Self-awareness is a skill with many benefits. It will highlight any health concerns.
Depression and Anxiety: The Importance of Self-Awareness
Depression can manifest in a wide variety of ways. It is important in the first instance to separate a chronic, ongoing state of low mood, a loss of interest in things you normally enjoy, and a consistent feeling of hopelessness from similar feelings occurring over the short-term and in reaction to events or situations. All of us go through periods of feeling depressed, driven by experiences related to a change in our circumstances or to the suffering of a major loss. It is when such a feeling of being downcast persists over an extended period--for a clinical diagnosis, the depression must persist for at least a two-week period--that you may be dealing with physiological factors related to your brain chemistry which may have been triggered by a traumatic or stressful event. The ability to distinguish between these two is crucial when you seek help, and that ability can only be developed through learning the practice of self-awareness.
It is important to be aware of your moods for a wide variety of reasons, not least of which is that having awareness of your thinking, and the quality of those thoughts immediately gives you some control over them--what psychologists often refer to as an internal locus of control. Put in a different way, the ability to take a step back from the immediacy of an unpleasant thought or emotion and observing that feeling without judgment gives you much greater knowledge about yourself, your patterns, and your triggers. Of course, it is easier said than done, but as with most things in life, with regular practice, the ability to observe yourself objectively--as if from the viewpoint of someone else who happens to know exactly how you're feeling--gets easier to do with regular practice.
You can start practicing self-awareness by becoming aware of your body right here and right now. Are you feeling tightness or pain in any area? Scan your body from top to bottom and note any out-of-place feelings or sensations--when going through a particularly hectic day, it is even possible to forget that you're hungry, which is something that can have a direct and immediate effect on your mood! Notice and remember anything that feels uncomfortable in your body and ask yourself if this physical sensation is unpleasant or pleasant, if there is something that you can do about it immediately--such as grabbing something nutritious to eat if you've suddenly realized that you're hungry--or if it is something that you feel often, possibly even every day, and which is something you can't do much about yourself. Knowing this about your physical state is important, and such information is incredibly valuable when you consult a medical professional if you suspect you're dealing with any condition, not just a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety.
Next, you can shift your awareness inwards, to your thoughts and emotions. Again, step back and observe without judgment, as if you're seeing them from the outside. What are you thinking about right now? Is it different from what you were thinking two minutes ago? Do you notice that your emotional state is a series of rapid and uncontrolled reactions to what is happening to you externally? Can you say whether your feelings are more often good than bad, or vice versa? Do you find yourself having the same thought and the same emotion repeatedly? Can you make a connection between a thought that you have repeatedly and the emotions that thought brings about in you?
As with the body scan, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Additionally, noticing and remembering this kind of objective information about the state of your body and your mind at different times during the day is information that will greatly assist a medical professional in determining if something you are struggling with is a physical or a mental problem. Being self-aware will make you conscious of changes in your body and in your mental state, which will allow you to act--by, for example, seeking help from a family member, a friend, or a trained professional.
The practice of self-awareness doesn't have to be a burdensome activity to add to your already lengthy to-do list. It can be done in less than a minute. Taking a minute or two at intervals during your day to tune into yourself is not going to have any real impact on your time, your work, or your schedule. And it may be invaluable in increasing your quality of life in the long run. The more often you do it, the more able you'll be at identifying the physical and emotional patterns that are causing you pain or discomfort, pointing you in the direction of seeking appropriate help.
Ask yourself whether there is a link between any physical discomfort you have and a negative emotional response. Chronic pain--a common symptom of depression--can affect your mental state, and because it's chronic, and you're not practicing self-awareness, it can just slip by under the radar, leaving you feeling both physical and mental pain that seems to be coming from nowhere. Ask yourself if there is something you can do right now to relieve that physical pain and the negative emotions that come with it. Getting outside in the fresh air for a five-minute walk is remarkably effective in allowing you to just "change gears" a bit, shifting the physical pain and the emotional strain it engenders out of your experience, even if it's just for a couple of minutes. Notice and remember when your physical pain starts and under what circumstances it does.
Practicing self-awareness will give you the ability to notice any symptoms or signs of either a physical or mental problem and may clarify if those symptoms are connected to any situations, places, or people. If your feelings of depression are ongoing, present every day or very often, the information about yourself you collect through the practice of self-awareness will help your doctor--or another member of your support system--to make a proper diagnosis and recommend the appropriate treatment.
A diagnosis that correctly identifies the real problem is the only way to begin addressing feelings and emotions that are crippling your ability to function normally and with a level of enjoyment and satisfaction with your life that may have been absent for quite a while. Self-awareness will make it possible for you to approach a mental health professional with the right information, which is absolutely key in determining the correct diagnosis. Without the correct diagnosis, most attempts at treatment would be misguided and may cost you time, money, and energy with no discernible results.
Noticing your moods, changes in them, their patterns, and triggers is the hallmark of a self-aware individual. If you want to emerge out of a state of depression that negatively impacts your life, enables your healthcare professional to help you in the best possible way. The more you know about your own internal state, the more information you can give to someone who wants to help you. The better the quality of your self-knowledge is, the more likely you'll be to arrive at a well-conceived diagnosis and an effective treatment plan for your depression and/or anxiety.