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WELLNESS

Mental Health Warning Signs You May Have Missed

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● Sometimes, we aren’t aware of the warning signs that tell us we may not be as mentally healthy as we think.
● Clinical psychologist Dr Tommy Chan shares a few signs that you may have overlooked.

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We all know our mental wellbeing is important, but even when we think we’re doing okay, sometimes we miss the signs that tell us otherwise.

“The most common diagnosable mental disorders among office workers are depression and anxiety disorders,” says Dr Tommy Chan, a clinical psychologist at Adventist Medical Center. “And a major challenge is the lack of self-awareness, which results in delay of treatment.” With World Mental Health Day approaching on 10 October, we ask Dr Chan to tell us which seemingly “normal” behaviours may indicate concerns, and how we should address them.

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You feel there is a constant need to be productive

It’s good to be productive, but if you feel guilty as soon as you stop doing something, it could be a symptom of anxiety, according to Chan. The guilt may stem from our cultural glorification of being busy, or you may worry about not making the most of your time. Either way, it places you in a constant high-stress state. If the feeling persists and you also experience symptoms such as restlessness, it’s time to give your mind a little TLC.

Dr Chan’s advice: Know it’s okay to take a rest – and you shouldn’t consider self-care as wasting time. “Feeling at peace in a crowded city is challenging,” he says, “which is why we need to be more self-reflective and take personal self-care measures.” These measures could be a vacation that removes you from your routine, or simply by doing something that you enjoy to switch off, while still being “productive” in a way.

You can’t stop snacking at work.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying an occasional treat, but if you often find yourself mindlessly snacking, it could be a problem – and we aren’t just talking about weight gain. “Cravings could be caused by stress, conflicts and other accumulated negative emotions, as excessive snacking triggers a rush of pleasure neurochemicals, such as dopamine and endorphins,” Chan explains. “Sometimes, comfort eating may even point to depression, which affects our ability to recognise negative consequences of our own behaviour.”

Dr Chan’s advice: You’ll want to address the root cause behind your emotional eating issue; but in the meantime, why not try healthier alternatives to boost your mood? Physical activities, for instance, are also known to increase endorphin levels. “Drinking a plentiful amount of water, particularly at times of craving, also helps,” he adds. So, next time you’re feeling peckish, get up, move around, and reach for a glass of water instead.

You stop hanging out with friends and colleagues.

Do you find it exhausting to spend time with friends, even though you used to enjoy their company? While personal time is important, social isolation indicates that something’s not quite right. Burnout, for example, can leave you with little energy for others. “Self-evaluate by asking: Is my personal time positive and meaningful? Is my social isolation hurting others and causing other problems?” Chan says. “We are wired to live in community. A lack of social connection can increase risks of depression, sleep disturbances and accelerated cognitive decline.”

Dr Chan’s advice: Again, give yourself a break to recharge. After that, make a conscious effort to reconnect with your loved ones. “Make deliberate plans to care for others,” he suggests. “Those who regularly volunteer would understand its benefits for mental health.” Instead of obsessing over your own issue, focus on learning new ways to support others – you’ll be surprised by how much positive energy that will bring you.

When to seek professional help

If your symptoms start to interfere with your day-to-day function, or if a loved one expresses concerns, it might be time to seek professional help. “It’s good to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean long-term therapy,” says Chan. “It could just be a brief evaluation to assess your condition and to receive some expert tips.”

Some everyday habits may be secretly harming your health – read here to see what they are.
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