It’s normal to have anxiety, feel stressed out or down in the dumps from time to time, but how do you know if your symptoms are severe enough that you should see a therapist?
According to an April 2017 study published in the journal Psychiatric Services, 8.3 million people in the U.S. are anxious, stressed and depressed. What’s more, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates depression affects 322 million people worldwide and is on the rise.
Although you may not have clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, seeing a therapist can give you the life skills to better cope with stress and deal with everyday challenges. Not only are there several treatment options available, but many are covered by insurance or are offered on a sliding scale, so there’s no reason to suffer in silence.
So how do you know if you should see a therapist? Here are 10 signs.
1. Frequency and intensity
One of the first signs you want to pay attention to is the severity of your symptoms and how often they occur. If your emotions feel intense, overwhelming and difficult to manage, that would be your first clue that you should see a therapist
To make a diagnose for clinical depression, you must have symptoms for at least 14 days straight. For Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), symptoms must occur more days than not for 6 months.
Of course, symptoms can vary from person to person so what feels overwhelming to you may not feel that way for someone else. “It’s paying attention to what’s a marked change in your usual routine and your usual way of doing things,” according to Alyssa Petersel, LMSW, a psychotherapist in New York City.
2. Grief or trauma
If you’ve suffered a loss, a traumatic event or are grieving someone’s death, a therapist can help you process and understand the impact it has had on you. Although some people may cry to cope while others may internalize their experience and withdraw, for example, a therapist can help you understand your feelings and move forward.
“Having a loss or a grief or a trauma happen is an extremely important time to seek help and seek perspective particularly from an objective third party who you can trust,” Petersel says.
3. Physical symptoms
Symptoms like frequent stomachaches, headaches, heart palpitations, sensations of shortness of breath and even fatigue can be signs of anxiety and depression. In fact, an October 2017 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found nearly 50 percent of people diagnosed with anxiety, depression or another mood disorder also had chronic pain.
Although it might be normal to have a headache when stress gets the best of you, if your symptoms are interfering with your ability to function each day, a therapist can help you figure out why you’re having those symptoms and give you strategies to better manage your feelings.
4. Turning to food, alcohol or drugs to cope
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2013 Stress in America survey, 38 percent of people say they have overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods in the last month because of stress and nearly half do so on a weekly basis or more.
Turning to food, alcohol or drugs can be a form of distraction and help you numb your feelings but when it becomes a habit and it interferes with your life, it’s a sign that you need a therapist to help you deal with your feelings in a more productive, healthy way.
5. Life becomes lackluster
If you have lost interest and joy in the activities you used to enjoy, including sex, or you find yourself avoiding social situations, it’s a good sign you should see a therapist. “This is one of the signs that’s the hardest to recognize because it’s the most subtle,” Petersel explains. “You tend to realize when it’s already painful or starts to feel very numb.”
6. Sleep problems
If you’re sleeping more than usual or having insomnia, although it could be a sign of a medical problem, it may also be due to stress, anxiety, and depression and would warrant a visit to a therapist.
7. Work conflict
Everyone has experience conflict at work at some point, but if the challenges you face are too much to handle or they’re affecting your job performance, a therapist can help you understand what’s impacting you and why.
“If you have a problem at work, it doesn’t necessarily necessitate that you go and see a professional but I think seeing a professional can only help and lead to less conflict and awareness in the future,” Petersel says.
8. Relationship strife
A disagreement with a friend or your partner is normal, but if they’re becoming more frequent, a therapist can help you identify your triggers, handle conflict in a healthy way and have stronger relationships.
9. You need an objective viewpoint
Your mom or best friend can be a shoulder to cry on but sometimes you need someone to talk to who isn’t biased and can give you the perspective you need to understand what you’re dealing with and how to better handle life’s challenges.
10. Self-help books aren’t working
You may have tried self-help books, a support group or stress-reduction techniques, but if you’re still feeling stuck, a therapist can offer treatments that are personalized for your unique situation. “There’s no way that any single self-help book can speak to the intricacies of each individual in the way that a trained clinician can address and adapt to,” Petersel says.