We are living in an unprecedented time when we might be thinking more about how we can get a bit of mental health support. Pre-pandemic, looking for a therapist or acknowledging that therapy is a next step could be scary. Now, even more so. We are told so many messages about how therapy is for people who fit the stigmatized stereotype of someone who is severely depressed, anxious, psychotic, or dangerous. The reality is, though, that anyone can go to therapy. Anyone. You don’t have to be in the throes of suffering to start your search.
The first step in improving your mental health is knowing when you want to have professional support. There may be a few reasons for that, and we’ll walk you through some of them!
It is Difficult to Understand Your Emotions
It may be possible that you have difficulty when it comes to making sense of your emotions, or even worse, you may find it hard to control or regulate your emotions in a challenging environment. These are common, frustrating, and confusing experiences. We’re often told in our society that we aren’t supposed to experience or express anything besides happiness or anger. We’re taught to be uncomfortable with sadness and grief. This is especially true in BIPOC communities and men where emotions are framed as things that just get in our way rather than help us.
In therapy, this is not the case.
A therapist will explore these emotions with you without any judgment. You can learn how to look at the emotions without being carried away by them, process them while learning from them, and use them in ways that will be more adaptive and beneficial for you.
It’s Harder for You to Be/Feel Productive
We live in a world that requires us to bustle from one task to the next, and many of us live with that lifestyle with ease. When you run into a wall that suddenly doesn’t let you be productive anymore, whether it be with household chores, school, or work, this could be a sign that something in your life is needing attention, especially if it’s been happening for a couple of weeks.
It might even be hard for you to notice it in yourself. Maybe your partner, family, friends, or coworkers have noticed you started drifting away from your usual self and are struggling with tasks you used to do easily. It could even be the opposite of that: you might be working too much but don’t feel like you’re getting enough done. A therapist can sit down with you and explore why any of this might be, find the root causes, and work collaboratively to figure out ways of how to best support you.
Your Eating and Sleeping Habits Have Changed
Food and eating, especially in community with other people, is important in our culture. It can be startling to pause and notice if you’ve been eating far more or far less than you usually do. It’s common for food to be a source of comfort when we’re feeling emotionally distressed, and it’s also common for us to avoid food or completely forget to eat whenever we’re anxious. Either of these behaviors are common when we’re struggling, and it can create a complicated relationship with food that a therapist can explore with you, especially if you’re experiencing changes that are not normal for you.
Sleep is another huge one! If you notice changes in your sleep patterns like insomnia (not being able to sleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping far too much), a therapist can walk through why this might be. Are there thoughts that keep you awake? Do you simply not feel tired? Do you feel tired, but no amount of sleep helps you feel rested? A therapist can help here, too!
Building and Maintaining Relationships is Difficult
Building and maintaining relationships is hard, and the current COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t made it much easier for many of us. Connection, especially with people who share cultural identities with you, is so integral to healing and wellness that living without it can be very painful and isolating. There could also be a number of reasons why this is happening, some of which may or may not be in your full awareness.
Maybe you feel anxious whenever you meet new people. Maybe you’ve been hurt in relationships in the past. Maybe there are patterns that you learned growing up that aren’t serving you today. Maybe you feel like you don’t fit in or aren’t good enough. Maybe connecting to others is scary. All of these reasons, and however many more there may be, are all valid. You deserve to build connections that feel safe, secure, and supportive. You and your therapist can discover how to find them together.
Activities Once Pleasurable are No Longer Fun
In our field, we call this anhedonia (loss of pleasure). Humans are pleasure-seeking beings, whether it be gained from walking the dog, spending time with loved ones, playing an instrument, being sexually intimate with a partner, or engaging in favorite hobbies. When we’re able to engage in these things, it helps us know that we are able to unwind from a rough day and find happiness in our lives. When we’re struggling with our mental health, this becomes much harder to do, and sometimes we stop doing it all together.
We might not feel the same zest to continue the things that we found enjoyable. Our quality of life might decrease and we might feel stagnant in our lives. This can be frustrating and scary, but therapy can help provide you support to get back to what you loved doing.
