I said that the next time I posted, I would talk about some of the things I find helpful when I’m in a mental health slump. But as I thought more about it, I wanted to be sure to first talk more about how to recognize your own mental health red flags. Before you can get help, you have to realize that you need it.
On my resources page, there are two different infographics that can offer some insight regarding this. One is from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) titled My Mental Health: Do I Need Help? The other is from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and is called Common Warning Signs of Mental Illness.
Those infographics are a great place to start, but I also think each person has their own unique red flags and triggers when it comes to mental health issues. And learning what your own unique red flags are will be immensely helpful in making sure you don’t go too far down the path towards a mental health crisis before intervening.
Another really amazing resource for identifying your own personal red flags is the Enneagram.
I have found the Enneagram to be an absolutely amazing tool for helping me learn more about myself and try to grow into a healthier version of myself.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Enneagram, I recommend checking out the Enneagram Institute. Essentially, the Enneagram helps you to find your basic personality type out of 9 different options. Once you know your type, you can really start digging in to all the resources the Enneagram has to offer!
Each Enneagram type is associated with a basic set of general traits that describe them, and each type also has unique traits that they exhibit when they are in times of stress (disintegration) and times of growth (integration).
I am an Enneagram type 1 – which is known as the Reformer (or Perfectionist). When Ones are in a healthy place, their growth arrow moves them towards the healthy traits of a Seven (the Enthusiast), which means they become “more spontaneous and joyful” (often hard for Ones who like having control of all situations.) But when Ones are in a state of stress, or disintegration, their arrow points them towards a Four (the Individualist), which means they might become a bit more “moody, irrational, or dramatic” (some of the less-healthy traits an Enneagram Four might exhibit.)
Over the years, I’ve started paying attention to myself more, and have discovered a few telling signs when I’m under stress. One of the big ones for me is that my tolerance for mess and clutter goes to zero. I like things to be neat and tidy on my best days, but when I’m under stress, every little pile of papers and dirty dish just grates on me like nothing else! So I find myself spending all my free time cleaning, and it’s never good enough. And then I see my family members doing things they enjoy, like playing games or relaxing on the couch, and I start to get angry that no one is helping me with all the chores.
A few months ago I found myself really angry about this very thing, and I had started putting it together that maybe I was going to a not-so-great place mentally. I actually Googled “Enneagram 1 stress arrow,” and found this description:
When the type 1 person is under extreme stress they tend to look more like an unhealthy version of a 4 type. They start to feel overwhelmed about the expectations of others, or feel like people around them aren’t being helpful and appear a bit too lazy. This starts to send them into their more-stressed-out mode, and they can exhibit behaviors which are entirely unlike themselves.
Instead of being practical, the type 1 individual becomes more focused on their emotions and feelings about a situation. They feel like people might be taking advantage of them and can want to avoid being around others entirely. They can start to search for some sort of escape or way to make themselves feel better in the moment. They might start to obsess over finding people who actually appreciate them and recognize all of the hard work they put into things. This can cause them to distance themselves from the people in their lives, especially if they don’t feel appreciated by those people.
The fact that they are always so dependable and there for those around them, can actually be a point of contention for the type 1 when they are moving towards disintegration. They can feel stressed about the fact that they are always the dependable one, not really feeling like they are being appreciated in the right ways. This can make them feel disconnected from their life and the people in it. They can start to resent those around them and can become extremely withdrawn and even a bit moody. Instead of focusing on what is practical and right, they focus on their negative emotions and stressed out feelings.
When I read that, it felt like someone was right inside my head. That was exactly how I was feeling, and it was such an “aha” moment to realize that the real problem was not a messy house, it was me hitting a point where I was mentally and emotionally overwhelmed.
I want to emphasize that it is OKAY to be at your stress number – obviously when you discover that you are not handling life well, you want to make changes. But it doesn’t necessarily mean we should run away from leaning in to our stress number. It’s a good time to stop and reflect on how that stress number may actually be helping you cope and start to heal.
I found a great video on the idea of “going willingly to your stress number” that may be helpful to check out. The creator talks about the value of checking in with your number of disintegration each day before defaulting to your normal routine (and possibly ending up at your stress number accidentally). So for a 1, who might end up resentful at being the “only one” doing all the work, checking in with my number 4 could mean that I think about how doing ALL the things on my to-do list might actually be more harmful than helpful in the long-run. Maybe I need to limit myself on doing chores and errands so that I can leave a little time for fun in the day.
I hope this post gives you a few more ideas on how to pay attention to your mental health and take action when needed. The Enneagram is such a helpful tool, I hope you’ll take time to dive deeper into it!