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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cat looking in through slightly open window

The Sneaky Side of Depression

I think one of the most helpful things I’ve done in trying to maintain my mental health is to become aware of my own personal red flags.

There are certain things, when they start happening, that make me suddenly wonder if something is off. Suddenly I’ll realize, “oh, I’m not handling things well anymore.” 

For me, some of those red flags are:

  • Getting overly emotional at everything (more crying than usual)
  • Feeling tired and fatigued all the time (wanting to sleep as a coping mechanism)
  • The stopping of activities I normally enjoy (lack of motivation to do them)
  • Becoming extra critical and annoyed with others
  • Being extremely bothered by clutter (feeling obsessive about needing to have the house clean)

A few weeks ago I was at work reading one of my daily news emails that I subscribe to, and that day it was focused on the war in Ukraine. As I read about numerous innocent people dying, I suddenly felt so overwhelmed. I just wanted to start sobbing about the injustice of it all – literally, I was having trouble keeping it together. Now, I’m not saying that the war in Ukraine isn’t something worth crying about or getting emotional over. Obviously, it’s a very serious situation. But the reaction I was having was more extreme than was normal for me. That was hint #1 to me that maybe I was dealing with some extra anxiety, or even depression, settling in.

I thought over the previous weeks, and realized I had gotten out of some of my normal routines. I wasn’t writing or blogging anymore. I wasn’t taking time to pray or do other spiritually-focused activities. I certainly wasn’t taking time to exercise either. So what was I doing with all my time? I was sleeping a lot more, going to bed early and waking up late, despite setting my alarm for 5:30 each morning in the hopes that I would actually get up and write (which wasn’t happening). No matter how much I slept, I still felt tired. I was wasting a lot more time on Netflix and social media. It felt like I was busy all day, but I wasn’t really doing anything of substance.

And yes, I felt extra annoyed with people, especially the people I lived with. In my mind, the house was a disaster. Why did it feel like I was the only one in our family who pulled their own weight? How could everyone else stand to ignore the mess and clutter and go about their happy little lives? I had blown up a few times at my husband Dean, and had made it loud and clear that I was tired of being the “only one” who took care of things.

Basically, ALL of my red flags were showing. But this didn’t even occur to me until that day in my office when I was struggling to not have an emotional breakdown over the current news about Ukraine. 

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keyboard key 'F1 Help"

My Anxiety Has Flared Up, Now What?

Most of the time I manage my anxiety well, and it does not affect my quality of life or my ability to function.

But every once and a while, I have a flare up.

As weird as it sounds, in the past, sometimes I wouldn’t even be aware that I was having an excessive amount of anxiety. All I knew was I felt more tired, or everything seemed to annoy me. As I’ve learned to tune into my body more, I have gotten quite good at realizing when I’m in a downward cycle of anxiety.

My red flags for anxiety consist of things like: feeling sluggish, wanting to sleep all the time, having a hard time staying focused on tasks, feeling overwhelmed by clutter or having the desire to clean all the time, and ceasing activities that I enjoy, such as writing or reading for fun. (You may notice I haven’t posted to my blog in almost 2 weeks.)

When I get into this pattern of anxiety, it is easy to stay stuck. I was telling my husband yesterday how overwhelmed I was feeling, and that I felt a constant presence of anxiety. He asked me what I could do to take steps to counter it. My initial thoughts were torn between: A) Nothing, and B) I don’t even remember!

That’s the thing when you’re in the middle of anxiety, it’s hard to think straight and you forget all of the strategies out there that are supposed to be helpful in overcoming your anxiety. So you feel helpless, which just adds to your anxiety.

I was, however, determined not to be stuck in the pit of anxiety, and so I sat down with a post-it note and really thought through what I steps I could take to help me during this season of heightened anxiety.

post-it with anxiety remedies

1. Headspace – I only have the free version of the app, but you can still use their “Basics” course and meditate for 5 minutes every day.

2. NO social media – I confess, I frequently check Facebook and Instagram, and I have to say I do believe that sometimes, as research has said, it does make me feel worse after looking at it. I also found I was using it as a way to waste time and avoid doing other things I needed to do, so I’m taking a break for the next week.

3. Pray/Bible – I have a goal to pray and read my Bible every day. It doesn’t always happen, but when my anxiety flares, I know I need to be more purposeful to spend time with God and meditate on His truth. I also pray for help and to have that “peace that passes understanding” (Phil 4:7)

4. Grateful Exercises (daily) – many of us have heard that practicing gratitude is so beneficial for us, and it can even help change our brain and the way we think. I bought a gratitude journal a few years ago, and only was disciplined to write in it every day for about 2 weeks before I stopped. I’m picking this up again to try to focus on positive thoughts.

gratitude journal

5. Think Up – this is a great app, IF you get the paid version (which I have for the iPhone). This is a positive meditation app, and you create your own “playlists” of positive affirmations to listen to. I’m planning to make a new “Anxiety” playlist where I will listen to affirmations like, “I choose to fill my mind with positive, nurturing, and healing thoughts” or “I am learning that it is okay for me to feel safe, calm, and at peace.”

When I am in the middle of dealing with anxiety or depression, I find that the LAST thing I want to do is all of the good things that are supposed to help me. I roll my eyes at meditation, I don’t want to call my counselor, it seems too hard to find energy to do all of the good things I need to do. Maybe some of it is pride, I don’t like admitting that I need help. As a perfectionist, I certainly don’t like admitting that I’m not functioning at my best.

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