Life gets rough sometimes. Work is stressful, money is tight, and everything feels like it's slipping just a little too far out of control for comfort.
If you are feeling stressed, anxious or down, it may be time to do a mental health check-in with yourself.
What is mental health
So what exactly is mental health? Mental health affects us all, and put simply, is the way in which we as individuals handle stress, connect with others, and how we make decisions. It includes our psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing.
We all have mental health, but some of us can suffer from poor mental health, while other individuals can have positive mental health which allows them to cope better in stressful situations, be more productive, and make more meaningful contributions socially.
Poor mental health can have the opposite effect, and those who struggle with mental health issues may not handle stress well, may not be as productive, and may not contribute as much. Poor mental health can be brought on by a number of different contributing factors, such as:
- Experiences - abuse, or a traumatic experience.
- Biological - an individual's genes or brain chemistry.
- Family history - mental health issues can be inherited, and can be seen in previous generations of the family.
Poor mental health can be seen in individuals. Below is a list of potential signs to look out for:
- Feeling numb
- A feeling of helplessness
- Adoption of drug use, drinking, and smoking
- Increased aggression with family and friends
- Severe mood swings
- Thoughts of harming yourself or others
- Inability to perform normal daily tasks, either at home and at work
- Eating or sleeping too much, or too little
- Low energy
So why is a mental health check-in so important, and how can it be used as a tool to help to improve mental health.
The importance of a mental health check-in
How do you stop a crack in a window from completely shattering the glass? First, you look at the window, find the problem and then fix it before it’s too late.
The same goes for your mental health. If you aren’t checking in on the state of your mental health regularly, you may miss warning signs that you need to take a break before you experience a worse problem like burnout, extreme anxiety or depression.
Only you know what is going on inside your mind, so only you can give an accurate picture of how you are doing psychologically. And that is why it is so important to check in with yourself.
How to conduct your mental health check-in
Schedule a period of five to 10 minutes during your day where you won’t be distracted and can answer the questions honestly and calmly.
I would recommend using a journal dedicated to your mental health check-ins where you can keep a list of your questions and have a record of how you have been feeling over a period of time. Mål Paper has created its own Checkin Journal, in collaboration with Matt Johnson and Mind Charity.
Ideally, a mental health check should be done at least once a week, but the most important thing is that you do it regularly, so if you can only do it once a month or once every two weeks, that’s ok as well.
You could also opt to do a mini mental health check-in every day, choosing just a few main questions that you feel best help you reflect on your feelings, and then do a deeper check-in once a month.
Finally, make sure you are in an uninterrupted environment where you are free to write without being disturbed. It is vital you are in a place where you feel safe to openly and honestly answer each question. Otherwise, the check-in will not be as helpful as it could be.
The mental health check-in
Use the following questions as a guide, answer these as honestly and open as you can.
You can choose to answer all of them or just pick a few that you feel are most relevant to you.
Most importantly, make sure you are completely honest and non-judgemental in your answers. The goal is not to assign thoughts as good or bad but simply to observe what you are feeling about different situations.
- How am I feeling today?
Easy question to start off. This is an excellent way to start the process of opening up your feelings. However, it is also important to note, as you may notice a pattern in your check-ins that your mood affects the rest of your answers.
E.g., when you are in a bad mood, your outlook is generally more negative even if you’ve had a great few days, whereas if you are in a bad mood, your answers are usually more positive even if the last few days have been awful.
- How does my body feel?
Mental health problems aren’t confined to the mind. Physical symptoms such as upset stomachs, high blood pressure, palpitations and issues with sleep can be indicators that you aren’t feeling mentally well.
It’s essential to track the symptoms to see what triggers them and if they get better or worse over time.
- How do I feel about my job?
Like it or not, work is a big part of life for a lot of us. As such, it’s important to recognise what our feelings are about it so that we can work through any problems we may have.
If your job is causing problems with your mental health, highlighting it in your mental check-in is a good opportunity to think of coping strategies or, in extreme circumstances, think about the possibility of changing your job.
- Has anything been bothering me this week?
Have you had any recurring thoughts or feelings causing you stress? Write them down. Sometimes the simple act of getting a negative thought out of your head and onto paper is enough to calm you down.
And if not, writing it down provides a great opportunity to start seeing if there is a way to resolve your problem.
- How much time have I spent talking to loved ones in the past week?
Social connection is an integral part of mental wellbeing. Emotional connections provide comfort and stress relief, whereas loneliness can provoke mental wellbeing problems to worsen.
If you find that you haven’t been reaching out to loved ones recently, this question will serve as a great prompt to reach out to someone and say hi.
- Which coping strategies have I been using to calm me down this week?
Most of us develop coping strategies naturally when we repeatedly face stress or challenging times. Some methods are helpful, some not so much.
By writing down the coping strategies you use, you’ll be able to see how helpful your coping mechanisms are so you can gently guide yourself towards using more of the positive coping strategies and less of the destructive ones.
- What have I done to have fun this week?
Life is all about balance. You can’t just work all the time; you need to balance it with activities you find fun. Whether it’s going out with friends, watching a film, reading a book, or taking a day off to explore the city, this prompt will remind you of the importance of fun in your mental wellbeing maintenance.
Mental health check-ins are an important part of self-care. By regularly seeing how you feel mentally, you’ll be able to better protect yourself against serious mental distress such as burnout.
And don’t just keep the mental health check-in for yourself. Get your loved ones in the habit of checking in on their mental health too!
Together, we can all be kinder to ourselves and improve our mental wellbeing.
If you need help and support, please see our Mental Health Support page for more information on places that you can reach out to.