Last summer I found myself overwhelmed with anxiety and depression in a way I had never experienced before. After a breakup, a surgery, a death in my family, and a dog attack, the curious and optimistic person I had always tried to be evaporated into thin air. All of a sudden, a sad and fearful person took her place and I didn’t recognize myself anymore. And then the distress took a toll on me both mentally and physically: I fainted waiting for the subway. I had panic attacks at work, on assignment at a music festival, and while driving on the highway. I stopped sleeping and wanting to do the things that once brought me joy. But somewhere inside of me, I recognized that something was off and found a psychotherapist who could help me get back on track.
Since that low point, I’ve openly shared my healing process on social media and via my writing, receiving many messages from strangers and friends alike who have praised my vulnerability and openness about mental illness. The most frequently asked question has been: how do you know when it’s time to see a therapist? To better answer this, I decided to seek the help of Emily Roberts MA, LPC, a psychotherapist and the author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are. Scroll below to see what she had to say.
When You Have Consistent Negative Thought Patterns
“If you’re noticing that the pessimistic mood hasn’t lifted for quite some time and you find yourself looking at life from this lens it may be time to talk to someone about how you can improve your outlook,” says Roberts. In times when I feel stuck in negative thinking patterns, my therapist is there to talk things through with me and offer an objective point of view. Ultimately, this has helped me adjust my mindset and get me back on track with working towards my personal goals.
When You’re Dealing with a Major Life Transition
Roberts believes that “a move, breakup, death or even a positive change (like moving in with your partner) can trigger intense emotions and self-confidence can be compromised.” When I was in a deep state of depression, my therapist worked with me to establish self-care tools including a yoga and acupuncture practice, which helped pulled me out of the fog.
When Physical Symptoms are Causing You Distress
Do you have unexplained stomach pain, migraines, insomnia, and so on? According to Roberts, this could be a cue from your body that something is off emotionally. “Many people who suffer from physical symptoms of stress don’t realize that the deeper issue is likely a lack of coping skills.” My therapist has worked with me to identify what might be causing these symptoms and in the process, I’ve developed coping skills that allow me to better manage my stress, anxiety or depression. This includes breathing exercises, journaling, and mindfulness.
When You Are in an Unhealthy Relationship (Romantic or Otherwise)
Sometimes we are not conscious of the fact that we continually let unhealthy people into our lives. I’m definitely at fault for this. But the good news is that therapists can help us identify these patterns, which often exist deep in our subconscious and prevent us from having healthy relationships, allowing us to choose healthier partners and friends. “Therapy can help you set boundaries, build self-esteem and feel supported while trying to figure out how you want to proceed in this relationship and in future ones,” explains Roberts
When You Have Trouble Saying “No”
“If you feel like others are taking advantage of you, find it hard to say ‘no’ or fear that others won’t like the real you. This is a sign of low self-esteem and lack of self-respect,” says Roberts. Learning this, I realized how my fear of saying no had made me into a doormat in many relationships and that not speaking up for myself or saying no had caused me to feel sad and unworthy. With this, my therapist has helped me be more assertive, increased my confidence and self-esteem.
When You Can’t Focus
In a world where we are constantly bombarded by distractions such as social media and dismal world news updates, I often find it hard to stay present in my daily life and get things accomplished. “If things that used to take you a few hours to complete are now taking all day, or you feel like you’re constantly behind on your projects, this is a sign that you could benefit from therapy,” says Roberts. My therapist has helped me establish tools that allow me to meet my personal goals; this includes joining a co-working space, creating a better organizational system to keep track of my various freelance projects, and writing down a daily to-do list.
When You Avoid Feelings and Stress by Using Substances
I used to avoid challenging feelings by smoking weed every night before bed and regularly drinking away my misery on the weekends. Though I fell asleep easier, I always woke up the next day feeling groggy or uncomfortably hungover. According to Roberts, “If drinking, using drugs, or even [smoking] pot more frequently is interfering with your functioning, like waking up late, feeling hungover or thinking about drinking or using drugs more often, [this] is a sign that you may need to talk to someone about the under-lining feelings prompting this behavior.” When I first started seeing my therapist, she suggested I cut out smoking and drinking and see how it made me feel. It’s been a year since I touched either drug, and I see an immense difference in how I process emotions—they now flow through me more easily.
Feature image via Vanessa Granda