Written by Samantha Wall, LCSW
Edited by Joe DeNoon
To begin, here is a quick, but insightful video I found that introduces the topic of mental health check-ins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHZTjd3gMpg
Our mental health is such an important factor of our daily lives. If we are struggling mentally, usually many other aspects of our lives are affected as a consequence. Many people talk about making sure to check in with yourself, so, in this blog, I will go through some of the questions to ask yourself and some ways that you can start to track your mental health. Then you can either start implementing good coping tools or check in with a mental health professional.
First question: how can you start to track your mental health? What signs tell you when you are mentally healthy versus not mentally healthy? That looks so different for each person, but, overall, you can tell if you are mentally healthy if you feel like you have balance in your life. This can feel like a balance between spending time with others versus spending time by yourself, or a balance between doing chores/errands and doing things you enjoy. Balance is different for everyone. The first question you can ask yourself in a personal mental health check in is, “Do I feel balanced?”. If the answer is no, the follow up could be “What feels unbalanced?”. If the answer is yes, ask yourself, “What feels balanced about my life right now?”. Whether the answer is yes or no, continue to reflect on why you landed on that answer. It gives us great information about what we can work on to create or keep balance, so we can maintain the balance or call on that information when we feel unbalanced.
Other questions to ask yourself during a mental health check-in are:
- How is my sleep? Am I getting quality sleep? Do I have a sleep routine?
- Have I been isolating myself from my family, friends, or coworkers?
- Do I have more worries or anxiety than usual? You can use a scale between 1 and 10 to better track anxiety or worries. For example: my anxiety is usually at a 4, but this week it has been at a 7 most of the week.
- Do I still enjoy the activities that bring me joy?
- Have I felt more sad than happy lately?
- Have I been having trouble concentrating? If yes, what has been hard to concentrate on?
- Has my appetite changed?
- Am I easily fatigued or feeling more tired throughout the day than I used to feel?
- Have I been experiencing mood swings, crying, or thoughts of suicide?
- Where am I not feeling balanced?
All of these questions are important for us to track our moods from week to week or month to month. When we are struggling with our mental health, it can take some time to actually fully realize that we are struggling. For most people, it has to hit the point of being bad enough to notice. Which is usually a point where we cannot manage our struggles from day to day. But, if we are tracking our mental health on the easier weeks AND the harder weeks, it can get much easier to work preventatively and use lower level interventions such as self-care, routines, and gratitude versus the higher level interventions like therapy and medication management. This is not to say that tracking your mood and mental health will fully prevent the need for higher levels of intervention because there are things that you need to seek professional help to resolve.
However, the practice of tracking can make most aspects of life more manageable. For example, if I notice that I am beginning to have more negative thoughts, or that I am not enjoying the different activities in my life, I can use interventions such as making time for myself, sticking to a routine, and intentionally making time for things I enjoy. Since I am already tracking my mood/mental health, I will notice if these lower level interventions are not working. Then I can seek a higher level of support, such as checking in with a mental health professional or talking to my primary care doctor for resources. If I am not tracking my mood or paying attention to my mental health, I may not notice or be able to use self-care as a way to try and regulate before going to a professional.
This brings me to a final important question. How often do you need to check in with yourself about your mental health? The simple answer is that it is unique to your needs. Some people only need to reflect monthly, some weekly. I would not recommend it as a daily practice. There are just so many daily shifts with our emotions; sometimes bringing that much awareness can become overwhelming. I recommend using these check-ins as a way to monitor your mental health, but not obsess over it. Again, it’s all about the balance!!