8 Ways to ‘Check In With Yourself’ When You’re Struggling With Your Mental Health
Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.
I’ve been in a bit of a funk for the past few months. Everything’s been bothering me and triggering me so that days are spent tangled in a web of depression with barely any clue how I got there. Instead of trying to find my way out — easier said than done, I know — I’ve been struggling and thrashing and simply getting myself tangled even further in the web. It’s symptomatic of the fast-paced lives we live; every day passes by so quickly with barely any time to catch our breaths. Before we know it, we’re in a strange place, feeling horrible, and instead of grabbing a compass, we just keep wandering.
Luckily, there’s a way out. It’s a technique I completely forgot about, but it is so helpful. More surprising is the fact that we never really talk about it, despite being so helpful. It’s called “checking in with yourself.”
It’s actually more of a cluster of techniques that, when approached together, allow you to cut through the web and get to the heart of what you’re really feeling and what’s really going on. We’re often so ready to check in with our loved ones while neglecting ourselves and how we’re feeling. We’ve talked about these techniques individually, but we rarely take them together and apply them toward a set goal. It’s about time we try to do that. So, if you’re in a funk like I am, I invite you to give this a go. I really think it might help.
After trying this for the first time, try to approach it daily. Even if you just set aside five minutes, many therapists recommend we make this a daily practice.
Here’s how to check in with yourself and your mental health:
1. Make it a ritual.
We humans are creatures of habit, and the brilliant thing about habits (when turned toward positive change) is that they help facilitate change. They also help cement changes and mark them as something important in your day. When setting out to make self-check-in a routine, making it a ritual helps more than doing it in isolation. What this looks like is up to you. Maybe you light your favorite candle, make a cup of tea in your favorite mug, or sit by the window at a certain time and take a moment to listen to the breeze. It’s entirely personal, so long as you choose things outside of your normal routine. It is as if to set the scene and say “OK, it’s time to check in with myself.”
2. Ask yourself questions.
You can apply this step to many of the below, but the crux of self-check-in involves asking yourself questions. You might think of new ones as you work through this, but here are a few to get you started:
- What am I feeling in this moment?
- How am I doing?
- What am I most/least proud of right now?
- Have I been feeling anything new or uncomfortable?
- What made me happy recently?
- What made me sad recently?
- What needs to change right now?
- What do I need to prioritize?
- What hurts the most right now?
- How can I begin to heal?
- If I could do anything right now, what would I do?
Journaling has proven mental health benefits, so it might be useful to make it part of a self-check-in routine. It doesn’t have to be neat or pretty, and it doesn’t have to be shared with anybody. You might want to take the above questions as a basis to get you started, or simply freewrite whatever comes to mind. It might look different every day; once you get started though, follow that thread wherever it leads. Trust yourself and try not to hesitate about what it is you’re trying to tell yourself. You might be surprised what happens. Check out this article if you want to start journaling.
Meditation isn’t for everyone, and it’s important to note that it may not be suited for people living with trauma. Nonetheless, it’s an excellent way to check in with yourself. Whether through guided meditations — you can find some excellent ones for free on YouTube — or free meditation where you focus on your breath and a specific question from the above. Meditation helps, though, by relaxing the mind and letting us explore what’s really going on without a lot of those external, distracting thoughts.
Other ways to incorporate meditation and self-reflection into your check-in might involve going out into a forest and listening to the wind through the leaves and the birds in the trees, or following a practice like tarot reading to explore ways to engage with your inner self. The possibilities are truly endless.
5. Talk with somebody you love and trust.
You don’t necessarily need to do this alone. If you have somebody you love and trust, it might be a good idea to involve them in the practice. I’ve found talking to my partner — who knows more about me than anybody else — sometimes helps me to realize what I’m really feeling just through the act of talking it out. What starts as one discussion flows into another entirely, and I quickly realize that the answer or the heart of the problem has been staring me in the face all along. If it helps, you can even have them ask you the questions from #2 in this list.
6. Practice gratitude.
The world can seem pretty dark at times, I know. I often find it hard to focus on the good in life when the bad is so huge, so looming, so dark that it feels impossible to find the light. When life feels this way, try to find a few things you are grateful for. They can be big or small; a gift from a friend, or a smile from a stranger; an unexpected compliment, or the birdsong outside. Even if you can only find the small ones, they may act as little reminders that there are good things around you, even when it doesn’t seem like it.
7. Focus on your values.
Sometimes, we might feel like we don’t know who we really are. It’s a deeply uncomfortable feeling, especially if you deal with self-hatred or you’re feeling lost in life. Like practicing gratitude, focusing on your values is a great way of turning on a light to illuminate the darkness you might be feeling. Ask yourself the big questions: What do you care about? What makes you passionate? Do you care about the environment, about honesty, about poverty? Our values not only make us who we are but also help us find direction. If you’re feeling stuck, then maybe finding a way to embody your values will help you feel more fulfilled.
8. After checking in, practice self-care.
After you’ve completed your self-check-in, it’s time to unwind with a little self-care. You may be feeling vulnerable or sad, for example, so it’s important that you treat yourself with kindness and make a plan for how to move forward. Here are just a few tips to get you started:
- Take a shower or hot bath. You might envision the negativity washing away down the drain — I always find this pretty helpful when I’m feeling negative.
- Have a good cry. I’m serious; crying is a great release of emotions. I often feel better, even lighter, after a good cry until I feel I can’t cry anymore.
- Call a trusted friend and talk about what you’ve learned.
- Treat yourself to something that makes you happy. If a muffin from a coffee shop makes you smile, then go for it! You deserve nice things.
- Call or arrange an appointment with your therapist.
- Do something relaxing, like watching a movie or TV series you’ve seen before.
- Don’t let the self-check-in lie in isolation. If you’ve discovered a new goal to work toward, then think of some actionable steps to start making your way toward that goal.
In closing, checking in with yourself is an important mental health management tool that I believe we should all be practicing. Even if you’re feeling OK right now, that doesn’t mean you should stop checking in with yourself and looking out for changes in your mental health. I am in no way an expert at this, and I should really practice what I preach, too. So, this is my declaration that I’m going to try and make this a daily habit. If I miss a day or a week, then that’s OK — it doesn’t make me a failure. I just start again when I remember and put my best foot forward.
How about you? Do you already check in with yourself, or do you think this could help? Let us know what you do and how it helps in the comments below.
Alexander is a senior editor for The Mighty and a fantasy author living in the United Kingdom. You can follow his journey on his website, alexanderwinterlockwood.com.
Unsplash image by Andy Yuan