Let’s talk about little red flags. Little red flags are all of the little signs and symptoms that indicate that you are not coping. My therapist explained them to me by drawing this picture of a cliff edge. Over the cliff, right down the bottom lives depression. You don’t want to go there. On the top of the cliff is wellness. You want to stay here. Between Wellness and depression as you go over the edge of the cliff there are lots of little red flags. Little signs and symptoms that tell you that you are not doing well. The trick of staying at the top of the cliff and in wellness is to pay attention to the little red flags as they pop up and take action immediately to get yourself back to right side of the cliff.
Whilst there are some classic red flags, it is important that you get to know what yours are because they are very individual.
Red Flags generally fall into three categories. The physical, the psychological and the social.
The physical can include nail biting, eye twitching, anxiety or panic attacks, headaches, sore and stiff muscles and nausea. These are just some red flags. You may experience all of them or you may have none at all. Essentially though, physical red flags are physical symptoms that are not present when you are feeling mentally well. If you are not usually a nail biter and you find yourself with bleeding nail beds, ask yourself the question. Am I feeling more stressed than usual? Do I have any other physical or psychological symptoms? For me it was nail biting. I know that if I have no nails left I need to take a good long look at my life and how I’m coping. This is my go to little red flag.
Next we have psychological red flags. These can include irritability, being extremely sensitive to pressure and making simple mistakes. Again just a few.
Feeling irritable all of the time, particularly with those closest to you, can be an indicator that you are not doing well. Are you finding that the kids or perhaps your partner are more irritating than normal. Do you have a short temper when you are normally calm and patient? Do you constantly feel on edge even when you’re not at work? These are all red flags.
Then there is being sensitive to pressure. I know for many of you pressure is a normal part life particularly if you’re working full time. We all feel it, we all cope with it in different ways and in varying degrees. This red flag is about the overwhelm you feel when even a small amount of pressure is added to your life. For example, if on the weekend your spouse says to you that you need to take your son to a birthday party. For most people we’d probably think ‘oh how boring, but I’ll do it’. For someone who’s red flag is pressure, they might think
“Oh my goodness how on earth am I going to fit this in? I’m going to have to interact with people. How am I possibly going to cope with this?”
A little bit of pressure that receives an out of proportion reaction. That’s the red flag of pressure.
Another red flag is making simple mistakes. Just little things, but mistakes that you wouldn’t normally make. Did you forget to return a phone call? Did you forget a loved one’s birthday? Did you fill in your timesheet incorrectly? We all make mistakes, every day. That’s normal. This red flag though is about making small mistakes that you wouldn’t normally make and making them more and more often. Co workers or family members might even comment on the mistakes you’re making because they are so out of character. Pay attention to this one. It’s a little one, but a powerful one.
That brings us to social red flags. You may begin to experience a social red flag when you begin to withdraw from aspects of your life. You may begin to spend less time at work, less time socialising with family and friends and less time doing things you enjoy. With social red flags, your relationships often become strained or tense or they may even end prematurely. Suddenly you find yourself not only avoiding doing things that you once found to be fun, but you are physically incapable of feeling joy. At the end of the week you may feel downhearted and blue. Not just once in a while, but every week or even every day. You may become isolated and feel very alone. These are all social red flags.
For me, my world became very small. I avoided meeting people and I wouldn’t answer the phone.
So what do we do when we become aware of our red flags?
The first thing we do is to take note of how many we have. Having one red flag is probably not an issue. That may just be a normal stress response. But if you find that you have a list of red flags (I’d say two or more) it’s time to look at your life and reassess some things. The very best thing that you can do at this point is to talk. Talk to someone you trust. Tell them how you are feeling and what has brought you to this point. Make a plan moving forward.
It is always okay at this point to seek the assistance of a counsellor or psychologist or social worker. They are a wonderful resource and can certainly assist you in finding your way forward. Now is the time to employ all the strategies that your therapist has given you. I rely heavily on my psychologist when I’m feeling low. But it’s important even when you’re feeling well to make a plan with psychologist of exactly how you are going to tackle your red flags when they appear. The more prepared you are to face those flags, the less likely you will be to fall over the edge.
Little red flags are invaluable. They tell us when we need to pay attention to our mental health. They tell us to stop, look and act with purpose. Have you noticed any little red flags going on at the moment? Do you need to reassess your stress levels? Do you need to reengage with your therapist or social worker? Pay attention to your little red flags. They certainly help you avoid falling off the edge of that cliff. And anything that can help us avoid the pit of depression is a valuable tool. So pay attention, take stock and take action. Paying attention to little red flags will certainly keep you on the wellness side of your cliff.
What are your little red flags? Everyone is different? I would love to hear your signs and symptoms. Please leave a comment letting me know your little red flags. Would love to hear from you!