Noticing certain changes in health/yourself as a standalone concern, rather than a SYMPTOM for a health condition.
Have you ever found yourself skimming through an article regarding a health condition, with a checklist in your head that’s ticking off most of its warning signs/symptoms to be true for you? The next thing you know you’re worrying: Woah! All of this checks out! Do I have this condition? Have I been experiencing something I didn't even know of?
Now imagine going through the same experience, only this time you have actually experienced the said health condition before, and have sought the intervention as well. What does it mean for you, then? Are you falling into that slump again?
Sometimes these markers/symptoms of certain health conditions, concerns, etc. come as huge labels that make one feel an inevitable part of that label/symptom. For example, not getting sleep is provided as a marker or a telling sign for so many health conditions like Depression, Anxiety, Chronic stress, Burnout, etc. And, not getting sleep is something we have all experienced some time or the other. For some people it can be scary to wonder if their change in sleep means something bigger. That’s because they’ve read in articles or seen in videos, etc. that it can mean they’re developing a disorder or a condition.
Also, for people who’ve experienced a health condition/concern before, even a glimmer of that behavior again, which was ascribed as a symptom for it, can be really scary and debilitating.
Well, to clarify, I am not saying that those are not legitimate or important markers, but none of these can be seen as the ONLY important marker for any health condition. They can definitely be seen as a concern as it is. It doesn’t necessarily indicate an illness.
For instance, instead of seeing the change in sleep as an indication of some grave health condition, I can solely work on my sleep hygiene, if it persists for more than a day or two.
Here are some markers that will help notice when the concerns are really indicative of a health condition. Hopefully, in a way that is not very technical/gibberish for most of us!
i) Just 1 criterion cannot determine or tell you anything!
Having been on both sides of the table, I understand how relating with even one characteristic, so strongly can make us want to jump onto a label or scare us. It’s probably because for the 1st time I am seeing my experience or life aspects being put in words and validated, BUT now it’s a warning sign/ a symptom for something big! Well, I can imagine the validation and the panic kicking in, at the same time. Believe me, I do! Because I have felt that too in my training years.
I have cried once, reading something I experienced, as a personality type characteristic!
The point here being that just 1 phenomena or a criteria does not define or tell you anything, and is definitely not enough to label or name something in the healthcare field.
In order for it to be a health concern (physiological, psychological, neurological or any aspect), you need to be meeting most of the criteria and warning signs listed for it. For example, for you to be diagnostically recognized as having Depression, your sleep either increasing or decreasing is not the only criteria. Because that’s just 1 criteria being met, not the majority on the list.
Definitely if you notice the change, you don’t have to dismiss it. It’s okay if it is a concern and you want to work on it. But to notice that it can be an independent distress you want to work on; not a determinant of a health condition. Just like with the instance above, you might want to seek intervention for your change in sleep, and not necessarily go in to seek support for a specific health condition.
ii) The time span for which you’ve been experiencing the criteria
For any criteria to be considered as a sign for a health condition, ideally one should be experiencing it for more than 1-2 weeks. Of course, it differs for certain conditions. Like if you have a fever, don’t wait for 2 weeks! But for most mental health and physiological concerns, notice how often you are experiencing it, and for how long at a stretch is it persisting.
For instance, you experience a sleepless night only once, but you are experiencing it once every 2 weeks/ once every month. Then, you might want to see if there is a pattern to it. Here, your sessions with a therapist might be of help, to notice the presence of a pattern, the nature of the pattern, the probable causes for it, and meaning making for the pattern.
We all experience it many times in our lives. However, if you notice a pattern to it, which is not a part of your usual Self, even after trying to shift from it; this is when you would want to consult a therapist. Again, you might want to go to consult for this concern itself, and not for a health condition.
iii) The intensity or severity of the particular concern
Let’s go ahead with the instance of sleep. Now when we learn that ‘change in sleep’ is a warning sign for a health condition, we might always be on the lookout to notice any change in sleep, and worry if we have the said health condition. Slightest change might get us stressed. Now what’s important to notice is that, what exactly is the change in my sleep? Is it a few hours less or more of sleep; do I feel like taking naps more frequently in daytime, or is that even when trying to sleep, I am fully awake a couple of days and nights at a stretch.
So on a scale of 1-10, how drastic is the change.
Also, do I have it of the intensity, as what the article/resource is referring to.
Again, I want to reiterate, if it is bothering you, you don’t have to dismiss it. Neither do we have to put labels. It’s best to consult the professional for the criteria as a stand alone concern.
iv) Noticing if there is something that’s changed in your environment, causing the said criteria.
Sometimes the criteria we read matches with what we’re going through, yes. But, let’s take a moment to notice if something in your environment or physiologically changed, causing this said criteria to be present/ be more than usual. Keeping the environment the same as usual, would you be having this criteria; or would you be having it of this intensity?
If your answer is no, then probably it’s a stand alone concern or a consequence of the change in environment. It might get resolved with your usual self coping techniques.
For instance, in women, is my intense mood swings, or low energy/change in appetite due to my menstrual cycle.
Is my change in sleep due to sudden and increased change in weather, or due to a certain stressor that has recently come up for me.
Of course, conditions and concerns occur due to a cause, but has the cause been chronic, or developed recently. Has the criteria developed without an apparent direct cause in the ‘here and now’.
v) Is it causing hindrance in the regular functioning of your life or of others around
The change is sleep, or frequent mood swings might be something you are facing, but is it to an extent where you are not able to show up for work, or causing a disruption/harm to yourself or other(s) around you? If yes, then definitely consult a therapist/specific healthcare professional. That again might be just that as a concern, and not a tell-tale sign of you developing or suffering from a health condition.
vi) Is it causing a threat or harm to my or other’s life
If what you are experiencing, directly endangering or making it unsafe for you and/or others, either physically or in their living, then it might be a warning sign of something grave that you are suffering.
As I conclude, I want to also state that:
*Everybody’s experiences are different, and there might be some experiences in your life that I may not have been able to include or consider in the article. Also, reading or going through something might have really bothered you. We don’t need to dismiss it. Rather, what I intend with the blog is that, probably see that as a stand alone concern rather than label. And consult a therapist/the appropriate professional if you want.
Some spaces might have gone beyond the scope of the article to explain or mention. So, like I always say, use this blog as a material to take up with a mental health professional, or any other specific healthcare professional.