When our alarms go off every morning, we can hate them. We are yanked out of whatever dream we have been having and forced to immediately contend with a new day. Though we ourselves set the alarm, and in more wakeful moments will acknowledge the necessity of getting up and going to work, the disruption to our sleep is not something we welcome in the moment.
Ignoring alarms is generally not a good idea. I don’t know anyone who attends with joy to a fire alarm, but they do call upon us to take swift action that could save our lives. Those little lights in the dashboards of our cars alert us at the same time to problems with our vehicle and impending expenditure and inconvenience-but ignore one for a long time and it could mean far worse things. If you grew up in a place with tornado sirens and the real possibility of dealing with one of these deadly storms, you know the rush of fear that can swiftly go away when you remember it’s the day they test the mechanism.
Perhaps the most common alarm we ever deal with is the alarm to our bodies represented by pain and distress. A valid question might be, ‘Why do we still experience pain and psychological distress at this point in our development? Why haven’t we evolved out of it, or developed a different way to register the need for us to take action?’
Because that’s what alarms are—an alert to the necessity, however inconvenient, risky, or uncomfortable, to do something different. The tornado siren makes us take shelter, the dashboard indicators make us examine how our vehicle is functioning, and the morning alarm makes us climb out of our soft beds and into the challenges of a new day.
Your psychological alarms might be telling you a variety of things, some of which you may wish to seek out guidance to help with. That lack of sleep could be telling you that your anxiety is reaching a point where your basic biological rhythms are being affected. That depressed mood could mean a wide variety of things, and can last months or years without intervention. And that substance abuse or other addiction issue is its own best alarm, as anyone who’s struggled with those things knows.
We face so much pressure, both culturally and occupationally, to be ‘perfect’. In many professions, our persona of invulnerability and the pressure of constant high functioning might make us take our mental health less seriously or ignore it altogether. The initial resistance to seeking out help is often about ‘What if?’ scenarios: What if my boss finds out I am drinking too much? What if my teammates notice my excessive highs and lows? What if my country loses its faith in my ability to contribute?
Unfortunately, this is one of those adult decisions that doesn’t always have optimal outcomes. It’s up to you, and your consideration of your loved ones, what to do (if anything) about your mental health. Acknowledging your problem and enrolling in some kind of treatment may carry with it some occupational risks, but the alternative deserves equal evaluation. As anyone who’s ever had any kind of job knows, ignoring the alarm is neither responsible nor intelligent.