It seems like every other news article includes the words “mental health” and every other social media post a hashtag to the effect “#mentalhealthmatters.” If you live in Southern California, then you’re probably feeling this trend much more than the average person.
To put the point simply, mental health awareness is on the rise. And it’s pretty fantastic.
Part of the trend tends to include suggestions from individuals and companies like the following:
No doubt, these messages are both true and useful; people really would benefit from more self-care days and prioritizing their mental health. Putting these messages into practice, on the other other hand, is not as easy as it looks.
What does prioritizing your mental health really look like? What are the practical steps one is supposed to take in order to be “serious” about their mental health? When taking a self-care day, what will it consist of so that it really is caring for the self? The answers here are many. Somewhere near the top of the list you might—big emphasis on “might”—see one type of suggestion. This is the suggestion people love to make but hate to practice for themselves:
Psychotherapy. ("Therapy” going forward).
Have you noticed this? That somehow, in some way, everyone else is the perfect candidate for therapy? Ourself, on the other hand? Well:
The list goes on. Yet, not everything on the list is always false: therapy can be expensive; therapy can be time-consuming; maybe you honestly can’t think of what you’d talk about.
What if expenses, time-consumption and the like aren’t the real reasons therapy is avoided, though? What if the real reason was something deeper? What if people didn’t engage in therapy simply because they sincerely didn’t think they could benefit from it? What if people didn’t engage in therapy because they didn’t think they needed it?
To some extent, this would actually make a lot more sense than the other reasons listed above. After all, people typically spend their time and money on goods and services that they genuinely believe they need; goods and services they can really see the benefit of.
So consider therapy from this angle: does it carry any benefit for you and your life? Here are five signs that you could benefit from therapy.
Do your thoughts drift toward negativity or positivity? As you’re moving through your day, does your mind feel biased toward your “shortcomings” or your strengths?
It goes without saying that the vast majority of people experience negative self-talk. They experience private conversations within their minds where they are the target of their mind’s most destructive thoughts. It’s not only painful; it’s also fatiguing. For many, it’s among the top reasons substances are used and abused: to get momentary rest from the mind’s harmful stance toward the self.
Negative self-talk is linked to many types of anxiety-based conditions: social anxiety, generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, disordered eating, etc. Anxiety-based conditions can be linked to emotional, physical, sexual and mental injuries. So, experiencing negative self-talk may be a good sign that you could use therapeutic support to begin to heal from these injuries.
But why does the mind critique itself anyway?
What function, if any, does negative self-talk serve? The technical, psycho-babble answer to the question—at least on one theory—would say that it’s a type of defense mechanism. By staying engaged in negative self-talk, the mind keeps itself in the position of feeling like “the bad one.” And by staying in the position of “the bad one,” the mind remains in a place where it feels a need for protection.
You can see how if our minds drifted toward the positive more often than not, we might actually begin to feel free, relaxed and in a good mood. A great state to be in; but also a vulnerable state to be in. If you’ve ever suffered an emotional injury before, the natural tendency is to avoid the setting in which it occurred. Generally, the setting of our worst emotional injuries almost always features vulnerability.
Here’s a second sign that you could benefit from therapy.
Have you ever noticed that you can’t nap during the middle of the day? That when everyone has left the house, you can’t help but continue to “do” rather than to sit and “be.” Has sitting to enjoy a movie or someone’s company ever felt difficult? Perhaps you feel this constant, unquenchable need to “keep moving” and “keep producing”?
If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then you may have trouble relaxing. You might be wondering, though: what’s the connection between trouble relaxing and therapy? Well, if you struggle to relax, there’s a very good chance that there’s a reason for that.
Perhaps growing up you were never allowed to relax. Maybe growing up you were never encouraged to sit down and take a break from the tasks to enjoy whatever was before you. Maybe your environment was filled with explicit or implicit pressures to be a certain way; pressures to achieve certain goals; pressures to keep doing.
Or, maybe your environment was characterized by chaos and dangerous situations including family members who were abusive or full of rage. Perhaps mom or dad regularly got drunk as you were growing up and you felt like it was on you to police the situation. If you always had to be on guard or prepared for conflict growing up, that would also make perfect sense of a struggle to relax.
