It can be really helpful in managing your mental health to know the changes occur that in your attitudes and behaviour before your mental health gets worse. Taking the time to acknowledge these signs can allow you to act in the most appropriate way to stop yourself before you become unwell.
How to spot your red flags
What are red flags?
Red flags are the changes that we begin to recognise in ourselves and others when our mental health is in a decline. You may be becoming increasingly anxious, low in mood or heading towards a general burn out. A large part of looking after your wellbeing is recognising when you are struggling. This can be particularly difficult to identify when you are in the eye of the storm. Think about what the indicators are that you see when you might be struggling. It can be useful to tell other people of what these red flags are so they can help you identify them too.
Here are some common red flags that people report:
- Mood dropping
- Becoming more irritable
- Changes in sleep
- Changes in eating
- Become more angry
- Ignoring people
- Difficulty getting up
- Moving more slowly
- Being unable to sit still
- Procrastinating more than usual
Everyone’s red flags are different, and the things that you do when you begin to notice them will be different from everyone else’s too. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
My name is Abi. I began struggling with minor depression and anxiety at university and had no idea how to cope, having no experience of feeling anything like this before. I didn’t even understand what anxiety was before I began experiencing it. Despite being first aid trained for 3+ years at the time, I had no idea how to deal with a panic attack when I first experienced one myself. My experience with my mental health over the past 4 years has been one of learning and growth. I am very conscious of the fact that these illnesses can transcend far beyond my experience with them, so I appreciate that these small steps may not feel so small to some. But all I ask is that next time you feel yourself falling, you try one of these things. After all, it’s a marathon. Not a sprint.
I would say that I am very in tune with myself and how I feel which helps me cope. Some of my red flags are that I become more snappy, I smile less than I usually would and I find myself reluctant to exercise which is a huge red flag for me. When I start to feel myself slipping into a dark place, it can be difficult to find the motivation to make any attempt at trying to feel better.
I find that the first initial step is the hardest. However, the things that we can do to make ourselves feel better can be so small, yet really effective. I want to share the little things that work for me when I begin to feel myself slipping down that spiral.
I want to clarify that these things are personal to me. It is what I have discovered works through trial and error, accident, or maybe after a quick google search of something like ‘how to feel better’.
These are just some of the things that help me. I really hope that you find them useful and that they help you in the same way that they help me. The best advice regarding mental health that I’ve ever been given is from a Doctor I used to see. He said ‘You might feel depressed. You might even feel suicidal. But just like good feelings, those bad feelings will pass.’ I ALWAYS remember this. It might feel really bad right now, but it won’t feel like that forever. These steps help me to remember that and help any bad feelings pass just a little quicker.
How I make myself feel better when i catch myself falling
My red flags are beginning to move more slowly, a sudden drop in mood and the inability to get out of bed. In order to stop falling into a full-blown depressive episode it’s important that I get the help that I need as quickly as possible. Usually, this will entail letting my Mum and partner know that I think my mood is dropping, and with their help, I will usually book a GP appointment as soon as possible. Due to NHS cuts, I am unable to get a psychiatrist, so it is my GP who looks after my medication. Often, we will make small adjustments to my medication and I will get put on a list for therapy. Sometimes this therapy list amounts to something, and other times it does not. I spent the whole of my university degree being denied therapy! It’s really important to me that I let the people in my life know what is going on and I try and be as open and transparent as possible. My mood tends to drop quickly and acutely so I try and be as gentle as I can with myself, taking myself on small daily walks, not berating myself for not achieving what I might want to achieve.
Here are some links that you might find helpful:
- Mental Health Foundation offers practical advice about looking after your mental health
- People First also offers tips for good mental health and well being
- Rethink Mental Illness explores Red Flags as well as how to look after yourself and your friends