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Early Warning Signs


Early warning signs are internal and may or may not arise in reaction to stressful situations. In spite of your best efforts to take care of yourself, you may begin to experience early warning signs, subtle signs of change that indicate you may need to take further action. If you can recognize and address early warning signs right away, you often can prevent more severe symptoms. Reviewing these early warning signs regularly helps you to become more aware of them. Write “Early Warning Signs” on the third tab and insert several more sheets of paper in your binder.

Identify early warning signs

On the first page, make a list of early warning signs you have noticed in yourself in the past. How do you feel when you know you are not feeling quite right? How did you feel just before you had a hard time in the past or when you noticed that your habits or routines changed? Your early warning signs might include things such as:

  • anxiety
  • nervousness
  • forgetfulness
  • inability to experience pleasure
  • lack of motivation
  • feeling slowed down or speeded up
  • being uncaring
  • avoiding others or isolating
  • being obsessed with something that doesn’t really matter
  • displaying of irrational thought patterns
  • feeling unconnected to my body
  • increased irritability
  • increased negativity
  • not keeping appointments
  • changes in appetite
  • restlessness

If you want to, ask your friends, family members and other supporters for early warning signs that they’ve no ticed.

On the next pages, develop an action plan for responding to your early warning signs, referring to your Wellness Toolbox for ideas. Some of the things you list may be the same as those you wrote on your Triggers Action Plan. If you notice these symptoms, take action while you still can.

The following is a sample plan for dealing with early warning signs:

  • do the things on my daily maintenance plan, whether I feel like it or not
  • tell a supporter/counselor how I am feeling and ask for advice. Ask him or her to help me figure out how to take action
  • peer counsel at least once each day
  • do at least three, 10-minute relaxation exercises each day (simple exercises described in many self-help books that help you relax through deep breathing and focusing your attention on certain things)
  • write in my journal for at least 15 minutes each day
  • spend at least 1 hour involved in an activity I enjoy each day
  • ask others to take over my household responsibilities for the day

(I also might, depending on the circumstances)

  • check in with my physician or other health care professional
  • read a good book
  • dance, sing, listen to good music, play a musical instrument, exercise, go fishing, or fly a kite

Again, if you use this plan and it doesn’t help you feel better, revise your plan or write a new one. Use your Wellness Toolbox and other ideas from workshops, self-help books, your health care providers, and other people who experience similar symptoms.

Sourced in July 2017 from:

Center for Mental Health Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
5600 Fishers Lane, Room 15-99
Rockville, MD 20857