How Do I Know If My Mental Health Is Improving?

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For someone working on their physical health, there are often measurable goals such as reducing your cholesterol, running a mile faster, or lifting a heavier weight. You can see that your hard work is paying off in a tangible way.

But if you’re working on your mental health, it can feel like there’s no clear way to measure how you’re getting stronger carrying that mental weight. You’re working out, going to therapy, meditating, but how do you know they are working?

Verywell Mind spoke with Ce Anderson, MS, LPC, a licensed therapist, to find some ways to gauge if all of this hard work is working. 

Ways to Tell If Your Mental Health Is Improving

While it might seem difficult to tell if your mental health is improving, there are, in fact, some ways to measure improvement. Some ways to identify your progress are outlined below.

You've Accomplished Goals

When you begin therapy, a therapist will ask why you're seeking treatment. Most people seek therapy when there is a problem in your life, but “know that you don’t have to be in crisis to seek out therapy!” says Anderson. In fact, she adds that therapy is just as useful when life seems to be going well—to maintain your mental health.

Anderson says she has several strategies to help clients identify their goals. First, she asks her clients, “If I waved a magic wand right now and it could solve three things, what would they be?” If clients have a hard time specifying what those three things are, she asks them how their depression or anxiety (or whatever their chief problem was) is affecting them from doing what they want to in their lives?

From there, someone might say that depression is preventing them from being social. Identifying that problem can help you figure out a goal of, say, socializing once a week.

If you begin to socialize once a week, that's a sign of progress because it is a move forward out of that stuckness or impairment. Plus, achieving goals literally changes your brain structure so that it is more effective, helping you make progress towards your other goals as well.

You Notice a Reduction in Symptoms

Although it may seem vague to try to quantify the impact of your hard work on your mental health, there are a few ways, according to Anderson.

One place to start looking at the impact is in symptom reduction, says Anderson. For example, if you began therapy for panic attacks, maybe you had three panic attacks a week, and now you’re only having one—that's a clear sign that you've improved. But, don't despair if you’re not at zero panic attacks—the goal is progress, not perfection.

Let's take a look at some things you might notice as your mental health improves:

  • Improved sleep: One of the first questions any mental health professional will ask you is what your sleep schedule is like. Sleep and mental health are linked as poor sleep can cause mental health problems.Conversely, mental health problems can cause poor sleep. For some people, this may mean hypersomnia (sleeping too much). Others may have insomnia or trouble sleeping. Improvement in your sleep patterns is a good measure of progress.
  • Reduction in emotional outbursts: If you used to lash out at your kids or the cashier at the grocery store who gave you the wrong change, and you find that your outbursts rarely occur now, then that's another sign of progress.
  • Stabilization of appetite: Someone with depression may either lose their appetite or have an increase in appetite. If you find that your appetite remains pretty stable, then it might be because your mental health has improved.

If you or a loved one are coping with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Helpline for support at 1-800-931-2237. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

You Have Better Boundaries

How you handle boundaries is a great way to measure your growth, says Anderson. An example might be that your friend expects you to drop everything and hang out when she calls. In the past, you may have done this, afraid of losing your relationship with a treasured friend. 

Instead, a new boundary might look like “I’d love to see you, but I need some advance notice in the future.” It might feel icky to you at first, but Anderson says that setting the right boundaries for you should give you “an energizing sense” of empowerment. 

Sometimes defining these emotional parameters for yourself will bother other people, but it is important to do this for you. “Getting your own needs met will lead to more money, more time and more freedom to do what you want to do,” says Anderson.

You Have More Trust in Yourself

If you’re the type of person who relies deeply on others’ opinions to make decisions, a newfound ability to trust your own judgment can be a major achievement in your mental health journey.

You know that feeling you have when you know you’ve picked out a great outfit? Now imagine that with bigger decisions.

A major step is “no longer looking to others for outside validation,” says Anderson. “You will do the things you love despite what other people are saying.”

Your Emotional Intelligence Increases 

While we can’t quite measure emotional intelligence the way we can cognitive IQ, there are definitely ways you can observe an improvement in emotional intelligence. For example, you’ll notice that the interactions with the people around you are feeling better.

Some signs will be that you are not internalizing, or keeping your emotions inside, as much as you once were. Anderson says a high level of emotional intelligence also demonstrates an ability to express one’s self assertively rather than being aggressive or passive-aggressive. You might also find that's it's easier to take responsibility for your own actions.

What If My Condition Is Chronic?

If you have a chronic mental health condition, you may feel frustrated that you will have to live with this diagnosis forever, but there are actually more clear signs you may be able to pick up on to gauge your progress:

  • Decrease in episodes: If you have major depressive disorder and you typically have two or three episodes in a year, progress might look like only having one a year. Or, it might look like a reduction in the length of an episode.
  • Increase in healthy behaviors: If you are dealing with a severe mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, episodes may always be a part of your reality. However, even showing up for therapy regularly if you were not before shows progress. A willingness to take your medicine every day is another positive sign.

A Word From Verywell

Although these are some ways you can see progress in caring for your mental health, this is just a sampling. Just because you haven’t improved in one of these areas doesn’t mean your mental health hasn’t improved or that your hard work wasn't worth it.

Often, others may see changes in our mental health and functioning before we see them in ourselves. A reputable therapist can help you set goals and learn how to spot some of these changes on your own.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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