We live in a society that sometimes inadvertently discourages us from prioritizing our physical and mental well-being. We're often praised for things like working 80 hours a week, being able to function on three hours of sleep, and never missing a single social event — even if we're exhausted or have had a nagging headache for the past 10 days. A lot of these things can turn into a competition over who is working the hardest, and we may even find ourselves bragging that we're "super stressed and exhausted" — because it's surely a sign that we're well on our way to being the most successful person in the room.
The same culture that spends all that time praising us when we "go hard" doesn't spend much time praising the benefits of being a physically and mentally healthy human being — which is a real shame, because our health is ultimately what allows us to thrive in the long run. As a result, we sometimes miss the signs that we're not taking care of ourselves well enough. In fact, it's easy to accept dealing with constant fatigue, nagging physical pain, and anxiety as the "new normal". But we shouldn't feel this way and, more importantly, we can often find solutions for our physical and mental symptoms — we just need to make the time to focus on self-care.
Here are seven indications that you're not taking care of yourself well enough and it's time to prioritize your physical and mental health STAT.
1. You Constantly Get Sick
If you catch every cold, flu, and virus that goes around your office or friend circle, it's often because your immune system isn't up to the task of fighting off illness. The immune system can be weakened by a number of factors — high on the list are stress, an unhealthy diet and exercise regimen, nicotine, and even loneliness. And, unfortunately, a weak immune system doesn't just mean that you'll catch every bug — it'll take you longer to recover, too. Everyone catches the occasional virus, but if you catch every ailment and then proceed to spend the next month hacking up a lung, it's a sign that your overall physical and/or mental well-being may be suffering.
2. You're Always Tired
There are plenty of reasons you may be constantly tired. If you suffer from insomnia or have a schedule that doesn't allow for seven or eight hours of sleep per night, it's no great mystery why you're exhausted — but it's still a problem that should be addressed, because the long-term effects of sleeplessness can include heart problems, depression, forgetfulness, and impaired judgement. Getting enough sleep is a cornerstone of self-care — so talk to a doctor about your insomnia and make a conscious effort to ensure sleep doesn't get sacrificed in favor of a jam-packed schedule.
If you are getting enough sleep, you may feel a little baffled about why you're always tired. It's time to get tested for anemia and vitamin deficiencies, which are common culprits and (luckily) can be treated fairly easily. Chronic exhaustion is also a symptom of depression, so it's definitely worth chatting with a therapist if no physical cause can be found.
3. You Never Feel Great, Even When You're Not "Sick"
You may not have a fever or feel sick enough to warrant calling out of work, but you constantly have a headache, a stomachache, joint pain, or some other chronic source of discomfort. Again, these are all signs that you either have an undiagnosed medical condition or your body is begging you to take better care of it.
Stress and anxiety wreak havoc on the body, so be honest with yourself and speak with a therapist if you need to. And again, these physical symptoms could be the result of not getting enough sleep, maintaining an unhealthy diet, and not exercising — which means that, with some self-care, they may be easy to solve.
4. You Can't Remember The Last Time You Went To The Doctor
Remember when our parents used to make all our doctor's and dentist's appointments for us? Those were the days...and, unfortunately, they're long gone. When life gets hectic, we sometimes realize we haven't been to a doctor in approximately three years — which is not great. Even if you're feeling well overall, it's still a good idea to stay on top of these regular appointments — but if you're experiencing fatigue or any sort of chronic pain, make an appointment with your GP ASAP. There could be a fairly straightforward explanation — a routine physical examination and blood tests can determine if anemia or a vitamin deficiency is the culprit, or if you have a condition that you've never even heard of.
Either way, going to the doctor regularly allows us to know exactly what's going on with our bodies — and that's pretty important. So, yes it's kind of a hassle, but keep up with your appointments. They can help you nip health problems in the bud before you're exhausted, miserable, and sick.
5. You Feel Anxious, Irritable, Or On Edge
We're all human and we all have our moments of feeling frustrated over somewhat ridiculous things. (I mean, please tell me I'm not the only one who has cried over a subway delay.) But if you consistently feel irritable and anxious, it's a sign that you're too burned out to handle the many small annoyances life throws at us. When our physical or mental health suffers, it's a no-brainer that we'll feel on edge and easily annoyed. If you find yourself constantly getting angry or upset over things you know are irrational, it's time to take a close look at your self-care regimen. There's almost always a reason, whether it's physical or mental — and taking care of it can help you begin to feel better.
6. You Never Put Yourself First
It goes without saying that being a great friend, partner, or family member involves making sacrifices — but you don't always have to be the martyr in the room. It's OK to set boundaries and it's not selfish to occasionally say, "I need to put myself first today." In fact, taking care of ourselves ultimately makes us better friends in the long run — we can't help or support our loved ones if our physical or mental health is compromised.
7. You're Dependent On Caffeine Or Alcohol
Fellow coffee lovers, I hope you're sitting down — apparently we should be drinking less than four cups of coffee per day. (Yes, really.) As someone who used to throw back espresso shots like nobody's business, I can attest to the fact that I feel better physically now that I've cut back to 24 ounces of coffee per day. If you need to drink a massive amount of caffeine to get through the day, it's probably because you're not sleeping enough, the quality of your sleep is poor, or you're exhausted for another reason, like anemia. Either way, the solution is to work with a doctor to figure out why you're so damn tired that life without caffeine is unlivable.
Same goes for those four glasses of wine you suddenly realized you've been consuming without noticing every evening. Again, there's usually a reason that your intake has crept up — and the culprits are often anxiety, stress, unhappiness, or insomnia. While wine is a "quick fix" for these problems, it hurts you in the long-term. It's been shown that alcohol often makes anxiety worse and, while it's true that alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, the quality of your sleep will be poor. So, if you're getting eight hours of sleep and you feel exhausted the next morning, booze could be to blame.
The Bottom Line
When you don't take care of your physical or mental health, it suddenly becomes really difficult to live your life and thrive. And physical and mental health are closely linked, so you need to take care of both your body and your mind to feel well. If any of the above signs sound painfully familiar, have an honest chat with your physician or a therapist. Not only do you deserve to feel healthy, but you'll be a better person, friend, partner, and professional because of it.