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The brain controls all our bodily functions including breathing, speech, movement, heart rate, body temperature and senses. It also controls our cognitive functioning — emotions, feelings, patterns of thinking and behaviors. These functions can all be negatively impacted by mental health conditions.
If you are trying to determine if what you are experiencing goes beyond typical stress or worry, it can be helpful to consider your concerns in the same way that you would think about a physical health issue. Think about having a stomachache. Often, it is mild, short-term and it may occur because you ate too much or too quickly — in other words, something in your environment caused temporary discomfort. It may be unpleasant, but you probably would not imagine that you were “sick” or had a medical condition.
But what if you wake up every morning with stomach pain? You might try to manage it by changing your diet or taking over-the-counter medications, but the same discomfort remains. You might have other symptoms, and they might get in the way of your work, school, or sleep. The repeated pattern and persisting pain would alert you that something is wrong. You don’t need to know exactly what the issue is to decide that it’s concerning enough to ask for an expert opinion or to seek care.
Now, imagine that instead of stomach pain, you’re experiencing feelings of anxiousness. Like pain, anxiety can alert us to a problem. It may be temporary and mild — perhaps caused by something in your environment. For example, anxiety about an upcoming exam can be a sign that you need to prepare. However, anxiety can also be persistent and significantly interfere with our daily lives, which may indicate an underlying health condition.
So, when is anxiety (or another feeling, thought or behavior) a signal it’s time to seek professional help?
When we experience disturbances in our feelings/emotions, thinking or behaviors that do any of the following:
If any of the above signs sound familiar, you may be experiencing a mental health condition. The more signs you notice, the more likely it is that you have a diagnosable condition, such as:
Mental health conditions are not as clear-cut as many physical health conditions. Therefore, it may take time to find the right diagnosis based on how intense the problem is, how long it lasts and whether it disrupts your ability to function.
It may be difficult at first to tell whether a mental health issue is temporary or longer lasting, but you are the best judge of your own experiences. Either way, if you are struggling, it’s important to talk to a professional. That is the first step in addressing the problem and getting better.