Everyone has ups and downs, it’s a normal part of everyday life. Be it a tendency to worry about little things, to feel fed up about something that’s not how you want it to be, to get grumpy and snappy when you feel tired or stressed, we’ve all been there. But, how do you know when it’s more than just a bad day or a passing mood? And, beyond that, how do you know when it’s time to get some help?
When we are suffering from physical pain, we each have our own personal pain threshold, a point at which we are no longer able to tolerate the pain and realise that we need to do something about it. For some, the first twinge of pain is the point at which they choose to get help for others they choose to put up with it for as long as possible before doing something about it.
When I was in labour with my first child I was determined to follow the practice of hypnobirthing, I wanted to follow the example of my ancestors and have as natural a birth experience as possible. After 4 days of labour, I could stand the pain no longer, I was exhausted, delirious from the pain and sleep deprivation, and begged for an epidural. My husband remarked that they should take me seriously as I have a high pain threshold. On reflection I was trying to be brave and “tough it out” but if I had numbed the pain earlier we wouldn’t have picked up that the baby had turned and needed to be born via a different route. A year later I had surgery to have a tumour removed, the Oncologist plied me with pain killers and anti-emetics to help me feel better, stating “If you don’t have to feel pain then you shouldn’t, you will heal better if you are relaxed”.
It’s the same with emotional pain.
To feel some discomfort, anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness, is to alert us to something that may not be quite right for us. But to be suffering with that pain to the extent that we are exhausted, unable to enjoy life or carry out our daily tasks, panicking or losing our temper with the people we love, that’s not so good. With all forms of psychological or mental health difficulties, the warning signs that it’s time to get help are pretty much the same:
Disrupted sleep patterns – for some this might be struggling to get to sleep until late into the night or waking up several times, thoughts racing and an inability to shut off from the issues of the day, for others it might be sleeping more and struggling to stay awake, sleeping a lot but never feeling rested.
Change in appetite – appetite covers all sorts of things not just food. For some it can be a loss of interest or appetite for food, drink, sex, work, exercise. For others it may involve craving something and seeking out opportunities to satisfy that craving even if it is not healthy.
Change in motivation to do things – from little or no interest in activities such as socialising or working, or seeking new and exciting experiences which serve as a distraction
Preoccupied with something in particular – real or imagined (often it can be hard to tell the difference the more preoccupied one becomes) thoughts become more focused on one or two specific issues and it becomes difficult to refocus on a wider perspective
Feeling remote or cut off from others – either seeking reconnection with others, or isolating oneself because it is too much effort to reconnect, the feelings are too distracting or one is afraid that others will see how bad one is feeling
Knowing that something does not feel right about yourself, but dismissing it as it will soon pass, or believing that one is beyond help
Engaging in behaviours that may be out of character, excessive or harmful – drinking too much alcohol, smoking tobacco or other substances, cutting oneself, binge eating, gambling, casual or risky sex including watching pornography, over-exercising. These behaviours are aimed at distracting from or numbing the emotional pain, as well as trying to prove that nothing is wrong and seeking to gain some control over oneself.
A few years ago Prochaska and DiClemente, when trying to understand how some people succeed in drug treatment programmes whilst others do not, developed the Stages of Change model. Over the years, I have realised how applicable this model is to most aspects of human life when we are attempting to change something about ourselves.
Stage 1 – Precontemplation, this involves not realising that there is anything wrong, thinking that others are at fault or responsible for what they are experiencing. Often it is others around them that can see something is not right, and either what they say falls on deaf ears or they do not feel able to say anything.
Stage 2 – Contemplation, this is when someone realises that all is not well and that they could do with some help, but do not want to do something about it yet. Some people really struggle at this point because it can be painful to realise the extent of their need to change, as well as being frightened of what will happen if they try to change. Sometimes this pushes people back into precontemplation for a while, as it is too overwhelming to think about anything else at that time. For others, the discomfort of realising there is a problem that needs to be changed, drives them to want to make a change.
Stage 3 – Decision, this is when someone realises that they want to get help and no longer want to be stuck with the problem
Stage 4 – Planning, this is when someone works out what help they need, how they will get help and when it will happen
Stage 5 – Action, this is when someone puts their plan for change into action and tests out whether it works or not
Stage 6 – Maintenance, this is when someone’s change becomes their normal way of being.
Everyone goes through the stages at different times, and they may go through some of the stages several times before being able to maintain a change.
So, the time to reach for the key to unlock your life, is when you realise that you no longer want to feel the emotional pain that keeps you trapped. The warning signs identified above may only just be coming in to view, or they may have been around so long that it is hard to remember a time without them. Either way, there is no need to continue to suffer, to be brave, to “tough it out”, if you don’t need to feel pain then don’t because you will heal better if you are able to relax.
If you wish to know more or want help to reach for your own key, please contact Louise via the Contact page, or book a session via the Oakingtons.com link.