Many of us are seemingly hardwired to battle through emotional pain, not wanting to ask for help. But getting support from a psychologist could be just what you need to get through a difficult time.
"Many of us suffer in silence, embarrassed to reach out for the kind of help that can carry us to a better place," says Dr Louise Blundell of Brisbane City Psychology. "Emotional distress is an indication that something isn't right in our life and is a normal reaction to an abnormal or difficult situation. Psychological therapy can be incredibly empowering for anyone who's struggling with the curvy corners of life."
Here, our experts talk about five indicators that reveal you may need to see a psychologist or counsellor.
1. Your relationships are strained
If you have problematic relationships or can't maintain romantic or family relationships or friendships, a psychologist will help you understand what's going on and how to deal with it. "Problematic relationship behaviours are almost always driven by our hidden fears and the strategies we've developed to protect ourselves from being hurt again," says Dr Blundell.
If any relationship is causing you distress, you're having frequent arguments or you can't let yourself trust or connect with others, therapy can provide you with tools to improve your relationships or to know when it's time to walk away."
2. Life seems scary
"We can all have times when we think the worst but if this is your primary way of thinking you can end up depressed or anxious," says Dr Kathryn Gilson, a clinical psychologist from Melbourne. "Having scary thoughts can cause you to avoid situations, disconnect from people or activities or not pursue goals, which in turn can worsen depression and anxiety," she says.
If your thoughts are increasingly pessimistic or catastrophic, you could benefit from psychological support to help you identify and change unhelpful thoughts and find ways to cope so you can live without fear.
3. Your obsession or compulsive rules you
Are you having persistent thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviour? Checking things? Needing things done in a certain way or having strict rules for yourself about food or exercise? "Compulsions can feel helpful short-term because your anxiety is momentarily
relieved," says Dr Karen Donaldson, a psychologist from Milton, NSW. "But in the long-term they result in a need to engage in the activity repeatedly.
"Untreated obsessions and compulsions can impact other aspects of life detrimentally and can be a sign that you're suffering a diagnosable condition like anxiety or an eating disorder. It's advisable to seek help early," advises Dr Donaldson.
4. You're constantly on edge
"It's normal to be grouchy or short-tempered occasionally but if you can't control your temper, a psychologist can help you to work out where your stress and anger are coming from and help you find ways to deal with life's challenges more calmly," says Dr Gilson.
"If you're feeling overwhelmed, resentful or angry, these can be signs that the demands in your life outweigh your coping resources or that your tolerance to cope has weakened," she says.
If any emotions are leading you to treat yourself or others badly, it's a sign that you're not coping, says Dr Donaldson. "If you have an unhealthy pattern of drinking, are using other substances to cope, self-harming, lashing out at others, restricting food intake or binge eating, get help," she says.
"A psychologist can help identify the eff ects of unhelpful behaviours and teach you strategies such as relaxation training and mindfulness."
5. You have unexplained physical symptoms
If you've had the all-clear from your GP about physical illness, it's possible your symptoms are related to your emotional health, particularly if you've been stressed, worried or anxious.
Many of us are surprised at how interlinked our emotions and physical wellbeing are but if you think of how commonly stress can cause a headache, it isn't surprising at all, says Dr Blundell.
Typical symptoms include headaches, fatigue, rapid heart rate, dizziness, tingling hands and feet, shortness of breath, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea and sleep difficulties. All of these can be triggered by stress, she says.
A psychologist can help you understand your symptoms and work through the issues they relate to.
If you need immediate assistance call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To find a psychologist, contact the Australian Psychological Society at psychology.org.au