How Celebrating Small Victories Improves My Mental Health

I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for years. The most concise and honest thing I can say about my own struggle is that there are good days and there are bad days. Some days, I’m inexplicably in a bad mood I can’t control — everything seems dark, everyone uncharacteristically gets on my nerves, my patience gone, my self-loathing high. Other days, I’m the life of the party, eager to meet to people, and have immeasurable patience for others. These emotional waves are part of living with mental illness.

While the good days are, well, good, I want to specifically talk about the bad ones, since those are the days when it’s most important to treat yourself kindly. These are the moments when you should aim to celebrate even your smallest victories to increase your resiliency and shift your focus to what’s going well.

Did you get out of bed today? Pat yourself on the back. Did you step out of your comfort zone? Applaud yourself. Did you react positively when you had every reason to react negatively? Feel accomplished. Keep reading for a few small things that merit a much-needed pat on the back.

Eating a healthy meal

When things feel dull or dismal, don’t let your nutrition take a hit. Overeating, under-eating, or any other kind of bad eating habits can accompany a bad mental health day. In the past, suffering through a bad day for me also meant either drowning myself in Ben & Jerry’s or denying my stomach food until it ached. According to the American Psychological Association, your diet may contribute to depression. But don’t worry — you can combat negative feelings by eating healthy, balanced meals. Altering your diet can improve your energy and outlook, so be proud of yourself for not giving in to the quick fix and greasy allure of fast food fries (or falling into the trap of not eating at all). Take care of your body physically and you’ll be on a more capable path to taking care of yourself emotionally.

Cutting yourself some slack

Everyone’s idea of self-care looks different, but when you’re feeling down and out — depressed or anxious or panicky — allocate at least an hour to doing something that will make you feel better. Whether it’s a hot bath with a Lush bath bomb, meditation, or simply reading an article that interests you, an hour of “me time” is the best thing you can do to remind yourself that self-care isn’t just a treat but a regular part of balanced life.

Stepping back from the negativity trap

Not to everything, just to the Negative Nancies of the world. In fact, I’d argue that letting others’ negativity roll off your back is the more constructive approach to take. A moment full of depression or a touch of crippling anxiety could cause you to want to snap at someone, or make you more likely to join in and be pessimistic too, but being the bigger person is always the more effective option. If you let something go today, applaud yourself.

Getting dressed

It’s small and menial but it is not to be undervalued. You’re allowed to feel crappy. What you’re not allowed to do is wallow in the crappy and stay in pajamas all day. I know it’s tempting — I’ve done it. When I was struggling with panic attacks (which ultimately was the reason I quit my full-time job), there were a lot of mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed until mid-afternoon. I was too scared that if I left the comfort of my mattress, another attack would strike. Bed was safe. Those days, even throwing on leggings and a T-shirt felt like an accomplishment.

I’m proud of you for getting it together enough to get out of bed and get dressed. Bad mental health days are difficult to handle — and oftentimes, we all want to do it from the comfort of under the covers. But if you didn’t, if you pulled on some jeans and tried your best, good work.

Being vulnerable

PSA: It’s hard to be vulnerable. It sucks to do the hard work, no matter who it’s with. Maybe you had a difficult conversation with a boss or your parents or a friend or your romantic partner. Were you open about your feelings? Were you honest? Did you say things that are hard to say? Then you’re my hero. There is nothing more heroic than embracing vulnerability and choosing to deliberately wade through the uncomfortable. Congratulations — you’re a rock star in my eyes.

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