Let's be honest, there was no high school, community or university course that could fully equip us for adulthood. There's no manual. There are no instructions. We're all just winging it as we go and trying our best to make it out on top. Along the way, we make mistakes, the biggest mistake of all being ignoring our mental health.
Naturally, we all want to be strong. When problems come, we want to dust it off and keep it pushing. We continue to push our vehicles (ourselves) and tend to ignore the "check engine light". We ignore those signs in hopes that it was a "one-time thing" or a glitch, but in reality, we're increasing the cost of the repairs. When the oil doesn't get changed on time, it messes up the engine. It's the same thing happening in our minds and bodies.
It's time that we address that ignoring your pain does not contribute to your healing. Our body and our behaviors send us signals to alert us that it's time for some repairs. The longer we delaying addressing these warning signs, the greater the cost becomes to fix it. Warning signs look different to everyone, but here are a few common warning signs:
1. Sleep changes
If you're anything like me, when I get stressed out I cannot sleep at all. I stay up all night, tossing and turning. Most times, I don't even have anything on my mind. I just cannot sleep. The most obvious cost of losing out on sleep is that your functionality declines. You're fatigued during the working hours of the day because you couldn't seem to get the proper rest at night. Because of this, you're missing important details not only at work but in relationships with people you love. You lose track of time. You forget about commitments you've made and potentially burn bridges in the process.
Some of you may be the polar opposite. You may sleep more than usual, to not confront whatever may be going on around/in you. Now I know some of you are saying, "that's not a big deal!", but it is. The cost of sleeping too much is very similar to not sleeping enough. You miss out on commitments because you can't drag yourself out of bed. You sweep your problems under the rug without really addressing them. Lastly, you spend most of your day in a pity party when you could've been processing (with prosecco if you're feeling jazzy).
Next up is withdrawal. You stop going out with your friends. You use up all of your sick time at work to call out. You stop participating in your usual activities. You stop engaging in conversations. When people ask, "what's wrong?", you say "nothing" even though we all know it's something.
Withdrawal creates an unintentional distance between you and those you love. In most cases, people who truly understand you can chop it up to "he's going through something". However, those who you are still forming bonds and relationships with can take your withdrawal personally. To them, it may register as ghosting. You ended the relationship/friendship with no explanation. When you come out of the darkness, it'll be hard to bring them back into the light with you.
3. Increased Sensitivity
Have you noticed that you've been a ticking time bomb lately? Anything can set you off. Despite its popularity as a song, going 0-100 real quick is a warning sign that something may be wrong internally. When you have a lot weighing on you mentally, any additions can feel like the straw that breaks the camel's back. At any moment, you could break out into tears or lash out in anger.
One moment of hypersensitivity can cost you everything. It could cost you your job if you lashed out at work. It could cost you a friendship or a relationship in a heated exchange of words. Most importantly, you could lose yourself. If we're being transparent, some people who struggle with mental health have thoughts of suicide. No matter how hard it gets, I want to encourage everyone and tell you that you matter. Your life, your gifts, your spirit matters to me and things will get better. It may not be today or tomorrow, but if you endure the race, you will win it.
Nervousness expresses itself in many forms. Some people tremble, while others may sweat. Some may bite their nails, and others may scratch out of a nervous habit. In a lot of cases, it's hard to identify what has caused the nervousness and how we manifest that nervousness. The cost of ignoring our nervousness could be causing your body physical harm. Being in a constant state of nervousness causes stress, and stress directly affects your heart. Nervousness can also make someone nauseous, increase sensitivity, cause people to withdraw and a loss of sleep. In the worst-case scenario, nervousness makes you paranoid. You feel like everyone is out to get you and that everyone is against you. It may be time to assess whether everyone is against you or if you're working against you.
There are so many more signals that our body and mind send to us as an alert that our mental health is at stake. It's up to us to be open to what those signals may be telling us and then to do something about it. When your car's gas light comes on, you take it to the gas station. When the tires need air, you take it to a tire shop. The same rules apply to your mind and body.
When your mind is giving you signals that it needs a check-up, set up some time with a trusted resource. It can be a spiritual advisor, a parent, a mentor or a therapist. Yes, a therapist. Therapy often gets a bad connotation. Going to therapy does not make you crazy. All people who go do not need to be on meds. Sometimes, it's maintenance for the mind. Do not let societal standards keep you from filling up your tank every now and then.
If you've lucked up and got a job with benefits, talk Human Resources about your EAP (employee assistance program). It's a service, courtesy of your employer, that allows you some free sessions with a licensed, professional therapist. If you're not there yet and you're under the age of 26, hopefully, you're still on your parents' insurance. Ask them to set up an appointment for you under their EAP. Thanks, Obama Care!
As an individual in a constant battle to overcome my general anxiety disorder, I can tell you from experience, ignoring the signs is the worst thing to do. For years, I struggled to accept my mental signs and signals. Since then, it's has been a constant uphill battle to unlock all of my triggers, my coping mechanisms and learning how to be more self-aware when it's time for me to go in for maintenance. But the most important thing I do every day, is try. It's okay not to be okay all of the time, but it's not okay to not do something about it.