several reasons why.
First, many mentally ill people, or those going through a hard time, don’t want to feel like a burden to their loved ones. It also requires a lot of emotional energy to pretend to be okay in front of other people that know you well.
And then, of course, you also have the depletion of emotional energy because of depression or other problems.
What to do? Force yourself to go out. Force yourself to reach out to friends, family members, or other people that care about you. Force yourself to try to socialize, even if it’s not great. If you can spend some time with understanding and supportive people, that’s even better.
Getting out there around other people allows you to interrupt the negative thought processes you may experience when alone.
6. Difficulty concentrating.
Mental health issues often come with cognitive and focus issues. When you’re struggling with your mental health, you may find that you have a harder time making sense of things that would normally be no problem for you.
You may not be able to focus on a thing for an extended time and be easily distracted. In severe cases, that can seriously interfere with your ability to drive a car, operate machinery, or work. You may find difficulties focusing on a show, something you’re reading, or following instructions.
What to do? Sometimes rest can help you reboot your brain when you’re experiencing this symptom. A nap may be enough to alleviate it.
However, if you find it persistent, it would be best to talk to a professional. There aren’t many ways to self-manage a loss of concentration or cognitive difficulties.
7. Unexplained mood shifting.
Unexpected or unexplained mood shifts can point to declining mental health. There are times when it is perfectly normal to experience a mood shift. Something negative happening, stress, lower-case “a” anxiety, and hardship can all cause someone to feel down in the dumps. That should be expected.
On the other hand, when your mood shifts for no tangible reason, moves deep into depression, or you feel absolutely elated for no reason, you should then be concerned.
What to do? Peace and quiet can help alleviate mood shifts. Do something that makes you feel good unless you’re experiencing an unexplained elation. Unexplained mood shifts can also point toward mental illnesses. They should prompt a visit to a mental health professional to discuss what you’re experiencing.
8. Feelings of guilt.
There are healthy and unhealthy times to experience guilt. Obviously, a healthy time to experience guilt is when you unintentionally do something wrong or hurt someone. That’s your brain telling you that you did something wrong and should try to fix it.
However, some people experience guilt for no reason or in seemingly benign situations. That can point to things like mental illness, trauma, or abuse.
What to do? Dealing with guilt can be a difficult thing to self-manage without the help of a counselor. That guilt often comes from poor self-esteem, which skews a person’s ability to read social situations accurately.
So, chances are pretty good you’ll need to handle the circumstances surrounding your feelings of guilt before you can lift that weight off your shoulders.
Do try to focus on cause and effect. Is there a direct, tangible reason to feel the guilt? Did you do something wrong? If you did, try to fix it. Oh, and “I’m just a terrible person” isn’t necessarily a tangible reason to feel guilt. Unless you are, in which case, that’s your brain telling you to do better.
9. Changing appetite or fluctuations in weight.
Certain symptoms of mental health problems are heavily affected by things like depression or anxiety. The name depression is quite literal. It depresses many of your emotions and biological functions, like the desire to eat.
However, some people are on the other end of the emotional spectrum. They will eat to cope with their emotions instead of engaging in healthier behaviors.
What to do? Again, we come back to habit over desire and motivation. Your body is a machine, and like any machine, it needs fuel and maintenance to work in optimal condition. Mental health problems like depression and anxiety can cause a person’s appetite to fluctuate wildly.
The best way to self-manage this problem is to have at least one proper meal per day. It’s incredibly difficult when you’re depressed, but it is possible. Even if it’s not something huge or involved. And speaking from personal experience, a spoonful of peanut butter can be an excellent stand-in to kill hunger pains while providing some fats and calories. So fix yourself whatever you can bring yourself to fix, sit down with it, and pick at it if you have to.
On the other side of the coin is eating too much to cope with negative emotions. Again, you need to eat. But if you can limit yourself to normal serving sizes, you’ll be far better off. Try to avoid junk food. If you’re going to have some, pour it into a bowl instead of just eating on auto-pilot. Limit yourself to two slices of pizza or one reasonable plate of food. Don’t heap it up. If you need some reference, you can look around on the internet to see what a healthy portion of food looks like. I know that sounds ridiculous, but many people have really lost sight of what a healthy portion of food looks like.
