We all know that life has its ups and downs, but sometimes they seem not so much like ups and downs as huge mountains and bottomless chasms.
Sometimes, life can just get a bit too much.
The fact is, our modern way of living has become just a tiny bit overwhelming. Social media, endless 24/7 communication, news on-tap, advice coming at us from every quarter; how to have the perfect relationship, perfect children, perfect interiors, cook the perfect dinner, AND achieve promotion at work whenever we want. We're here to tell you right now, not a lot of this is actually possible, or even desirable. Much better to just carry on living our imperfect, but real, lives.
So much for modern life, but how do we know when the stress we feel is not just due to feelings of failure at not achieving any of the list above, but down to something deeper, something in our sub-conscious? How do we know when we are actually so stressed out that we need the support network of more than our family and friends? How do we know when what we actually need is professional help?
The answer is, we don't.
The truth is, that there is not one single sign, not one obvious outward display of inward distress that we could point to and say, "that is the sign that you need a therapist." It's really down to you. If you feel you may benefit from some sessions with a therapist, then that is the solution for you.
But here's what we can tell you. Going to see a therapist, seeking professional support from someone other than your nearest and dearest, someone whose job it is to help you, is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. You should never feel vulnerable or weak for asking for help and paying for it. Indeed, it is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness, to seek out support.
As we have said, there are no specific triggers that are universally true for everyone that may indicate you may need professional help. We are all different.
But there are some more general signs that could be suggestive to those around you - if not you yourself - that you would benefit from seeing a therapist.
1. Loss of normal appetite
Losing the desire for the physical pleasures of eating can be a big sign that all is not well in your head. If you are close to someone who is starting not to eat as well as they normally do - leaving their food hardly touched, or skipping meals - it may be time to gently suggest there may be something wrong.
2. Drinking too much alcohol
"Drowning your sorrows" is an age-old expression, for good reason; many of us literally try to drown our stresses in a glass at the end of the day. Our dependence on alcohol is a worrying development in this century and the last. It's just so easy to buy ourselves a couple of bottles of wine or a crate of beer at the end of a stressful day with the perceived promise of relaxation it brings. If you are so stressed that you are starting to look forward to a drink before you've had breakfast, it may be time to seek the services of a therapist.
3. Friends are starting to not call you back
Your social network is very important, but you can abuse friends by simply overwhelming them with your problems. When they start to shrink away from you, it may be a sign you've overloaded them with the issues in your life. It's time to seek the help of those who are paid to listen.
4. You're having trouble sleeping
When the troubles in your mind start getting so great that they prevent you from either getting to sleep, or you start waking up in the middle of the night worrying about things, this can be quite serious for your health. Everyone has their own sleeping habits but it's very important to get a good rest. If you're not able to do this for significant periods of time, perhaps consider getting help.
5. You're starting to shun those around you
This one is sort of the opposite to point number three, above. When we are starting to feel really troubled, it's also quite a common natural reaction to shut ourselves away from those around us. Refusing nights out, not looking at our partner, making excuses to go out for long walks with the dog; these are all signs that the thoughts in our minds are starting to close us away from those who love us. Of course, some people enjoy being on their own more than others do. It's really differences in behaviour that should raise concerns.
If, as a result of reading this, you feel you need to see a therapist follow this link to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy site and their therapist directory search engine. There you can find a therapist that is local and suits your needs.