Fast Five - Dr. A.'s Mental Health Cues

Wow, I can't believe #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth flew by so quickly! May felt like it went by very fast, and honestly, was a month that I had to do more than my usual to maintain my own mental health. Over the years and with a lot of work, I've been able to recognize cues that tell me that I'm not functioning as well as my normal. With some dedication & a concrete plan of action, I can now implement the things that typically help me exit the rabbit hole and get a better grasp on life.  And sometimes (like last month) I need more or some different things to get my mind, body & spirit back in alignment. Here are 5 of my personal cues that tell me it's time to rest and get back to the basics.

1. Less sleep/More TV. This is a BIG one for me, as it might be for most people. Unfortunately, we live in a system of high/over achievement pride that promotes not "needing" sleep or "always hustling," in order to succeed. As much as I know about how sleep affects mood, clarity, energy, etc., I've fallen into this pit quite a bit when I get going on ideas, reading books, TV shows or anything else that piques my interest. When I get less sleep it's harder for me to get started in the morning which makes my day drag, I'm hungrier throughout the day, it's harder to maintain focus and I tend to not get more done than the bare minimum of seeing my clients and maybe some callbacks. This sometimes comes with a headache, irritability in my personal life, feeling sluggish and difficulty thinking about anything but a nap. While I can make it through days like this, I don't feel as accomplished, centered or ready for the next day. I do a lot of "I can't wait until it's __ o'clock" vs. having the day fly by me because I'm engaged, energized and just on it.  

2. 3+ days without running/exercise. Since I started running more seriously in 2015, running 3 days a week and mixing in some other form of exercise is my healthiest & most consistent base. When I'm more distressed, this can easily dwindle to half that amount, or nothing at all. I begin telling myself that I'll run the next day instead, or run longer to make up the mileage, or don't need to run as much this week because I'm not preparing for a race. All the rationalizations take hold because I'm mentally, physically & emotionally drained elsewhere, and it feels impossible to put myself through an exhausting workout that also takes time from something else I "need" to be doing. Even though I know and am familiar with the FACT that the more time away means the more pain I'll be in when I begin again, I push that thought out of my head, and get smacked every time it's 3+ days later and I'm attempting to reach the same goals I have during weeks I'm more flexible & warmed up. It's a vicious cycle that I know all too well, and when I'm halfway through the week without extra movement, I know it's time to look at other areas of my life that are getting in the way. 

3. Bed/Couch piles. I can sometimes walk into my place and spot 6 piles before I hit the kitchen! Seeing piles all around me is usually representative of some scatter that I'm feeling internally, which makes me feel exhausted and more likely to just stow things in places to get back to "later." My intentions around "later" is with the hopes of within the next 24 hours, but later has honestly extended to weeks, months and possibly even years (those piles just go INTO something so I can't actually see it anymore). I have the best of intentions to stay organized, but when I'm tired, feel unmotivated or unproductive, it's like I can't get organized mentally enough to get organized! The bed pile looks like clothes I've worn, thought about wearing, want to wear soon so I've taken them out to remember, etc. And it grows and grows and grows, seemingly exponentially during rough patches. I am certainly the person who has had piles on the bed and just move them over so that I have room to sleep. When clothes piles are keeping me warm at night, that's my cue that something is off!

4. 1+ day without friends. I talk to my closest friends daily. Not always for extended periods of time, but at some point throughout most days, there is some contact or check-in. Even on days that I'm running around the place, I can find some time to say SOMEthing quick, even to tell them that I'm busy and can't talk much. After about a day or so, if my friends don't hear from me, I'll hear something from them. What I've learned is that when I'm having a hard time keeping myself together, I am less likely to reach out or respond to my friends. It feels tiring to have conversation, I'm in a funk and don't want to talk about it, or I'm trying to steal naps at every chance and talking negates napping!   

5. $$ spent on food. This is another biggie. I'm not a chef, not do I even really enjoy cooking, but when I find myself buying something to eat for breakfast, snack and dinner consistently, with limited to no food in the fridge to put something together myself, that's usually a sign that I'm overwhelmed and tired. I started being consistent with meal prep in early 2016 to avoid situations of impulsive spending so I know that it works! However, it also requires carving out time to grocery shop, cook, wash tupperware for the week and plan the week of meals based on my schedule. Easily 6 hours on a Sunday, and when I am wonky with fatigue, this goes out the window. My bank account, health and time suffers when I don't plan accordingly and in advance. 


So....I get it, I really do! It can, at times, feel counterproductive to take time away from the things we need to do, to do things that help us to feel better that are not as concrete. When you know your cues, what to look for that signal you to downward spiral, you want to get ahold of them as soon as you can and disrupt the direction. Cues can change over time based on your needs and lifestyle. What are yours and what helps you change direction and get back on track?

Til next time! - Dr A