A quick and easy 5-step mental health check-in.
When my girlfriend became a dentist, she was inundated by questions from friends and family about their teeth problems. People she hadn’t spoken to in years were reaching out for advice.
She warned me that when I became a therapist, I’d see the same types of people come out of the woodwork in search of free help. So far, she could not have been more accurate. The most common questions I get look something like this:
“Hey Jordan, I’m feeling pretty off lately. Why am I feeling so off today?”
I became a therapist to help people. So, I put together a quick and easy way to check-in on those off feelings you may be having. This is something you can do with yourself, or you can use these questions to help others. And you don’t need to be a therapist to utilize these five questions!
How have you been sleeping?
When somebody is feeling a little off, the first thing I ask them is how they’ve been sleeping. Sleep is one of the most important activities which helps regulate how our bodies function and feel.
People who are sleep deprived report more feelings of restlessness, agitation, anger, confusion, and this “off” description we so commonly use. Getting adequate sleep (the exact amount is different for everyone) ensures we can focus and perform optimally throughout the day.
Monitor it. If you answer this question with a “not so great actually,” and you’ve been having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up in the morning, consider keeping a sleep log. Keep track of how you slept, how long you sleep, when you went to sleep, and when you woke up.
How’s your diet?
Nutrition is incredibly important in helping us feel like our best selves. When our nutrition is poor, it shifts our baseline. Bad nutrition can drain us of energy. It can make us feel slow, lethargic, or just plain uncomfortable.
Conversely, a healthy diet, filled with proteins, carbs, and healthy fats can make us feel exhilarated. It makes us feel strong and motivated.
Change it. If you notice your diet has been suboptimal, so for example you’re eating lots of greasy foods, fried foods, or sugary foods, and minimal whole foods and vegetables, change it. Commit to your nutrition, and you’ll notice a difference in how your body feels.
Have you been exercising?
The other day, I found myself feeling off. I started doing my check-in and noticed I was sleeping well and eating well.
But then I got to exercise, and I realized it was what I was missing. I hadn’t exercised in three weeks due to a back injury, and my body just wasn’t feeling as good as it does when I exercise. I got back to some light cardio and immediately had a better day than I’d been having.
Any form of exercise is better than no form of exercise. 5 minutes, 10 minutes — it’s surprising how quickly you can work up a sweat, and a better overall mood.
Do it. Just do something. The hardest part about exercise is getting started. I promise though, once you do, you’ll be proud of how you feel.
Have you been actively pursuing joy?
It’s very easy to get lost in your day-to-day routine and forget to seek out moments purely for you.
A colleague recently asked her client if he did anything this week for himself, and he looked at her like a three-headed monster. She “prescribed him” one hour of biking a day, a hobby he loved, and his funk was over within a week.
Pursue it. There should always be room in your day for something that makes you happy. Find those moments, even during the busiest of days, to soak up these joyful experiences.
Have you experienced anything particularly stressful?
Did you switch jobs? Did your pet pass away? Are you a diehard football fan, and your favorite team just lost its best player?
Acute events, no matter how big or how small, can bring added stress to our lives. And although we try to power past them, we can sometimes improperly grieve, and this improper grief can lead to lingering feelings of “meh”.
Recognize it. There’s no way to change these events. They happened. But, by recognizing them, you allow yourself the time and space to further process them.
Once you realize these events may have made a bigger impact on your mood than you expected, you can move forward with a clearer mind.
The “Fast Five” Recap
If you find yourself feeling off, and you want to self-monitor, or if somebody mentions to you they’re feeling off, and you want to help, then ask these five questions, and provide these five recommendations.
How have you been sleeping? Monitor it.
How’s your diet? Change it.
Have you been exercising? Do it.
Have you been actively pursuing joy? Pursue it.
Have you experienced anything particularly stressful? Recognize it.
If you’ve been sleeping well, eating well, exercising, seeking joy, and nothing particularly stressful has occurred in your life, it is advisable to seek professional help. Mental health disorders are sometimes as inexplicable as physical diseases, so please see a specialist as soon as possible.
For more mental health and storytelling, download my free ebook.