We all have those moments when something feels off — but we can’t put our finger on what’s happening. Maybe it’s an upset stomach, a racing heart or mind, or just an overall feeling of uneasiness. In these situations, you may be tempted to push your emotions aside and charge forward, ignoring your symptoms. However, it’s actually our body’s way of signaling to us to take action. One of the most effective ways to be better attuned to our internal needs is by regularly conducting mental health check-ins.
Why is this vital to happiness and fulfillment? By taking the time to honor your feelings, you can understand them. With understanding comes the power to cultivate change, says Marisa Peer, the founder, and creator of Rapid Transformational Therapy.
As a highly-recommended resolution for the year ahead, here’s how to check in with yourself:
Schedule check-ins so you don’t miss them.
We often forget about our mental health since we’re very busy looking at our physical health, Peer says. We pay attention to aches and pains, weight gain and losses, but not so much to variations in our mood and feelings. That’s why it can be super beneficial to schedule a daily mental health check-in. It doesn’t need to take longer than a few minutes, but during this time, you should answer these questions:
- Am I feeling sad?
- Am I feeling lost?
- Am I feeling angry?
- Am I feeling empty?
- Am I feeling anxious?
Then, move your focus to how these feelings might be illustrating themselves in your body, says Tamika Simpson, MPH, IBCLC, PMH-C, a perinatal mental health specialist. “It’s taking a few minutes to pay attention to your body from head to toe and asking yourself what you need,” she says. These questions can be:
- Are you hungry?
- Are you getting a headache?
- Have you had any water?
- Do you feel well-rested?
“These are all things that we may ignore but are warning signs from the body that we may not be taking the best care of ourselves. Once you have completed your scan, determine what is in your control to change,” Simpson continues. “This could mean grabbing a snack or a glass of water, maybe taking a cat nap, or doing some stretches and meditation. These few minutes of paying attention to what your body and mind need can help with managing your stress levels.”
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Allow yourself to feel it all.
One of the reasons we may avoid dealing with our mental health is because it’s scary. And for many of us, it is overwhelming to allow ourselves to feel everything that’s going on in our brains since, well, it’s not always pretty. However, Peer says to remember you have to allow yourself to feel because you can’t fix what you don’t understand — and you can’t heal what you can’t feel.
As an example, maybe during your mental health check-in, you realize you’re feeling this: “I’m feeling really annoyed with my husband. I wish I’d never had these kids, these cats, these dogs; they’re just limiting my life and restricting me. I’m feeling anxious because I’ve taken on a project that I now don’t want to do. I’m getting this nervousness in my stomach because I didn’t want to do what I said I would do.”
Once you let these thoughts come out, Peer says to take a deep breath and process each of them. Can you get out of the project? Can you talk to your husband about the need for more alone time? Perhaps take a staycation to get a break from the kids? Once you’ve arrived at a solution, and feel calmer, try to determine what you learned from the experience. “Mental health isn’t about not having tough moments or struggles or sad feelings; it’s about learning how to best cope with them, embrace them, and learn from them in a way that works for you,” she adds.
Find your people.
As with anything in life, having a support system to rally around you during both your happiest and darkest times makes everything easier. And while you might have some emotional reserves available to make yourself feel better, it’s always more helpful and reassuring to know we can ask for help, says psychotherapist Hillary Schoninger, LCSW.
“Find a friend who might need some support and discuss how you can each be there for one another while encouraging each other again to advocate for your mental health,” she continues. “Maybe have a code word with each other that is assigned when either of you needs to discuss something bothersome. Commit to being there for each other, as it is another way you commit to feeling good.”
Pinpoint your sources of stress — and joy.
Another way to regularly have mental health check-ins is to ask yourself two questions: what brings you stress right now, and what brings you joy. You can try journaling through these two emotions to help your brain better process how they’re impacting your daily life. And as Simpson says, don’t ignore the stressor or shove it so far down it isn’t being dealt with. That just prolongs the stress. But instead, try thinking about it intentionally. “Determine if there is anything that is within your control to alleviate or reduce that stress,” she explains. “In some cases, we can not get rid of our stressor. But we can recognize that fact and focus on managing the stress that it is causing us.”
Then, to elevate your mood and lessen some of the intense anxiety, Simpson recommends reflecting on your last joyful moment. Write down what you loved about it, why it was a happy experience, and how you can recreate it in the future. “Sometimes we move too quickly and are so focused on tasks and stressors that we don’t stop and pay attention to the good things,” she says. “Slowing down and paying attention to the little joyful moments can help to uplift our spirits. It doesn’t take much time, but the benefits can be very rewarding.”