And this is another serious symptom that needs to be discussed with a professional. Drastic changes and eating habits can lead to eating disorders and a poor relationship with food. That can be hard to deal with because everyone needs food. But, a healthy relationship with food is imperative to a healthy lifestyle and your well-being.
10. Disrupted or excessive sleep.
Sleep is often disrupted in some way by mental health problems. That disruption often gets worse when your mental health starts to deteriorate.
Folks with depression may find themselves sleeping far too much or not enough. People with anxiety may be kept up at night from worrying too much, typically making things worse. And those with trauma may be plagued with nightmares that don’t allow them to get restful sleep.
Worse still is the importance of sleep for good mental health management. The brain produces a lot of mood-balancing chemicals in the deepest reaches of R.E.M. sleep. So, a person who can only sleep shallowly or wakes up every two hours will suffer worse moods, irritability, problems concentrating, and more.
What to do? Sleep is a difficult symptom to self-manage. People with mental illness or trauma survivors will typically need medical help to get the sleep they need. However, you can do some things to help improve your sleep hygiene.
Sleep hygiene, if you’ve never heard the term, is improving the circumstances which will allow you to get better sleep. Suggestions include not using your cellphone or screens before bed because they stimulate your brain. Stay away from coffee, energy drinks, chocolate, or other stimulants in the evening. Get yourself a comfortable mattress and pillows if possible. Cooler temperatures also facilitate healthier sleep.
11. Depleted or fluctuating energy levels.
As anyone with depression can tell you, energy levels can fluctuate hard. Sometimes you might feel fine and can easily conduct your life. Other times, not so much. You may feel exhausted, without energy, and unmotivated.
On the flip side, you may feel like you have far too much energy, like you’re going and just can’t stop. You may have difficulty with multiple trains of thought to the point that it’s distracting and can’t focus.
What to do? This is another symptom that is difficult to self-manage. It can be caused by several things, from mental health troubles to physical illnesses. Anyone who’s experienced these kinds of difficulties can tell you that there isn’t much self-management to be done.
The lows you just have to suffer through, reduce stress, and try to stay away from junk foods. You’ll want to avoid coffee, sugared drinks, energy drinks, and other stimulants at the higher end. Try to get some adequate sleep in the process.
12. Unexplained physical symptoms.
Random things like aches and pains can result from mental health problems. Anxiety, trauma, depression, and many other problems can result in physical problems.
Stress causes the body to create a hormone called cortisol which essentially prepares your body to deal with stressful situations in the short term. However, being under constant stress for long periods can keep your body flooded with cortisol which can cause physical issues like cardiovascular problems and a reduced immune system. You may find yourself constantly sick with the cold or flu.
What to do? Unexplained physical symptoms will be something you’ll need to take up with medical professionals. They can be caused by many things, so there aren’t really any common ways to try to self-manage that are reasonable. There are plenty of unreasonable suggestions out there. But they tend to assume that you’re experiencing these issues for a specific reason that may not apply to you.
One final word of advice…
Many of the self-management practices we’ve discussed here are ways to temporarily get through these situations. Sometimes they will work, sometimes they won’t. Sometimes you have to do them for an extended time before they will benefit you.
However, you will also note that at the beginning of the article and throughout, I regularly tell you to seek the help of a professional to try to get to the bottom of the problem you’re experiencing. And that is what we would like you to take away from this article.
Self-management is fine and good. It can help. But it’s not going to actually solve the issue. And your goal should be to solve or control the issue that decreases your quality of life.
Do seek professional help when you can. You’ll need to understand why you’re experiencing these difficulties if you want to settle them.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
A therapist can listen to you, ask questions to find the root causes of your mental health struggles, and then provide specific advice to help you manage and/or overcome them.
You’ve already taken the first step by searching for this article and reading it this far. Now it’s time to go deeper than any internet article can go and get the personal help you need.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
And don’t for one minute think that you’re sacrificing quality and results by opting for online therapy, because you’re not. You still get access to a fully qualified professional. It’s just more convenient and quite often more affordable too.
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