Our emotions are much like the British weather: in the morning we may feel sunny, warm and excited for the day ahead, but by the evening we’re cold, a little numb and ready to hibernate. How often do you stop to see what temperature you’re at?
We like to think we’re pretty self-aware, but the slightly painful truth is that we’re not. We often think and act on autopilot, which is just the way our brains like to conserve energy. And while this is all well and good for our tired minds, it means we’re losing touch with ourselves and what’s going on internally.
Disconnecting in this way can be detrimental to our mental health. Rushing around amidst automatic thoughts and habitual behaviours means we stop seeing the warning signs that we need to look after ourselves. We fail to see those red flag thoughts frantically waving, trying to warn us that we’re heading towards danger.
For some of us, ignoring these warnings leads to stress, fatigue and burnout. For others, it can trigger more severe mental health problems or even relapses. In my case, failing to be self-aware led to a bout of low mood and anxiety. I had a course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help me reconnect with my thoughts and behaviours, and the most important lesson was the importance of self-management and self-awareness.
If I was able to recognise my anxiety triggers, uncover the thoughts leading to my physical anxiety symptoms, and act on them, I could more easily manage my anxiety. Of course, part of being self-aware is also knowing when to get professional support.
How to reconnect and take your emotional temperature
The frst step to self-awareness is regularly checking in with yourself. Life moves at such a fast pace, it can be difficult to find the time to pause and pop the hood on your emotions. Try setting yourself regular check-in dates and putting them in your calendar like you would a doctor’s appointment.
When the check-in date rolls around, find a temperature-taking tool that suits you, to find out how you’re doing. Note down anything you need to be mindful of, or anything you want to check back in on next time.
• Journaling: write about how you’re feeling
• Meditation: some quiet time and reflection helps us listen to ourselves
• Reflection: looking back can help you plan ahead. What have you learnt about yourself?
• Questioning: ask yourself what you need more or less of
• Creativity: draw, paint, make music – something that frees your mind
Once you’ve done this, note down any self-care actions you need to make based on your check-in. You may want to work on getting more sleep, take some time off work, or even book a counselling session.
If you’re unsure of what to do to get your emotional temperature back to its happy place, speak to someone you trust, or go to your doctor. Getting support in these early stages can be integral to staying well.
Alongside these regular check-ins, try to embrace a more mindful approach to life. There’s a reason mindfulness has become so popular – it really helps us learn to slow down and listen to ourselves. Use your temperature-taking tools as often as you want; I personally meditate and journal every day, and then reflect at the end of the week to see how I’m feeling and what I want to change the following week.
Know your red flags
Try to notice what your “red flag” thoughts and behaviours are. These could include struggling to sleep, constantly thinking of worst-case scenarios, disconnecting from friends, or spending too much time on social media. Whatever they are, try to note them down and be vigilant. When they crop up, have a self-care plan at the ready to get yourself back on track.
Whenever you do spot red flags or feel overwhelmed, take some time to look at your self-care routine and what you may need to add to feel better. Sometimes it’s about stripping things back to basics – eating three times a day, drinking enough water, resting when you need to. Sometimes it’s about saying no to social occasions so you can have some alone time, or perhaps saying yes to socialising to connect with the people you love.
We’re all different and so self-care will look different to each of us. Being self-aware and taking your emotional temperature regularly will help you understand what it is you need to look after yourself, and ultimately support both your physical and mental health.