How to know if you could benefit from seeing a therapist

When it comes to living a healthier lifestyle, some choices are easy. We sign up for a spin class when our bodies could use some movement. We resist that morning doughnut when our jeans start feeling tighter than usual. Other choices, however, aren't that simple, especially when it comes to taking care of our mental and emotional well-being.

We've all felt down. But how do we know if bursting into tears during that sad animal adoption commercial is normal, or perhaps a sign of something deeper going on?

I recently chatted it up with a few experts who told me all about the many benefits of therapy and when the best time might be to ask for help. Here are 10 signs that making a date with a therapist might be just what the doctor ordered.

You don't feel like yourself

Maybe you're crying more than usual. Or maybe everything your roommate does makes you want to scream at the top of your lungs. Whatever the emotion, if it doesn't feel like you, it could be a warning sign, Dr. Helen Odessky, Chicago-based clinical psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety from Stopping You, shared with me in an interview. "This may mean that you are struggling with depression or are having difficulty managing the stressors in your life," she said. "A therapist can help you talk through and figure out what you may need to do to manage the stress and depression."

But it's not all about emotions. Mikki Guerra, licensed clinical social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor in Chicago, told me that feeling physically off can sometimes be a sign of mental health concerns. She notes to look out for messages from your body that aren't readily explained, medically. "You are often feeling run down and tired, just can't shake that cold, chronic headaches or random body pain," she said. "And lets not forget about the sex-drive that went out the window."

Strong anxiety

Most of us feel nervous before a job interview, big presentation or even a first date. But if you have strong anxiety that you can't seem to shake, even after trying various self-help methods, Dr. Odessky says it may be time to seek professional help.

"Anxiety issues typically do not go away on their own," she explained. "A therapist can help you by teaching you the necessary tools to manage anxiety."

Life is good, but something is missing

You've got a great job. You're in a relationship with someone you love. You're exactly where you thought you'd be at this point in your life. And yet, there's a lingering sense of dissatisfaction that doesn't quite make sense. "This could mean that there is a lingering issue in your life you are not addressing," Dr. Odessky explained.

It's also not usually something we can just talk ourselves out of either. "When we try to argue with ourselves as to why we should logically feel good, it usually backfires and we feel worse," she added. "A therapist can help you determine what the issue may be and work towards resolving it."

You have no self-confidence

I'll be the first to admit that I don't always feel totally confident, especially as a writer, where I'm constantly putting my work out there to be judged by the universe. But Dr. Leah Benson, licensed mental health counselor and author of the book, Emotional Utopia, Stop Searching For Happiness And Start Living, explained that if you're constantly feeling self-doubt, therapy can probably help.

"This means that you have internalized negative beliefs about yourself from outside sources, and aren't able to let them go because you believe in the authority of those outside sources over your own," she shared. "A therapist can help by taking you through a process where you come to terms with what is actually happening and give you tools to rid yourself of these internalized negative beliefs."

Feeling guilty

Stressed out over missing the last office happy hour? Convinced your bestie hates you because you forgot to text her back? "This means that you have what's called an 'overactive superego'," Dr. Benson shared.

"Your conscience is a slave driver, making you think that pleasures are not acceptable," she said. "This again comes from internalized beliefs that originated from outside sources and a therapist will help by teaching you tools and guiding you through experiences that change those underlying beliefs."

Feeling empty

If you're feeling empty or kind of numb, Dr. Benson says you may have literally developed chronic muscular contractions to deal with your emotions. "Your breathing is constricted," she explained. "When you don't breathe, you don't feel."

Benson said that a therapist can help by teaching you tools to open up your breathing and to teach you how to manage the feelings that come up, through various methods, including mindfulness and energy discharge techniques.

Sleep troubles

When you're sleeping too much or not at all, Dr. Sanam Hafeez, NYC-based licensed clinical psychologist and faculty at Columbia University's Teacher's College, says it may be time to seek professional help.

"People who are grieving or sink into a depression either have a 'can't get out of bed' feeling or seek to pack their days with distractions and work," she said. "These are the people cleaning out their closets and scrubbing bathrooms at 3am. A therapist can help you understand the thoughts that keep you awake and make sense of them."

You're turning to alcohol or other addictive behaviors

Social worker Guerra says that if you find yourself using substances or behaviors to cope, it could be a sign of something deeper. "You have just binge-watched a season of this and a season of that, your drinking has increased, or you have just maxed out a few credit cards," she described.

"A therapist can help you to understand how you choose to soothe yourself and offer healthier ways of coping," added Dr. Hafeez.

When you want an objective opinion

Family and friends are great. But as much as our mom or bestie means well with her advice, it comes along with her own own history, feelings, and values that can be placed upon our difficulties.

"Many times, people brush off the thought that a therapist could be helpful, because they have so many sources of support in their lives already," Rachel Oppenheimer, a licensed psychologist in Dallas, Texas, told me. "However, none of those sources can be as objective as a trained psychologist or therapist can be." She added, "Think of a therapist as an easel for the blank canvas, and they will help to structure and support your needs, openly and objectively."

You feel like you need one

This one may sound obvious, but Dr. Odessky said if you feel this way, trust your gut. "Even if you cannot put it into words, a therapist can help you zero in on what the issues are." She also noted that considering therapy isn't something to feel embarrassed about.

"Sometimes people feel that talking to a therapist is a sign that something is wrong with them," she said. "This could not be further from the truth. No one is in perfect mental health all of the time. When you don't feel good physically, you get help and and it's no different when it comes to taking care of your mental health — if you do not feel good — it's time for a check-up."

Don't worry, therapy is not weird

Okay, so now you know the signs — and perhaps a few of them resonated with you. Still, the thought of going to a therapist still seems a little, well, strange. Fear not.

Dr. Odessky stresses that therapy is so much more common than most of us believe. "Most people that seek therapy for the first time assume that they would shock family and friends if they knew," she told me. "I have seen clients who were too embarrassed to tell their spouse that they were in therapy for fear of judgment. I encourage my clients to share with their confidants that they are in therapy and what most of them find out is that many more people are or have been to therapy themselves than they would have thought."