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10 Ways I Know My Mental Health Is Improving

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Mental health recovery can be a lot like a roller coaster. It has its ups and downs of varying heights. Some stay in one altitude for a little while, while some are constantly riding the coaster through loops and valleys. Recovery will look wildly different for any two people, but for me, this is what it has looked like. Since September, it’s been a slow trudge uphill for me. Oftentimes, it has been so slow that it’s been hard to notice the progress. But, here I am, eight months out, and I’ve noticed some definite differences.

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Here are 10 ways I’ve noticed my mental health is improving:

1. Sleeping in. 

For several months, my anxiety was so high that my body would wake me up before 6 a.m., and I would have to get out of bed and start my day right away, otherwise the anxiety would fester and intensify in my body. I live near train tracks, and that never bothered me — in fact, I often found the train sounds soothing — but last fall, the noise was nothing short of alarming every time. My startle response was so exaggerated that I would wake up to the sounds of the train and be convinced that there was a plane overhead ready to drop a bomb.

2. Smiling and laughing.

I find myself smiling and laughing more in my day-to-day activities. At home, I’m much more playful with my cat. It’s easier to make jokes about things. It’s such a relief, because I felt that the frown lines on my face were making me look old!

3. Social interactions in public. 

I’ve noticed that when I go out, strangers are more likely to talk to me than they did before. I’m also more likely to continue the conversation. I’m sure this is because I look happier or more open. (See #2.)

4. Little things are less annoying. 

There were so many days when the littlest things would tick me off. “That child is chewing too loud!” “Why are those lights so bright?” Things like that were all it could take to significantly change my mood.

5. I’m cooking more. 

Cooking is a hobby of mine. I had stopped cooking much at all because I didn’t really have the energy, and I was very afraid I would hurt myself in the process. I started slow and simple, doing things like buying pre-cut vegetables to eliminate the amount of cutting I need to do, but still allowing myself to eat a healthy meal.

6. I’m thinking more clearly, and I have more ideas. 

I don’t feel like I’m exerting any more brainpower. It’s just that the brainpower I’m using is able to be directed towards work and other daily tasks, instead of hypervigilance. (In neurology terms, it means my prefrontal cortex is more activated and my amygdala is less activated.)

7. I’m getting better feedback from my boss. 

A couple of weeks ago, she told me that she has seen significant improvement in my quality of work and that she feels much more confident in me as a worker. She has also commented that I look better. I personally don’t feel as if I am working any harder than I had been. (See #6.)

8. My periods suck less. 

Many women who have anxiety will tell you that they find that their anxiety will spike when their hormones fluctuate during their periods. This is definitely true for me. I would find that my anxiety would rise exponentially in relation to its current level. My anxiety still rises for one week each month, but it does not peak nearly as high as it did, and is certainly much more tolerable. For the first few months, the sight of blood was a trigger for me, making my periods a very complicated and anxious time. Also, see #10.

9. I’m more independent. 

For a while, it was very difficult for me to spend time alone. If I was alone with my scary thoughts, they had more control over me. I would try to fill any spare hour by talking to someone, spending time with them, or at least getting out of the house to do something. Now, I can spend a whole day alone and I can be OK with it.

10. My triggers aren’t as triggering.

Months ago, I would wake up with images in my mind of things that scare me. They would immobilize me and ruin my entire day. Sometimes I still get them. I acknowledge them and recognize them as evidence that I do not feel safe in that moment. Then I let them go. Triggers don’t have as much power. Fortunately, for me, a huge part of healing was as simple as leaving a toxic environment and eliminating exposure to certain unsafe situations. I was able to gradually improve just by doing that. However, I also know that I would not have gotten here without putting in hard work and identifying the things that would help in my recovery. I know it’s not that easy for many people.

Unsplash photo via Max Feiner

Originally published: September 17, 2018
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