If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
Mental health refers to the general state of how you regulate your behavior, feelings, and thoughts. There’s no standard for measuring what’s normal for you versus what could be a reason for concern in someone else, but poor mental health could negatively affect:
- How well you get along with family and friends
- Your productivity at work or school
- Your interest in activities, social settings, and other situations
- Energy levels
Anxiety is an appropriate response to stressful situational triggers.
From navigating a public health crisis to feeling high political tensions, it’s no wonder that many people are feeling a little uneasy in 2020. And truthfully, stress is a perfectly normal and appropriate way to respond to situational triggers such as COVID-19, a job loss, or uncertainty around the election.
In fact, many people who have never had depression before 2020 have been diagnosed this year. And I’d estimate that about one-third of my patients who already have a depression diagnosis have experienced worsening symptoms during this challenging year.
One-third of American adults who have #Depression experienced worsening symptoms during 2020. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Adams shares 6 signs that it’s time to prioritize your #MentalHealth: https://bit.ly/2JGCjx3.
For some, healthy habits can reestablish their mental health, helping them to maintain their equilibrium. For others, a situational trigger can cause a downward spiral that leads to anxiety or depression. When that happens, it may be time to reevaluate how you take care of yourself.
If you just don’t feel like yourself, it could be a sign you need to take care of your mental health.
If something just feels off, don’t ignore that feeling. When you don’t feel like yourself for an extended period of time–say three weeks–that’s a good sign that you should reprioritize your mental health. While it may be hard to pinpoint what exactly that feels like, it could manifest itself in the following six signs of a mental health concern:
1. Disrupted sleep.
Poor sleep could be a red flag that you’re experiencing depression or anxiety. Whether you have trouble falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep — also known as “early morning wakening”, when you wake up and cannot fall back asleep — it could be a signal of a mental health concern. Frequent oversleeping could be a sign as well, demonstrating that your body is fatigued to the point of burn-out.
2. Irritability or being more emotional than usual.
Experiencing irritation, anger, feeling snappy and easily frustrated, or mood swings that fly from one extreme to the other could be a sign that your mental health is out of whack. Depression and anxiety can make it harder to self-regulate your thoughts and feelings, which is why you may be more reactive or sensitive than usual.
3. Loss of joy.
It’s normal to have a bad day every now and then, and life is bound to bring you some sadness at some point. But, if you routinely find less happiness and enjoyment in activities that you used to love, it could be a sign that something’s not quite right. For example, if you used to enjoy golfing or playing guitar but feel uninterested in participating in either of those activities right now, that could be an indicator that your mental health is out of balance.
4. Change in appetite.
There are a variety of ways depression and anxiety can affect how much you eat. For some, stress and anxiety may result in a loss of appetite, as they may not feel hungry or have the energy to eat. For others, binge eating comfort food can provide temporary relief from depressing thoughts and feelings. If you notice that you are overeating or undereating to the point where you observe dramatic changes in your weight over a short period of time, it could be time to seek help for your mental health.
5. Worsening physical symptoms.
Depression and anxiety can bring on physical side effects, including sweating, rapid heart rate, dizziness, gastrointestinal symptoms, and headache. If physical symptoms come on suddenly with no other medical cause, it could be a sign that your mental health is declining.
6. Low energy.
Feelings of fatigue and lethargy are also common in people who are struggling with their mental health. Feeling mentally or physically sluggish can make it harder to concentrate, follow conversations, or think quickly. If you have low energy to the point where it’s hard to find the motivation to get out of bed, consider talking to your doctor.
How to improve your mental health at home.
Not every sign of a mental health concern means that you have a mental health disorder, like anxiety or depression. But it could mean that you need to change something in your routine before your mental health worsens, or leads to something more serious.
One of the best ways you can care for your mental health is by establishing healthy habits. These may include:
- Aiming for 7-8 hours of sleep per night with no screen time for 30 minutes before bed
- Eating healthy, balanced meals that consist of whole foods
- Exercising for 30 minutes a day, at least five days per week
- Hydrating well with water, eliminating excessive caffeine
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation
- Talking to someone you trust and consider safely expanding your social bubble
- Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption (Women should drink fewer than 8 alcoholic beverages per week. Men should drink fewer than 14)
When to see a doctor.
If healthy habits still don’t improve your mental health, don’t be ashamed to seek help from a professional. Talk to your primary care provider about what you’re going through and be prepared to answer questions related to your:
- Medical history
- Physical symptoms
- Current concerns, thoughts, and feelings
- Use of alcohol or drugs
A primary care doctor can recommend next steps, which could include treatment options such as counseling or medication. They can also provide advice for helping you to navigate the new normal that 2020 has forced upon us.
If something just doesn’t feel quite right, don’t delay seeking help. With the right support, you can start feeling like yourself again, even if the world appears to be turned upside down.