Overcoming anxiety and recovering from depression takes time. So does healing a broken relationship or breaking a bad habit and creating a healthy new one. Of course you want to feel better now, and it can be discouraging and downright frustrating when feelings like worry, sadness, anger, or uncertainty seep through.
Recognizing that lasting change takes time can ease your mind when you’re worried that you are never going to get there. It takes time for problems to develop, and unfortunately, it takes time for solutions to work. For instance, it may be that you have experienced anxiety and depression for quite some time. With prolonged patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, your brain and body become wired to recognize this as its norm. The good news is that through self-directed neuroplasticity (a fancy term for changing the neural networks or patterns your brain knows), you can accomplish positive and lasting changes!
So while you may feel as though you are slogging your way through, and that change is coming slowly, here are a few tips to help ward off discouragement and frustration.
Patience! Be patient with your progress and track your positives. Our brain has a built-in negativity bias where we tend to notice the negative experiences and filter out the positives. This is especially true when feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious. Keeping a record of even small successes can be an encouragement and keep your motivation and momentum primed. You can download a positive journal worksheet here to use to begin the practice of noticing the positives in your life.
Self-Compassion. There are two ways of approaching your progress and your problems, you can be self-critical, or you can be self-compassionate. Ask yourself which is likely to take you toward your goals of well-being. Kindness matters, even toward yourself! Christopher Germer states, “A moment of self-compassion can change your day. A string of such moments can change your entire life!”
Mastery and Pleasure. Do one thing for mastery and one thing for pleasure every day. Mastery items are those things you need to do in order to function, such as taking a shower, paying bills, or preparing meals. Pleasure items are those things that bring you joy, such as taking a walk, gardening, reading, or watching a sunset. And in case nothing seems to be bringing you joy these days, engage in activities that used to bring you joy. By accomplishing even one task for mastery and one for pleasure, you can help yourself overcome the low energy and motivation of depression or exposure yourself to your fears to overcome anxiety’s avoidance and escape cycle. You will also benefit from feelings of personal accomplishment in doing small things to help yourself feel better.
Know Your Why. People who have clearly identified the reasons that want change tend to recover more quickly. Once you know your why, make a plan, and take successive steps to get there. Knowing your core values can aid in maintaining your level of motivation and fuel values based action. Taking positive action, despite your feelings, will result in narrowing the gap between where you currently are and where you want to be. If looking at your long-term goal becomes overwhelming, adjust your lens and refocus on micro-goals or next steps.
Remember, when it comes to lasting change, slow and steady wins the race. Keep going, focus on the positives, practice kindness, keep taking small steps one after the next, focus on what matters. Celebrate the small accomplishments, and never give up! And remember change is possible.