Almost all of us experience periods of stress, sadness, grief and conflict at some point in our lives. So if you are going through such a period of life it can be hard to know if it’s time to seek professional help about the problem.

Contrary to the popular belief, one doesn’t have to be “crazy,” desperate or on the brink of a meltdown to go for counselling. At the same time, counselling isn’t usually necessary for every little problem life throws your way, especially if you have a strong support system of friends and family. So how do you know when it’s time to fix an appointment with a therapist?

Perhaps you have been thinking about seeing a counselor for a while. There are days you feel really low and feel like you need to speak to someone as soon as possible. Then other days you feel better and the thought of ringing a counselor goes away. But the underlying causes that make you feel low are still there and you inevitably feel worse again in a few days time.

It is normal to feel apprehensive about seeing a counselor for the first time. Also it can be hard to accept you might need help. Asking for help can make the problem seem more real: you can’t show that it’s all OK so easily.

As a matter of fact, most people can get benefit from therapy at least some point in their lives. Sometimes the signs are visible but at other times, something may feel slightly off and you can’t figure out what it is. So you drag on, trying to maintain your busy life until you realize that that life has become unmanageable. Before it reaches this point, here are six signs that suggest you may need help from a pro:

  1. Uncontrollable feeling of sadness, anger or hopelessness – These may be signs of a mental health issue that can improve with treatment. If you are sleeping or eating more or less than usual, withdrawing from friends and family, or just feeling “off,” discuss with someone before serious problems emerge which may impact your quality of life. If these feelings rise to the point that you question whether life is worth living or having suicidal thoughts, reach out for help right away.
  2. Feeling disconnected from previously beloved activities – If your clubs, friend meetings and family gatherings have lost their earlier joyfulness, it may be an indication that something is amiss, explains psychologists. If you’re disenchanted, feeling like there’s not a lot of purpose or a point or feeling a general sense of unhappiness, seeking professional help could help you regain some clarity or start in a new direction.
  3. Abusing a substance to cope – When you turn outside yourself to a substance or behavior to help feel better – these could be signs that you’re hoping to numb feelings that should be addressed. That substance could be drugs, alcohol, sex or even food.
  4. Your friends have told you they’re concerned – Sometimes friends can notice behavioral changes that are difficult to see from the inside, so it’s worth considering the perspectives of those around you. If your friends are saying anything on the lines of: ‘Are you talking to anybody about this?’ or ‘Are you doing okay? I’m concerned about you’ – these are the signs that something is wrong and you should probably take their advice.
  5. Something traumatic has happened – Painful events like death in the family, a breakup or job loss can be enough to require a bit of counselling. We tend to believe that these feelings are going to go away on their own, which isn’t the case always. Grief from a loss can affect daily functioning and even cause you to withdraw from friends. If you notice you aren’t engaging in your life or people around you have noticed that you’re pulling away, it is time you may need to speak to someone to unburden how the event still affects you.
  6. You are experiencing recurrent headaches, stomach-aches or a rundown immune system – If we are emotionally upset, it can affect our bodies. According to experts – ‘stress can reflect itself in the form of a wide range of health issues, from a chronically upset stomach to headaches, frequent colds or even a diminished sex drive’. Sometimes unusual fitness issues like muscle twinges which seem to come out of nowhere or neck pain can be signs of carried stress or emotional distress.

Some of the benefits of counselling

  • Discussing your condition to someone neutral, outside of your immediate situation, can give you a new perspective and help you find a way forward
  • Speaking up with a trained counselor who is skilled at listening can help you to process difficult thoughts and feelings
  • You can gain a better understanding of who you are and a clearer sense of what you want and need
  • Sharing your worries with a therapist helps you feel less alone with the problem
  • A trained counselor can help you improve your relationships and your ability to communicate

If you are still not sure, the best way for things to become clearer is to do an initial phone consultation with a counselor. This way you can find out more about how counselling works and the counselor can help you decide if it would be beneficial for your particular condition.

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