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Celebrating Small Victories with Depression

Reading time | 5 min

We’re surrounded by cultural stories that skip past people’s long struggles and hard work to highlight only the breakthroughs and victories. Every day we see new billion-dollar companies, chart-topping albums, record-breaking apps and the seemingly overnight success of reality TV celebrities.

Today, we not only have to keep up with the Joneses, but with the Kardashians too.

When we only see people’s successes, without their struggles to get there, it can be hard to feel like we’re accomplishing anything in our own lives. In many ways, I believe we have built our culture around incredibly unrealistic expectations about productivity and what success means. In my view, this may impact the stories we tell ourselves, and it may even have negative consequences for our health.

I think this holds especially true for those of us who live with depression. For me, when I’ve experienced depression, even the simplest tasks — like getting out of bed — can feel impossible. Never mind living up to the supposed expectations of modern life.

That’s why I’ve found it so important to identify ways to acknowledge and celebrate the little wins and small victories that happen in my day-to-day life. Celebrating these positives can help me to balance my mind again.

Build balance into your life

For me, building balance was a necessary step to retrain my brain to see the other side, or if you prefer, the upside. But balance isn’t a relentless pursuit of positivity. Building balance doesn’t mean ignoring any negativity or failing to address pain you’re experiencing.

Instead, balance is about acknowledging your present circumstances, which includes the positive aspects, no matter how small, of your life. I think that we all need constant mini-boosts of gratitude and motivation to help us get through each day. In turn, those small wins help us build up to those grand accomplishments that come together over time.

During bouts of depression, you may feel shame at not being able to run on your “normal” mode — whatever that is for you. Or, it may be that you feel like you’re failing in comparison to the cultural stories of what we “should” be doing or what success “should” look like. I’ve had to learn the hard way to be kind and meet myself where I’m at without judgment.

Meet yourself where you are

If you’re struggling to get out of bed, that’s OK. It’s a common struggle shared by many. When you’re able to push yourself with that extra oomph you need to get up and through the day, give yourself credit because it’s not easy. I know so many people who can relate to and agree on that.

I’m a recovering perfectionist and workaholic, which makes it really hard for me to stay on track with self-care, and take time off to enjoy life or invest in my relationships. This is magnified when I’m struggling with depression because my motivation, energy, and mindset plummet.

From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem strange for me to congratulate myself and show gratitude for something as simple as a quick meditation session, getting to the gym, or even taking one day off on the weekend. But that’s what I need and what’s true for me when I’m in that state. I need to respect it and meet myself there.

Perhaps you’re thinking: “Isn’t this a way to just become complacent and not do anything?”

I think that it’s important to know when the time is right to push yourself. I think most people can sense when it’s a good idea to stretch a little further than you’re comfortable, and when it’s vital to simply do the necessities.

One step at a time

I believe that working through depression is a process. Instead of having our eyes locked on the end goal, I think those of us living with depression need to take healing one step at a time.

If you’re facing setbacks, consider if it would help to reframe your focus and expectations about your journey.

Maybe the step you need to take right now is sharing your story for the first time. Or, perhaps you’re already seeing a doctor or therapist for professional advice, but you need to update your treatment plan. Think about what you need. And celebrate your effort to take the time and do the research.

Show yourself gratitude for making the call or showing up for your appointment. And start looking for more ways that you can acknowledge the little wins in your life.

Here are a few ways that I help myself celebrate the small victories. Consider if these ideas might work for you:

  • Set a reminder to acknowledge yourself and your feelings daily. This can be done using a journal or diary, or integrated into a meditation session.
  • Continuously break tasks or projects down into the simplest and smallest steps. This may help you avoid becoming overwhelmed.
  • Ask yourself, “What’s the one thing that I can do today that’s most important or impactful?”
  • Remember to keep your expectations connected to your current state — if you’re doing well, you may be able to accomplish much more in a day than when you’re depressed.
  • Keep track and make note of any patterns you see in your experiences with depression. What helps you most when you’re down? What triggers negative feelings for you?

Tracking is an important part of this process. When you use a journal or photography techniques to help record these moments, it becomes easier to look back and see how far you’ve come in a month, a year, or a decade.

The takeaway: Seeing the big picture

As you start to build a practice and routine around recognizing the small victories in your life, I believe you’ll build momentum. For me, this has been a big part of making progress in the journey of recovery. Gaining more self-awareness around how to manage symptoms is one more step forward. It takes effort to strengthen the muscles of self-reflection and gratitude — and it’s worth it.

All the little steps add up quicker than you might expect. Remember to acknowledge yourself and keep going, one small step at a time.

For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team. 

JANUARY 2019 DEPR-US-NP-00050