As the New Year approaches, it’s an excellent time to be thinking about the small changes you can make to improve your health and happiness for the long-term.
Most of us habitually book an annual physical with our family doctor as a key preventative health strategy. But did you know that health professionals are increasingly advocating for the importance of mental health checkups as well? Mental health problems have a significant impact on our ability to cope with stress, maintain healthy relationships, function optimally at work and school, and preserve our physical well-being. Just as in the case of heart disease or diabetes, identifying early indicators of anxiety, depression, and other mental health ailments can allow for timely treatment that can improve daily functioning and prevent longer-term problems.
This year, consider implementing a mental health checkup as part of your overall preventative health routine. This 5-step self-checkup is a quick and easy way to build awareness of your current state of mental health, and identify any areas that need to be addressed further by a qualified health professional:
Step 1: Assess your stress level.
How stressed do you feel on a daily basis on a scale from 1-10? How well are you coping with that stress?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress more often than not, and/or if you’re coping by withdrawing from people or activities, or engaging in other unhealthy behaviours, it’s time to seek help.
Step 2: Assess your mood.
Do you regularly feel intense sadness, hopelessness, anger, irritability, or apathy? Does your mood often affect your relationships or your motivation to do daily activities?
If you struggle with persistent low mood (i.e. for more than a week at a time) or with mood swings that feel out of your control, getting help from a qualified clinician can assist you with regaining a healthy balance.
Step 3: Assess your anxiety.
Do you experience recurrent worries and fears or find yourself frequently dwelling on
“what if” scenarios? Do you find it difficult to relax and slow the thoughts in your mind?
Have you avoided people or situations because they cause significant anxiety?
If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, anxiety may be limiting your opportunities, impacting your health, and decreasing your enjoyment of life. A therapist can help you to learn effective strategies to reduce your distress and manage your anxiety.
Step 4: Assess the connection between your physical and mental health.
Do you experience muscle tension or tightness? Do you suffer from a physical condition
linked to mental health, such as tension headaches, digestive problems, hypertension,
ulcers or shortness of breath?
Sometimes mental health problems can manifest as physical symptoms (though it’s imperative to have your physician verify this first to determine there isn’t another cause). Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be effective at alleviating symptoms of some chronic health issues.
Step 5: Consider what’s getting in the way of your dreams for your future.
Are you the best version of yourself? Is your life full of meaning, purpose, and joy?
As you look toward a new year, it’s a good time to reflect on where you are and where you hope to be, in all aspects of your life. Mental health isn’t just about surviving—it’s about thriving. Negative core beliefs and thought patterns can hold us back from living our best lives. Working with a therapist can be transformative in shifting whatever is getting in the way of fulfillment and happiness.
By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.