People often talk about the importance of mental health. But how do you actually assess your mental health on a day-to-day basis?
WellTuned talked with Dr. Jill Amos, licensed behavioral health psychologist for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, to find out.
Find your baseline
“When we look at mental health as a process, which it should be, it’s important to establish where you are and where you want to go,” says Dr. Amos. “Identifying your challenges and opportunities is the best way to measure progress, or to spot warning signs.”
Start by establishing a mental-health baseline. Talk to your PCP or therapist about your struggles and goals. Keep a journal or log of your feelings, or use an app such as Daylio or Moodnotes to collect that information on a daily basis.
“A mental-health journal can be as simple as rating your stress level from 1-10 each day, where 1 is extremely stressed and 10 is completely stress-free,” says Dr. Amos. “You can also rank happiness, relaxation, sense of accomplishment — whatever metrics are most important to you. It’s also a good idea to track exercise, nutrition, mindfulness or substance use to see which activities you’re taking part in on days where you’re the happiest or most relaxed.”
Another concrete way to find your baseline is to complete a mental health screening.
“The Tennessee Department of Health offers excellent online screenings for everything from depression and anxiety to substance use and PTSD,” says Dr. Amos. “Track your answers for any screenings you take, bookmark those links and then set a reminder to reevaluate yourself in a month.”
Check in with yourself
After you’ve recorded your data for a few weeks, take some time to reflect on it.
- Is there any relation between the days you felt best and the things you did that day?
- What about the days you were most stressed? Least productive? More tired?
- Did exercise, nutrition or mindfulness play a part?
- What about substance use?
- Were there any social or interpersonal interactions? How did those affect you?
“Once you’ve gathered some data, that’s a great time to talk with a mental health provider, in person or virtually,” says Dr. Amos. “And if you notice any downward trends, contact your PCP. Asking for help before things get overwhelming can truly be lifesaving.”
7 questions to help you gauge your mental health
Everyone’s mental health needs are different. Build your own mental health checklist using whatever questions help you get in touch with your feelings.
A few to consider:
- How am I feeling today?
- Mentally ____
- Physically ____
- Emotionally ____
- Do I feel well-rested? What’s my energy level? ____
- How stressed am I? ____
- What’s taking up my headspace? What’s your state of mind? __________
- When did I last eat a whole meal? ____________
- Is my anxiety level higher than usual? ____
- If so, can I pinpoint what’s causing that anxiety? ____________
- What am I going to do to bring myself joy today? ____________
The most challenging part, says Dr. Amos, is being honest.
“It can feel intimidating to ask other people to ‘look under the hood’ of your mental health, but it can also be scary to do that on your own,” says Dr. Amos. “A log is a solid, objective way to measure how you’re feeling. It can allow you to see, ‘Okay, wow, I was much more anxious two months ago.’ Or, on the other hand, ‘My depression has really gotten out of control in the last week. I need to ask for help.’
These are the kinds of things that don’t always come up in a regular physical exam, says Dr. Amos, but that’s exactly why it’s healthy and proactive to track them.
“When it comes to mental health, you have to be your own best advocate,” she says.
More from Dr. Amos on mental health
- 6 steps for taking control of your mental health
- 10 ways to build resilience in your life
- How grief affects your health
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.