How the Enneagram Helps You Recognize Your Mental Health Red Flags

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!

Enneagram chart with types listed

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.

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introvert looking out window wistfully

Tips for Introverts Coming Out of the Pandemic

It’s been 14 months (or longer, depending on what part of the world you’re in) that we’ve been living in a pandemic. 14 months of being acutely aware of our personal space, washing our hands, and largely avoiding other humans.

With the new CDC recommendations for vaccinated people, life is moving closer and closer to “normal.” (I just saw that Disney World dropped their outdoor mask requirement today!)

This is exciting news, and we’re all obviously ready to feel like we can do the things we want to do without fear of catching COVID or having to wear a mask or social distance.

However, as an introvert, I have found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed as we move back into “normal” life.

Over the past two months, I had three weekends in a row where I had plans, like real plans to hang out with people or travel. It started with a trip to Fossil Rim Wildlife Center one weekend, then the next weekend I helped host a baby shower for a close friend, and then the weekend after that my parents came into town for a visit.

All of that was fun and good, but I was looking forward to enjoying the upcoming weekend quietly at home. But by the time the weekend got there, it was somehow (I say that tongue in cheek) full of plans to do things with people! I have a coworker I’m watching an anime show with, and I had invited her to come over to watch a few episodes. We’ve started going back to church in person, so we had worship on Sunday morning, and then we also got invited to a small group church gathering that night. Then we had some friends we hadn’t seen in a while who asked us if we wanted to have dinner together… and so without even trying that hard, my quiet “no plans” weekend was gone.

It may sound like I’m complaining about having friends who want to do stuff with me, or being able to resume activities in public. I’m not – again, those are all great things that we’ve been waiting to do for the past 14 months!

But I will say that going through this pandemic, especially the shut down, made me realize how much of an introvert (and also a homebody) I am. I enjoyed the slower pace of life. I enjoyed more time with my family. I enjoyed the simplicity of it all.

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How Do You Thrive?

I recently had a conversation with a friend about the differences between surviving, living, and thriving. My friend used the phrase “abundant life” instead of thriving, but we decided that they could mean close to the same thing. 

The last three years of my life, I would say I have been in “survival mode.” What do I mean by this? I mean making it to the end of the day, but not being sure if I can do it again tomorrow. I mean being tired all the time, wondering how many more minutes there are in the day before I can lie down. I mean getting the bare minimum done and not having time for things that might be fun or life-giving. Doing the urgent-only stuff, not getting to make time for stuff that is important. 

That sounds pretty bleak when I describe it like that. And okay, not every moment of the past three years has been like that, but there’s certainly been seasons like that, and when you’re in times like that, they seem to last forever. I may have walked the line between surviving and living, but I certainly don’t think I’ve made it to “thriving” very often in the past three years.

Three and a half years ago I had a baby, and obviously life has been different ever since. Two and a half years ago I started a new career, and a few months after that, I began online graduate school. I’ve been getting by, pushing myself farther than I thought I could go, being braver than I thought I could be, but it’s been very tiring. 

As I near the end of my graduate program, I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And I’m starting to wonder if I could move into a time of thriving. What would that look like?

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