Regular entrenchment in scenarios like those stated above may make relaxing more difficult. They may also be great signs that you could benefit from therapy; great signs that you could benefit from a weekly space and place where you can learn to relax and know that you are safe while doing so.
Many people self-identify today as having a “scattered brain.” They’ll say things like, “I’ve never been able to focus” or “it always takes me a lot of time to get focused on a task.” Maybe getting focused is easy, but staying focused is difficult.
Difficulty concentrating can be a symptom of anxiety, depression and trauma. In the case of anxiety, similar to benefit number one, when the mind races it can be challenging to focus it. If you’re constantly preoccupied in thought by something, focusing on what’s before you can feel like climbing Mount Everest. The same holds in cases of depression. If you experience constant fatigue, low energy, trouble getting motivated (more on this soon), then maybe it’s not so surprising that concentrating might be difficult at times?
Sometimes therapists wonder about the root cause of an experience. If you’re having a hard time concentrating, they might try to figure out why that is. Trauma is a powerful explanation in cases of difficulty concentrating, and you can probably see why.
Assume that the mind is geared towards survival from early on. Now imagine a child who’s existence is saturated in a trauma-filled environment. Maybe constant yelling; maybe constant neglect; maybe regular experiences of being abused. You can imagine that in such an environment, remaining hyper-focused on what’s happening would conflict with survival tendencies. Staying focused in that environment would be far too painful.
So what does the mind do in many cases? It learns to turn its attention elsewhere—anywhere else feels better than the trauma right in front of your face. So, perhaps, difficulty concentrating has a back story. Therapy may be a great place to explore that further.
Have naps stopped working for you? Do you find that no matter how long you sleep for during the night, you still wake up feeling tired or fatigued? Does it feel challenging to get energized? As it turns out, persistent fatigue (in the absence of a legitimate physical condition) can be an indicator of depression.
Another indicator can be impaired motivation. When your motivation is impaired, almost nothing sounds like a good idea. There are things are the house that’ve been eyeing you for weeks; perhaps there are work assignments that’ve been beckoning you for days. Yet, it feels like there’s an invisible wall standing between you and the thing you need to do.
Have you had this experience before?
Fatigue and lack of motivation are fairly sly, however. They are the types of experiences that we have sometimes frequently, and which we also share with many others. So, we rarely think of them as anything beyond "being tired” or, as many others say, “being lazy.”
But maybe it’s not that you’re simply tired or lazy. Maybe something else is going on beneath the surface that’s impacting your overall functioning. Depression has many possible roots: trauma, emotional deprivation, lack of attention from primary care-givers, growing up feeling alone, significant loss or grief, and the list goes on.
Perhaps, though, your energy and/or motivation levels are trying to tell you something. Maybe, they’re a sign that you could benefit from therapy.
The last sign that you might benefit from therapy is common to humanity. Avoidance. Sometimes we do this consciously; we make a conscious decision to not go to place x or y because of reason z.
Other times, the decision is made unconsciously. That is, a certain place, person or thing is avoided overtime and with a kind of discreetness. That means you’re never really aware of the fact that you’re trying to not come into contact with whoever or whatever it is. These moments, as you could imagine, are much more difficult to identify.
Both types of avoidance—conscious and unconscious—typically have a reason behind them. Generally, you don’t avoid “just because.” And for most, the reason is usually tied to—surprise, surprise—trauma.
Trauma is at the bottom of many of our psychological stories. It makes a lot of sense why we avoid someone, somewhere or something if, for us, there was a traumatic experience of some kind tied to that person, place or thing. Why else would we avoid if there wasn’t some negative experience linked to the thing being avoided?
The tricky part is that many aren’t aware of the trauma that explains the avoidance. In a lot of cases, that trauma has been repressed—the mind’s action to push difficult-to-tolerate memories or experiences out of our direct awareness. Avoidance, however, can be quite disruptive. It can get in the way of things we’d like to do; places we’d like to see.
So, it may be a good sign that you could benefit from therapy, that you could benefit from a place where you can begin to explore those difficult-to-tolerate memories or experiences so that you can loosen the grip the trauma may have on you.
If any of the above experiences resonated with you and you’d simply like to take the first step in exploring whether therapy might be a good fit for you, our therapists at Forbes Individual & Family Therapy would love to help.
You can book a free 30-minute consultation with any of our therapists today to start the journey of becoming a flourishing, more authentic you.