We Don’t Come with Dashboards: Reading Your Internal Gauges

By Bryan B. RSS Wed, May 6, 2020

This is the 2nd in an ongoing series of self-care blog-posts. I’m not a professional healthcare worker. I’m simply someone that practices self-care in his daily life and for whom self-care is an important element. If you need professional help, please get the help you need. Below are some ways of getting help. I’ve gotten help before, and it made a difference.

Today I’m going to talk about self-monitoring. Self-monitoring is basically a way for each of us to be better aware of how our various systems/bits and pieces are working both separately and together. Cars, thankfully, have dashboards. Those dashboards contain gauges and readouts that tell us when we need more gas or when things are overheating. We humans are more complex, and we have no external gauges. There is no red light that comes on when I’m hungry. There is no meter keeping track of my level of rest. We must figure out on our own how we are doing, and that is not always easy.

Let’s start with the basics first. Take a minute right now to ask yourself and explore in detail how you are doing.

How are you feeling physically? Take a minute and reflect on how your body feels.

  • Got any little aches or pains? Any big pains?
  • Where are you on a tired-to-rested scale?
  • Where is your body on the tight-to-relaxed scale?
  • Are you hungry?
  • How comfortable are you right now?

How are you feeling emotionally? Take a minute and reflect on your feelings.

  • How would you describe your mood: sunny, partly cloudy, overcast, or lightning and thunder?
  • Where are you on a stressed-to-relaxed scale?
  • Are you feeling anxious at all or calm? If you are feeling anxious, how much are you feeling?
  • Is it easy to laugh right now or difficult?
  • How easy is it for you to feel frustrated?

How are you doing mentally? Again, take a minute to reflect on your thinking self.

  • Where are you in terms of your ability to focus?
  • Where are you on a quiet-mind-to-racing-thoughts scale?
  • Are you bored? How able are you enjoy new activities? 


A journal with notes about how someone feels in it.

Take a moment to reflect on your mood and self.

There are many more questions you could ask yourself, but that should give you a starting point. Self-monitoring is something you will get better at with time. This is an activity that might feel a little weird at first, and just like any new skill you learn, practicing self-monitoring on a regular basis (once a week, every day, each hour—whatever works for you) will only help you get better at tuning into your own needs.

One thing that I have learned is that how I am feeling is not the same as how I am doing. How I am feeling is largely about my brain chemistry. Sometimes my life is going quite well, but I feel awful inside. Just because you feel bad, it does not mean that your life isn’t going well. Being able to separate how you’re feeling from how you are doing is not always easy, so try to be as objective as possible. This is a message that is appropriate for people of all ages and backgrounds. An example many of us can relate to (because we’ve been there) are the teen years—think about how you felt emotionally vs how you might have been doing overall. 

No matter how you are feeling today, it is good for you to know your feelings. If your car isn’t running properly, you want to know if it has gas or is overheating. Self-knowledge is the first step to self-care, and the best way to keep yourself up-to-date about, well, yourself, is through self-monitoring.

In an upcoming blog post, I’m going to write about strategies to deal with specific issues—for example, what to do about feeling anxious. In the meantime, start to practice self-monitoring. As humans, we need to learn to read our internal gauges. Just like it would be hard to keep a car running if we had no dashboard helping us understand which systems are running well and which might need additional attention, it will be difficult for you to address an issue if you are unaware of the need.

If you are struggling, please get help. Below is a list of groups that can offer that help.

  • For thoughts of suicide: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of 161 crisis centers that provides a 24/7, toll-free hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
    Phone: 1-800-273-8255
  • For mental health issues: National Alliance of Mental Illness NAMI Philadelphia, an affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, provides information and support to people with mental illness, their families, caregivers, and friends. All services are free.
    Phone: 267-687-4381
  • For drug and substance abuse: National Drug Information Treatment and Referral Hotline has 24/7 information, support, treatment options, and referrals to local rehab centers for any drug or alcohol problem.
    Phone: 800-662-HELP (4357)

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more about free mental health resources available to you at mindPHLtogether.com

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