The Mighty Logo

This ‘Early Warning System’ Can Help Your Mental Health Preparedness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I’ve always said, when it comes to mental health preparedness, there is no way to be clairvoyant about what the future has in store for your clinical picture. Alas, there is nevertheless a degree of planning that must be invested in your health and wellness moving forward, right? The question then becomes how and where to invest energy into preparing for the future and our mental health.

I want to introduce a concept called The Early Warning System. My idea isn’t new in theory, but I would say it is entirely novel in the application. Nations have them to defend their borders. With the rise of regionalism and geopolitical warfare, countries need early warning systems to pick up and identify long-range and subversive covert or stealth weaponry on an attack course into their homeland. There are methods constructed through technology and information gathering to detect the enemy coming before it is too late from nations down to cities, townships, and other smaller municipalities.

Now, this is where the comparison comes into play. As the saying goes, I am just one man. Like the United States’ defense needs or another nation protecting its borders, we all need safety in our lives. I need a way to defend myself against the flair-up and activation of unwanted and disabling mental health symptoms before becoming too serious. I need a way to detecting, very quickly, when threats to my stability and mental status are likely to occur. Putting this theory into practice is a whole lot easier than it sounds. 

Listen, no one will ever be able to predict every symptom worsening before they become too exacerbated. However, self-aware people and people who know themselves well will be a step ahead. Through ongoing therapy or life review, people can pick up specific patterns within their affective (emotional) range. In terms of affective lability (emotional dysregulation), our feelings follow cues from our thoughts. The fundamental basis for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that our emotions lead to ideas, which spark our behaviors and are built. I am not suggesting performing your own CBT to regulate your emotional state when it gets off course unless you are ready and have the skills to do so. That is also not entirely necessary yet, so do not panic!

Until your behaviors run awry because your feelings are compromised from emotional lability, you have time to monitor your mental status. When you begin to be mindful of your personal behavioral state, the pace and relative speed of negative affective changes will slow down, avoiding the need to worry about self-CBT and other advanced skills. Mindfulness, deep breathing, and checking in with yourself are all tools to halt a dysregulated emotional state’s advancement. To do so, ask yourself questions that aren’t triggering to self-evaluate further where you are at in terms of your thinking and feelings. Even self-verbal reassurance goes a long way to slow down negative thoughts and titrate down the intensity of hurting feelings. These methods are internal early warning systems. External systems are even more straightforward to operate. Some prime examples or suggestions for external systems are friends or other collaterals in your life.

They don’t have to be great friends or even know that they serve as your early warning system. Then, how can I mobilize them if they don’t realize they are helping me? The answer is simple. All you need from your collateral for them to serve as an early warning system is data or information. This data is specific to you and your symptoms. Let’s examine the diagnosis of depression. During your conversation, if your friend makes remarks about your behaviors such as “isolating, sad-looking, morose, irritable,” then you’ve got all the information you need already. We don’t always realize when we are getting depressed. Sometimes, it takes a friend, like in this example, to point out and identify our behaviors to us to think about them, reflect and determine how true it is for us, and what we should do with this information if anything.

Sometimes, friends are off-base; sometimes, they are spot-on correct. The way to get a better handle on the validity of collateral input and advice is by gathering as much information as possible. Have a band of friends around you or just people in your life you can check in with and remark in general terms on your behavior if you solicit the information. While unsolicited details are even more compelling because you didn’t ask, they volunteered to speak and exercise concern. In the end, unsolicited or solicited, gather as much information as possible before jumping to conclusions about your emotional health. Be careful not to let information manifest into a new reality for you and create the very trouble you were hoping to avoid with this reflective exercise. 

The more stable collaterals in your life, the higher the odds of getting a better read on your clinical picture. People who know us well over the long haul are hands-down better at evaluating small shifts in our behavioral and emotional health. In the end, this is an exercise about preventative mental health self-management. So, when using the skills discussed here, listen, reflect, do not be reactive or defensive. After all, what are you hiding? Just a better understanding of your mental health clinical picture and well-being.

Photo by Ilyass ID on Unsplash

Originally published: June 23, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home