By Jen of The Wishing Well
#Fearless Family Writer
Have your emotions ever blindsided you, or taken a nosedive without warning?
Mine sure have. A year and a half ago, I checked into partial hospitalization program for major depression and anxiety. Before this program, I thought I could never predict when an episode would strike. I was wrong. There, I learned that we do have chances to catch episodes before they start. These chances are called Early Warning Signs.
Early Warning Signs are small changes in behavior that indicate a downward shift in your mental health. Think of your mental health like a dormant volcano (pardon the exaggeration). Before it erupts, you might feel some rumblings in the earth. That’s our signal that it’s time to get to safety. But we often miss those rumblings in our lives, unless we reflect on our personal Early Warning Signs.
Here’s a list of my own Early Warning Signs so you can see what I’m talking about:
- Feeling spacey or foggy
- Difficulty speaking
- Dreading answering the phone / text messages
- Intrusive thoughts
- Impulsive money spending
- Loss of or increase in appetite
- Racing thoughts
- Bad dreams
Sound familiar? I used to dismiss these signs as “just part of life.” Now I know these symptoms are signals to take action to get myself well.
Tuning in to your Early Warning Signs is a three-step process. This process was developed by Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD,who worked with a team of mental illness survivors to discover tools that work.
Step 1: Know What Wellness Looks Like For You.
You must know what you’re like when you’re well to notice your Early Warning Signs. Think back on a time in your life when you felt well. How did you feel? What activities did you do? How did you talk? How social were you? These are all elements of wellness. If you’re stuck, ask someone you trust who knows what you’re like when you’re well.
Step 2: List Your Early Warning Signs.
Now that you know what you’re like when you’re well, can you think of signs that your wellness is slipping? Again, talking to someone you trust can help – they have observed you from an outside perspective and may pick up on things you haven’t noticed before. Or, use my list above to think of similar signals that occur in your life.
Step 3: List your Wellness Actions.
Once you’ve brainstormed your Early Warning Signs and your Wellness, it’s time to come up with Actions you will take when you notice you’re slipping. What nurturing things can you do for yourself when you notice your Early Warning Signs?
First things first, check your self care. Are you eating? Getting enough sleep? Sleeping too much? Exercising, even if it’s a short walk? Once you’ve got the basics down, you can take further action. Here’s my Wellness Action list, just to give you an idea:
- Go for a walk
- Sit with feelings
- Inspiring YouTube videos
- Listen to music
- Be in nature
- Reach out to a loved one
This is a short list, and of course, the process of getting well is complicated. Another skill I like to use in response to Early Warning Signs is “Do It, Damn It,” which I talk about here.
The last step is to WRITE DOWN your wellness profile, your early warning signs, and you wellness actions. Then, you can refer to them when you’re slipping.
Have you noticed your Early Warning Signs before? What have you done to respond to them? What helpful ideas do you have that I left out? I’d love to hear from you.
Thank you again to Jen for sharing this wonderful story.
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