Counseling 101: 4 Signs It's Time to Check Your Engine

We pay attention to the “check engine” light on our car -but when it comes to our mental health, what “lights” indicate we need a tune-up?

By Audrey Hardin, LPC

By Audrey Hardin, LPC

Have you ever considered counseling? If so, have you determined the moment you would know that it’s time to go? 

If this is the first time you’re asking yourself these questions, you are not alone. Even though 4 in 10 Americans admit to seeing a counselor in their lifetime, millions reportedly face mental fallout each year.

Evidence suggests that the lack of education on mental health in the home and schools is a large part of the problem.

We aren’t taught what emotional and relational well-being looks like, and as a result, we don’t know when to seek help. 

When it comes to owning a car, we are taught the importance of scheduled maintenance to prevent problems in the future. We learn that to maximize the car’s life we must get the oil changed, tires rotated, and get new filters.  It becomes ingrained in us early on and we don’t give it a second thought. In fact, the thought of not performing routine maintenance on a vehicle seems foolish.  

But when it comes to our inner world, why don’t we think that it’s just as foolish to not perform preventative maintenance on our mental health? 

So often we talk ourselves out of getting the help we need. Why is that?

Or maybe the better question is, how do we know when the things we’re feeling and the behaviors we’re displaying are indicators that counseling is a good idea?

Here are FOUR indicators that you are due for a tune-up:  

1.    Consistently feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed.

If anxiety, depression, or feeling overwhelmed interferes with your daily life -whatever that looks like to you- that’s reason enough to see a therapist. The longer these feelings are present, the smaller your world becomes. 

Tara found herself skipping out on activities she loved because she became nervous of what others would think of her. 

Bill missed crucial deadlines at work due to unexplained fatigue and trouble focusing. 

2.    Managing stress with excessive unhealthy behaviors.

More common among these unhealthy behaviors include excessive use of alcohol, drugs, sex, porn, food, social media, and exercise. When one or more of these behaviors are used to avoid or cope with a current reality or feelings, it may be time to seek help from a professional. 

Some warning signs include:
1. Performing behavior alone or in secrecy
2. Making these behaviors a priority over responsibilities such as work or family
3. Extreme mood swings and irritability
4. Feelings of guilt associated with the behavior
5. Inability to stop or control the behavior

Michael never planned to become dependent on prescription drugs. He was working hard to finish his thesis while juggling work, his fiancé, and supporting his sick father. He was just going to take a stimulant for the nights he needed to get a lot done. Somehow it got out of control and now he’s dependent on opioids to cope with the pain from his broken engagement and dying dad.

3.    Struggling in relationships with Self; Significant others; Family; or Professionals.

Relationships are necessary for our survival, but they can also be extremely tough. When you start to notice an unhealthy pattern of relating with others or your relationships end without a clear understanding of where the breakdown happened, it is time to see a counselor. 

A counselor can help you navigate what went wrong, how to understand your way of relating to yourself and the world in concrete terms; and teach you how to have healthier and happier relationships in the future. 

John has been hurt by people so many times that he made a vow to never get close to someone again. Instead, he throws his attention into his work and prefers to do so alone. 

Samantha is always giving her family and her boyfriend all of her time and energy. She does her best to keep everyone happy by being helpful and available to whatever they may need, but they keep pushing her away and she doesn’t know why. 

Janice spends hours a day scrolling through her social media channels, followed by hours of hating herself -her thighs, her big nose, and her thin hair. It doesn’t matter how many people tell her she is beautiful, she just doesn’t believe it and now doesn’t want to take pictures with her friends.

Dan can only tolerate his peers so long. It seems they are always asking too much of him and they won’t leave him alone until he gets angry and yells. 

4.    Noticing when your body is speaking.

In the words of Dr. Besser Van Der Kolk, “Your body keeps the score.” 

When we aren’t dealing with our emotional world, our body begins to try and get our attention.  Some common physical indicators are migraines, irritable bowel, stomach pains, back and shoulder tension, and constant fatigue. In other words, you may end up in a Doctor’s office before a counseling office. 

Take time to consider if any of your physical symptoms might be tied to emotional stressors in your life. If so, it’s time to schedule an appointment with a therapist. 

Kara grew up in a home where her parents fought…a lot and whenever they did, her stomach began to hurt. They never discussed it with her and her tendency was to think it may be her fault. As Kara’s anxiety rose, so did her stomach pain. Last week, Kara was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.

Here’s the bottom line: 

We go to the doctor to maintain our physical health, to the dentist to maintain our dental health, we go to the mechanic to maintain our car’s health, and yet when it comes to our emotional health, we try to manage it on our own, thinking it will resolve itself. It’s time to realize we need preventative care in every area of our lives.

Consider investing in your mental health today so that you can fire on all cylinders for the long haul!