You might be wondering, what is a mental health “tune-up”? Think of it this way. If you were driving your car and it kept making a ticking sound, you wouldn’t ignore it. You would try to figure out whether it’s a serious problem or not.
Getting the best performance out of your car or truck is not so different from taking good care of your mental health.
My first job was at an automotive service station. Now, as a clinical psychologist at a stress and anxiety clinic, I often make the connection between cars and mental health because it helps people see why maintaining your mental health, similar to maintaining your car, is important.
Just like you need to charge your battery or put gas in your tank, you need to recharge and refuel yourself.
Self-care and healthy habits help fill your tank and can include::
- Regular exercise
- Healthy eating
- Quality sleep
- Connecting with people
- Having time to yourself
- Spending time in nature
- Engaging in fun activities
Some things you can do on your own, like checking your oil or putting gas in your tank, but there are other times when a professional can help. Professionals have access to specialized tools and know-how based on training and experience.
Signs it’s time to consider a “tune-up” with a professional
If you’re experiencing a nagging feeling that something is not quite right with your thinking, feelings or behaviour, these might be indicators that you might need some help.
Early intervention can help reduce the severity of mental health problems and even prevent them altogether. It is important to be able to spot the beginnings of mental health problems in yourself.
Here are some mental health warning signs that might indicate it’s time to consider talking with a professional:
Sleep, appetite, and hygiene changes
If you find that you have no problems wearing the same clothes for days on end because you could care less, it might just be that you genuinely don’t care, but losing all interest in your appearance can be a sign of trouble.
The same goes for feeling apathetic about sex or meals, even when your favourite dishes are on the menu, getting less or more sleep than you normally would, and feeling tired more often or more acutely than usual.
You don’t feel like yourself
If you don’t feel quite like yourself or others tell you they notice a difference in your behaviour, it might be time to reach out for help. It can be difficult to notice changes in your own pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Changes can sneak up on you. That’s why it’s important to consider the feedback of others.
If people note that you don’t seem like yourself, express concern about an unhealthy behaviour—drinking too much alcohol is a good example—or notice that you’re missing work or withdrawing from social contact, treat their observations as opportunities to take stock of how you are acting.
Ask yourself: Am I feeling down, angry or anxious more often than not? Have most of my comments to others become negative? Do I still find things fun or interesting? These are all warning signs.
Intense or persistent negative feelings
It is perfectly normal to feel negative emotions. In fact, it is healthy to feel negative emotions that fit the facts of the situation.
However, if you feel excessive, persistent or very intense negative feelings like these, it can be a sign of a problem:
If you feel like you are “stuck” in one or more negative emotions, if they are happening all the time, if they occur as outbursts, or are more intense than makes sense for the situation, then it may be time to talk to someone about it.
Nothing seems interesting anymore
When you lose interest in activities you previously enjoyed—hobbies, sports and even sex—or spending time with friends or family, this may be a sign that you are struggling. Some things ARE less fun than others, but there’s a difference between wanting to skip an activity and not being able to find anything at all that engages you.
Struggling to function daily
It’s normal to struggle during hard times. But if you’re finding it difficult to do things you used to be able to do and can’t figure out a reason why it could be a sign of something you need to look into. Anxiety can creep in and make any situation seem dangerous. Navigating life with depression can be like driving in a white-out. It’s hard to see clearly.
Take notice if you’re having difficulties performing or starting familiar tasks at home, at work, or at school. Also, notice if you are finding your personal relationships more challenging than usual.
It’s normal to worry a little bit about the week ahead or feel regret for things in the past. But excessive negative thinking—including worrying about the future or stressing too much about the past—can start to dominate everything else.
When your thoughts cause a lot of distress or start to interfere with your day-to-day functioning (like work and sleeping), it’s a sign you should talk it out with somebody.
Other signs include difficulties paying attention, not being able to focus, or being unable to remember things.
Using substances or avoidance to manage stress
Sometimes, we find ourselves using substances or avoidance to manage stress rather than engaging in more science-backed strategies such as problem-solving, emotion regulation, acceptance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Healthy habits can either go out the window or start becoming something you do compulsively. If your solutions or coping strategies have become a problem, it’s time to seek help.
My rule of thumb is when in doubt, check it out. Changes in your thinking, emotions, and behaviour that are intense, excessive, ongoing and/or very unusual are all indicators.
It’s difficult to know whether you need a service stop or whether you have run out of road. Spotting one or more of the signs mentioned doesn’t necessarily mean your mental health is in jeopardy. It simply means it’s time to pay attention and find support.
Resources for support
Wellness Together Canada offers free, virtual support 24/7.
Online counselling sessions are available from TELUS Health MyCare along with other health services.
If you’re not quite ready to talk to someone, self-directed resources are also available to support your mental health.
- MindShift CBT App: This app uses scientifically proven strategies to help you learn to relax and take steps to help manage anxiety. The MindShift CBT app was developed by Anxiety Canada.
- Bounceback Program: A free program to help manage mild to moderate depression, anxiety, stress or worry. Developed by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), it provides options for support from a coach, self-led online programs and videos.
- Stress Strategies Tool: Create a free personalized plan for stress management developed by the Psychology Foundation of Canada. The tool looks at stress as a problem that can be solved, or at least improved, by using practical problem-solving methods.
- Greater Good in Action: Provides science-based practices for a meaningful life, curated by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Focused on improving social and emotional well-being, or the well-being of others.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at +1 (833) 456-4566 any time, day or night, or chat online. For residents of Quebec, contact 1-866-277-3553.