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Mental Health and Self-Monitoring

These times have challenged our strength and will to continue to work toward our self-improvement, maintain work ethic, and maintain relationships. When 2020 brought the fury, people flocked to counseling because these are times that lend more questions than answers. This means mental health symptoms are also increasing. Most people with mental health concerns deal with some level of depression and anxiety, even if it’s just depression and anxiety over a completely different mental health concern. But the most common mental health concerns just happen to be depression and anxiety.


People who struggle with depressive symptoms around this time where our society is full of conflict and fear may find themselves in what is known as a spiral. If you've ever experienced an episode, whether classic depression or even a slump in your regular mental well-being, an episode can run many layers of spirals and the further down a spiral you go, the harder it becomes to make your way back up. If you find you're experiencing a continued spiral, consider therapy as an option. If you're already in counseling you have recognized some of your resilience or can expect to if you've just started out. As resilient and strong as you know you are, you probably also experience moments that can last anywhere from a couple hours to several weeks where getting back on track seems like the hardest thing to do.


When you’re problem solving through your symptoms or “funk,” making your problems tangible is necessary to begin the problem solving planning. That’s why metaphors work so well by the way--it gives an abstract problem a tangible picture in our minds. Spirals are perfect for describing depression or stress in this way. So as you’re imagining your own spiral of symptoms, whether that be depression,, stress, or being in a “funk,” I want you to think about how you might identify the different stages you go through for yourself, where your rock bottom is, and how you usually find your way back up. Think, how might the following concepts apply to you?


Spiral stage 1:

This stage is about maintenance. You are in a place where you can maintain your symptoms with good coping skills and alternative, flexible mindsets. We are all at stage 1 if we’re not spiraling down. You might ask, why we would be on any stage at all if we’re not spiraling. We all run the risk at any point depending on our choices and mindset at moving toward stage 2. In this way, we can never fully be free of our “spiral” because that would imply we would ever be free from the responsibility of maintaining our mental health and wellness. Far from the truth. Everyone, diagnosed or not, is responsible for taking care of themselves.


Spiral stage 2:

This stage appears benign. In fact slipping from stage 1 to stage 2 would likely go unnoticed. Stage 2 in my experience is about where we begin to slack in our daily structure and self-care. The moment you say to yourself “I don’t have time for that” in relation to any self-care necessity, such as eating at least once in the day, taking a chance to spend time with loved ones, taking a chance to take care of your personal hygiene, providing for your basic needs, etc. At any point you hear yourself saying “I don’t have time to_____(exercise, clean, take a shower, do something once a week that you love/is fun, eat, hug someone you love, etc.)” and you notice yourself saying it frequently (Avoiding your personal self-care and self-love for more than 3 weeks begins to become a problem), that’s about when you should take a break and a breath, and evaluate your situation by asking yourself:

  1. Am I stressed?

  2. Am I upset about something?

  3. Am I avoiding something?

  4. Am I taking care of myself?


If you find yourself regularly stressed/upset/avoidant or not taking care of yourself, then move on to these questions:

  1. What’s working well for me?

  2. What’s not working?

  3. What are my needs? How can I meet those needs?


Spiral stage 3:

Your stress levels have increased and you haven’t stopped to take care of yourself or slow down very much at all over a couple of months. You didn’t re-engage your self care, and now you’re struggling to wake up in the mornings, meet your obligations to others, you break promises, you become a flake, you maybe cry more frequently over little things, gain weight, lose too much weight, and there’s not really a light at the end of the tunnel. Stage 3 is hard to bounce back from, because you’ve been in the habit of not taking care of yourself for so long that you’ve struggled to meet your obligations to other things like work or school. Because you believe your time should be devoted to obligations instead of self-care, the idea of slowing down at this point sounds like a bad plan, but is really the only way out of your funk. If you find yourself here, stop, take a deep deep breath, and ask yourself this:

  1. At what point did I start feeling this way every day? What changed?

  2. Can I pinpoint my stress to one thing?

  3. What are things that I’m obsessing about or constantly worried about?


If you find yourself drowning in stress to the point that you can’t meet your obligations at work, school, family, or any context, then move on to these questions:

  1. What’s working well for me?

  2. What’s not working?

  3. What are my needs, and how can I meet those needs?

  4. What is ONE small change I can commit to today that can help me work toward taking care of myself again?


Spiral stage 4

This is a stage that usually requires external intervention. At this point, stress is so overwhelming, others might have to point it out to you for you in order for you to see it. Or, maybe because you failed meeting your responsibilities in stage 3, you’re basically in bed sleeping all day, or not sleeping at all, passively letting life go by. If you find yourself in this very dark place, you most likely need to find help, and you may not even have the energy to find help on your own. You may need a friend or relative to help you with food or cleaning while you get yourself the help you need through counseling and/or medication. You may or may not be suicidal at this point, but if not, it’s most definitely a rock bottom point for you.


If you find yourself at rock bottom, start asking yourself these questions:

  1. What is working for me?

  2. What’s not working?

  3. What are my needs and how can I meet those needs?

  4. Who can I call right now to come help me or be with me to come up with a plan to get out of this funk?


What do you think? These are of course basic thoughts on what a depression, or stress spiral might look like. In no way are these suggestions intended to be a guide to diagnosing yourself: if you need a diagnosis, meet with your PCP or psychiatrist or local mental health authority. These suggestions are also not related to any specific research, but rather are a collection of suggestions and ideas that come from the author's own personal experiences working in mental health, which of course cannot be generalized. That being said, what do you think? Do you know what your rock bottom looks like, or what your red flags are when you begin to spiral? What things do you do to pick yourself back up when you notice you’re spiraling? Don't forget to stop by the forum and share your thoughts on how you get yourself out of a funk!





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