When it comes to mental health challenges like anxiety or depression, it can be tricky to measure progress in a tangible way than, say, weight loss. Progress is often slow, subtle, and incremental, and the changes we make on the inside are often barely detectable on the outside (at first). It’s incredibly frustrating to feel like we ended up right back where we started, despite years of working on the same damn thing.
But just because you feel anxious or depressed, it doesn’t mean you haven’t actually progressed with managing your anxiety or depression.
The key is to notice the subtle ways in which progress manifests itself, because they aren’t always obvious.
Meditator, author, and speaker, Diego Perez (aka @yung_pueblo), posted several thoughts on Instagram about the “signs of progress” that I wanted to share, because he did an excellent job at highlighting how subtle progress can look. For those who similarly live with anxiety and other mental health challenges, I hope these resonate with you.
I don’t know about you, but I often beat myself up when I realize that I’ve reverted back to habitual/automatic ways of responding to present day events, which are coloured by past experiences (even though all human beings are subject to this phenomenon). I forget that even noticing that this is going on, then stepping back and reassessing my attitudes and reactions, is a sign of progress in and of itself.
This one struck me because we often think of progress as the elimination or absence of heavy emotions, so when they arise, we feel as if we’ve failed at keeping them at bay. But this post reframes “progress” as acknowledging emotions without dwelling or getting attaching to them — rather than combatting, suppressing, or simply not having them. This means we don’t have to get frustrated with ourselves for feeling these emotions in the first place. The fact that we still feel anxious or down, in other words, is not a sign that we have failed to make progress.
I love all the points in this post, but I will focus on the second one for the sake of sticking to the theme of progress: “Not measuring yourself by your thoughts, instead notice your progress in your actions.”
The quickest example I can think of is fear. When we have fearful thoughts, it’s tempting to label ourselves as cowards. But simply experiencing fear is not what makes us cowards; it’s how we choose to act that determines that. The saying is true: “Bravery is not fearlessness; it’s feeling the fear but doing it anyway.” That’s why many clinical psychologists say that the best way to treat anxiety is not to make a person less fearful, but more courageous.
So don’t measure your progress by the thoughts and feelings that run through your mind; they are simply thoughts and feelings. Instead, measure your progress by the actions and responses you ultimately choose to take.
Open your eyes. You might just realize how far you’ve come.
P.S. Follow @yung_pueblo on Instagram for great content by a meditator!