You Have Experienced Trauma
Trauma is a complex topic. The formal definition says that you or a loved one have to directly or indirectly experience some sort of threat to your life, but what we know in the field is that people have trauma responses to many other things. You could have experienced a traumatic divorce, have racial trauma or other identity trauma because of discrimination, or the loss of someone important in your life that isn’t necessarily through death. Whatever it is or may be, trauma is defined by you and how you experience it.
Trauma can make it hard to trust people again. It may make us feel significant anxiety, cause us to avoid situations or people, or make us think of things we worked so hard to forget. All of it can be frustrating, scary, and hard to navigate alone. This doesn’t mean you’re crazy; it means that you’re human and your body and brain have been working hard to help you survive. A trusted therapist can help you live authentically, freely, and with skills to help cope with the trauma that you have experienced.
You are Experiencing Grief
Similar to the last point, grief is complex. You could be grieving someone you lost to death or circumstance. Someone in your life does not have to die in order for you to grieve for them. You could be fighting with complex grief and figuring out how you can love, grieve for, and be angry at someone you’ve lost in your life. Balancing all of these emotions can feel overwhelming, and your reaction may be to throw your hands up in the air in frustration and avoid it because it’s complicated and hard to pick through all of the memories. Some grief, though, could be for things you never had memories for.
You don’t have to experience grief for a person. We can experience grief for our younger selves who deserved better. We can grieve lost opportunities and life experiences. Regardless of the source of the grief, it can be hard to balance it and function in daily life. In order to cope with the loss in a healthy way, it’s important to grieve in ways that feel safe and manageable for you. A therapist can help you navigate this process.
You Experience Mysterious Physical Setbacks
Have you recently noticed a decline in your physical health? Are you unable to find the root cause of your lethargy, fever, or overall malaise? When we’re experiencing psychological or emotional distress, physical symptoms are very common. Our mental and physical health are closely tied together in almost a cyclical nature. When we’re successfully able to maintain one, the other is usually also maintained. When one is thrown out of balance, the other may be impacted, too.
Our mental health can be tied into our eating habits, sleeping habits, hygiene habits, drinking habits, and more. That lethargy, binge eating, insomnia/hypersomnia, and frequent illness could be greater symptoms of something happening mentally. There is ample research supporting the link between depression and physical symptoms as well as research discussing how depression is linked to the immune system. With other negative mental health symptoms, there are even more links with our physical health.
You are Having Trouble with Risky Behaviors
We all take risks in life, though there are definitely some that have more negative consequences than others. When the risks you take are impacting your life in ways that are more detrimental than growth-oriented, you could experience distress. Maybe it’s getting harder to go a day without your drug of choice, or maybe you’re engaging in other addictive behaviors like sex or gambling. It’s a hard reality to face, and when you’re ready to face it, we’ll be here for you.
You Want to Learn More About Yourself
You may have heard about how therapy is a place to explore yourself, and that is absolutely right! When you first enter a session with a therapist, they’ll ask you about your goals for therapy. You’re welcome to say something like, “I want to know more about why I ___.” You and your therapist will then start the process of gaining more insight into your experiences to help you understand yourself better.
In therapy, you can learn about your values and in what ways you do and do not live by them. You can talk freely about what personal growth looks like for you. Is it when you’re more comfortable in your own skin? Is it when you have confidence spending time with others? Is it when you speak more gently and compassionately to yourself? Is it when you realize your self-worth? Therapy is a place to examine all of these things and more to help you live a life that is authentic, fulfilling, and adaptive.
Despite all of the messages that have told you your mental health doesn’t matter, it does.
Your mental health matters. Period.
Many of us have grown up in communities that downplay the significance of mental health on our overall well-being, but that narrative is slowly shifting. We have more awareness and research about how mental health is a core part of our functioning. We’ve been seeing more conversations about how to benefit from therapy, self-care, boundaries, and self-reflection. More people from marginalized communities where mental health has been a historically taboo topic are going to therapy. We are seeing so many more people moving through life with tools under their belt to navigate their lives in ways that are authentic, freeing, and empowering.
Of course, we recognize that everyone is going to go to therapy at their own pace. Maybe you’re just now considering it. Maybe you’ve finally gone on that website to check out a therapist that might fit for you. Maybe you’re still put off by the idea of therapy and aren’t interested in looking. Whatever stage you’re in, it’s okay.
When you’re ready, we’ll be here for you.