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3 ‘Wins’ That Tell Me My Mental Health Is Improving

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As a person with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I’m mindful of any indicators that I’m doing worse than usual. When I notice these things, I know it’s time to reach out for help, use some extra coping skills and perhaps take a step back from unnecessary stressors. Mindfulness has played such an important role in my recovery that I don’t know how I would have made it this far without it.

Recently, I started seeing a new therapist. During the typical “getting-to-know-you” questionnaire that therapists go through with new clients, she asked me to consider something I’d never given much thought to:

“How can you tell when therapy is helping?”

Despite knowing that I always do better when I’m seeing a therapist, I realized I couldn’t pinpoint how I feel better. I’d spent so much energy on preventing another breakdown that I hadn’t acknowledged any of my progress! I was able to save face by coming up with an answer on the spot, but knew that I needed to really think about it more before my next session.

Being able to recognize what helps us is just as important than knowing what triggers us. When I notice myself making progress, I gain more motivation to keep doing what works. Since I’m able to recognize that progress as an accomplishment, I’m also better able to overcome feelings of underachieving. It may not be a job promotion or college acceptance, but I’m doing great things — for myself.

These are just some of the ways I can tell my mental health is improving, whether it’s due to therapy, medication or my environment. While some of these feats may seem small, I mention them because they’re still worth celebrating. When I’m not noticing these things happening, I consider it an early warning sign that what I’m doing isn’t helping. At that point, these become goals. Whether I’m acknowledging progress or setting goals, it helps to know what to look for as signs of success!

1. I put away my laundry immediately.

When I’m not doing well mentally, my clean laundry sits in the hamper for over a week. Sometimes, I just pick out my outfits from there — who needs dressers, anyway? Keeping my clothes in the laundry bin isn’t the worst thing in the world, but for me, it’s a sign that I no longer see the point in keeping things tidy. During my better weeks, though, I put away my clothes the minute they come out of the dryer. People often feel a sense of relief when they do something they’ve been putting off. When I put away my clothes the day I wash them, I feel like I can relax right away!

2. My blood pressure drops.

I tend to carry a lot of tension both physically and mentally. When I’m particularly anxious for weeks on end, my average blood pressure reading is high enough for my doctor to express her concern. Since buying my own blood pressure cuff, I now track the changes in my blood pressure, along with how I felt when I took those readings. Usually, a healthier blood pressure reading correlates with me handling my anxiety a bit better.

3. I get the right amount of sleep.

Some people with anxiety disorders may have trouble falling asleep, whereas others spend more time in bed. When I’m not ready to face the day (or life as a whole), I stay in bed, dreading the minute I absolutely have to get up. Even if my eyes are open, I’m not always energized enough to get out of bed until the afternoon. During my better months, I only spend 15 to 30 extra minutes in bed as opposed to the two to four hours I sleep in at my worst. Remember, we’re going for progress, not perfection!

Whether we feel like our mental health progress is coincidental or because of our hard work, we should still recognize them as “wins.” It’s easier to know what works for us when we notice that something’s working in the first place. After spending years trying to find what works and even longer to realize it was working, I’m glad I’m better able to recognize it so I can focus my energy on the right steps to recovery.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Originally published: October 21, 2020
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