I know, I know…you’re all singing Olivia Newton John now. Sorry, I couldn’t help it. Anyway, welcome to the first part of our Practically Perfect series! Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at some of the wonderfully practical ways that you can help people struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses. Today we’ll be looking at some of the physical cues and symptoms you can watch for. Let’s jump in!
When raising awareness for mental health struggles, one of the biggest arguments people have is that mental health is not treated with the same kind of respect as physical health. With a broken leg, people are told not to walk on it. When someone is suffering from depression or anxiety, they are told to just snap out of it. I’m sure you’ve heard the argument many a time before.
Despite mental health being exactly that – mental – there are a number of physical cues that you can watch out for. Similar to symptoms, they are little signs that can often tell you how your loved one is doing. Some of these are ones that I exhibit, others are from people I know.
One important thing to note, just before we get into those cues, is that everyone’s mental health is different, therefore this is not an exclusive list, nor is it applicable to every person, as different people will display different cues.
Whenever I’m getting mired in a depressive spiral or an anxiety spike, I tend to have the following physical cues:
- Quietness – I shut down completely, shutting out all communication and collapsing in on myself, as though I want to disappear. This one is quite common for me and has also been one that Cheryl has experienced too.
- Lack of Eye Contact – when I’m trying to shut myself down, one of the first things to go is eye contact. Even if you’re talking to me, I don’t tend to look at you. That’s normally an important sign that something is wrong.
- Hunching – if I’m feeling particularly anxious or depressed, I try and hide. I do my best to disappear, which involves me hunkering down in my chair, hunching my shoulders so I can be as small as possible. My thinking: if I’m making myself smaller, you might miss me.
- Clenched Hands – this is particularly for the anxiety but I have a tendency to clench my fists when in a panic attack. Tensing my knuckles or digging my nails into my palms are both ways of producing a small amount of pain in an attempt to snap myself out of it.
- Colour Changes – apparently this is a big one for me. It’s not one that I notice but when I get very anxious, I start to go red. Perhaps the increased bloodflow as my heart rate accelerates, but I do go very red. When I’m stuck in a depressive spiral, however, I go very pale, my lips go grey and I get darker circles around my eyes. I never knew this happened but Cheryl assures me that’s what tips her off the most.
Those are a few of the physical cues that I can think of. Usually a couple of friends who have picked up on them will be looking for them if I go quiet, just to confirm their suspicions. Alternatively, if they notice those things then they will start to try and bring me out of it.
Abnormal Body Language
As I said, those are signs that I exhibit and everyone is different, so others might display differently. That being said, a good guide to follow is if someone is displaying abnormal body language for their norm. If it’s out of character then it’s likely that they are experiencing a dip in their mental health.
One example that I’ve given before is how I was talking to a friend and they were trying to convince me to eat. I hadn’t had any breakfast, at lunchtime I wasn’t really hungry and they were really doing their best to get me to eat something. In the end, I just turned straight round and snapped that I’d get out of the car and go back to the office if they continued to pester. Needless to say, it was out of character and it tipped her off that I wasn’t in a good place, I wasn’t in a good state of mind.
If your friend or family member starts exhibiting body language that isn’t normal for them, go out on a limb and assume it’s due to their mental health.
What To Do?
Recognising the signs and symptoms is all very well but what do you do if you do see those physical cues? Bringing someone back out of that spiral or anxiety attack is challenging at best. In a nutshell, there is no easy answer to this question. As everyone is different, the methods for bringing them out of it are also different. The better you know the person, the easier it will be to find out the most effective method but it is a case of trial and error.
For more information, check out our Talking Things Through series to find out how you can get those conversations started and find out what helps them.
Join us next week where we will be looking at a couple of work tips to help you cope at work when things are getting tough!
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