7 SMART Goals Examples for Depression and Anxiety

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Are you naturally happy and optimistic?

If you're thinking to yourself, “I hate those people!” then maybe you don't fall into this category, but I would be willing to bet that you wish you could be at least a bit more like this population.

But the truth is, most people aren't just “naturally” happy and positive all the time. It takes intentional effort and continuous reassessment to maintain this mindset.

So how do they keep themselves from slipping?

Through SMART goals.

That's right, you can design what you want your life to look like from the inside by developing SMART goals. And, despite where you are on your journey to improved mental health, working toward SMART goals can help you live your life the way you want to live it while still managing your symptoms of depression.

In this article, we are going to look at what SMART goals are and why you should create them in order to generate some more positivity in your life. Then we will look at 7 examples of SMART goals that you can use as an outline when creating your own SMART goal statements.

Let’s start by defining SMART goals and seeing why they're so effective.

What Is a SMART Goal?

SMART goals use 5 criteria to help guide the process of setting an effective goal. These criteria include: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. The idea is that if you create a goal that fits into all of these categories, it's almost impossible to not achieve it.

First introduced 40 years ago, this concept was created to help businesses make goals that were useful in helping them keep up with changing business trends and maintaining the best staff possible. SMART goals are now used by individuals to help us grow, learn, and develop into the people we want to be.

You can use this goal-setting tool to set yourself up for success in any area of your life, including your mental health. Let’s look at what each of these criteria mean.

  • Specific: Your goal statement shouldn't leave anything up for interpretation. You should be able to read the completed statement and then answer who, what, when, where, and why.
  • Measurable: You want to be able to know how far you've come at any given point throughout the process of reaching your goal AND how far you have left to go. What standards will you use to measure your progress?
  • Achievable: Of course you want your goal to challenge you to give you an opportunity to grow, but achieving your goal shouldn’t be out of reach. When setting your goals, make sure that what you're aiming to do is realistic in the allotted amount of time you're allowing yourself.
  • Relevant: how does your goal relate to your long-term vision? What part does it play in the bigger picture of your life? You don't want to hit a dead end when you achieve your goal.
  • Time-Bound: Having deadlines for your goals will keep you accountable along the way. They will help you prioritize your work, feel a sense of urgency, and stay organized so you will finish up your goal right on schedule.

So what does this look like? We will see in a minute, but first, let's look at some mistakes you will want to be on the lookout for to avoid.

  • Not Specific: “I’m going to be happier.” My first question to this would be how? What are you going to do to increase your overall happiness?
  • Not Measurable: Again, “I'm going to be happier.” What does “happy” look like to you? What are you tracking to quantify your happiness? The number of times you laugh per day? The number of days you go without crying?
  • Not Achievable: “I will rid myself of all anxious and depressive thoughts by the end of the week.” This goal is unrealistic because it doesn’t give you enough time to grow. According to Healthline, depression can be recurrent and it may last weeks, months, or years. And, when it comes to modifying behavior, it takes time to create a habit out of a goal. So be prepared to go through a transitional period of time.
  • Not Relevant: “I will increase my typing speed to 120 wpm by January.” While this may be a good goal to have, it is hardly relevant to your depression and anxiety.
  • Not Time-Bound: “I will be happy one of these days.” This doesn’t give you a deadline to work toward, so there is no sense of urgency to get to work.

Let’s look at some quick tips for setting SMART goals for depression and anxiety before getting into some examples.

Tips for Setting SMART Goals to Create a Positive Lifestyle

Make Both Long- and Short-Term Goals

Your long-term goals will be more approachable if you break them down into short-term goals. So, while you may have a long-term goal to repair a strained relationship with a family member, a short-term goal could be to spend time each night reflecting upon what went wrong.

Use the Supports You Have

Reach out for encouragement from others while you’re working toward your goals. Some people work best with an accountability partner to keep them on track. This way, you have someone to check in with on a regular basis to ensure you’re making progress. This also gives you someone to celebrate your successes with.

Make Your Goals Public

…or at least known to a few key people. Sharing your goals could make you more committed to achieving them, especially if you share your progress so others can cheer you on.

“Why?”

Before writing your goals, identify the “why” behind them. Don’t make goals based on what other people (or society) is saying–make them personal. Your goals should stem from your own personal values and your vision for your future, especially when it comes to your mental wellbeing.

A well-thought-out SMART goal will guide you through the journey of meeting your goal and keep you motivated along the way. Here are some examples to help you get on the right track.

7 SMART Goals Examples for Depression and Anxiety

1. “For the next month, I will practice two anxiety management techniques every night to decrease my symptoms of anxiety to fewer than three times per week.”

S: This statement notes the action the person intends to take and the purpose of that action.

M: Each anxiety management technique practiced acts as one unit of measurement out of two for each night, and symptoms of anxiety will be measured with a goal of three or fewer per week.

A: Depending on where you are in your journey, this is a reasonable goal. The numbers can be adjusted as needed.

R: This goal is relevant to decreasing anxiety.

T: This goal-setter will practice this goal for a month.

2. “I will increase positive relational interactions to reinforce my support system by writing down at least one positive interaction I have with someone every day for four consecutive weeks.”

S: This SMART goal statement shows exactly what the person will do, including the frequency and duration of the activity.

M: This is measured by writing down a positive interaction that occurred that day for four weeks straight.

A: This is a reasonable goal.

R: This goal is relevant because improving relationships can help reduce depression.

T: This goal will be completed in four weeks.

3. “Recognize symptoms of anxiety and depression every day for the next six weeks and stop and postpone obsessing or worrying to a designated 15-minute “worry time” to occur before dinner.”

S: Here is a specific plan to eliminate the impact of anxiety throughout the day.

M: This is measured by holding a 15-minute “worry time” each day before dinner for six weeks.

A: This is a reasonable goal, especially for those who have good self-awareness skills.

R: This goal is relevant because it will reduce the amount that symptoms of depression interfere with one’s everyday life.

T: This goal will be completed in six weeks.

4. “Challenge negative self-talk with positive affirmations in 5 out of 5 instances for the next two months to increase my confidence in coping with irrational thoughts.”

S: This statement demonstrates a specific plan the person will employ to increase feelings of positivity.

M: This is measured by challenging negative self talk with positive affirmations for two months.

A: This is a reasonable goal.

R: This goal is relevant because it will help the person replace any negative, distorted messages with positive self-talk that are not based on symptoms of depression.

T: This goal will be completed in two months.

5. ”I will replace harmful coping skills such as social withdrawal and isolation with healthier options such as exercising or talking to a friend at least three times per week for the next month.”

S: This goal statement identifies the specific actions the person will take to improve their response to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

M: This is measured by replacing harmful coping skills with healthier options three times a week for a month.

A: This is a reasonable goal.

R: This goal is relevant because having positive coping skills can help increase resilience to adversity and reduce health risks.

T: This goal will be completed in a month.

6. “I will become involved in at least one activity or hobby within the next two weeks to reduce stress and give me something fun to focus on.”

S: This objective sets a plan for someone to actively seek out an activity and sets a deadline for doing so.

M: This is measured by taking up a new hobby in the next two weeks.

A: This is a reasonable goal.

R: This goal is relevant to eliminating depression and anxiety.

T: This goal will be completed in two weeks.

7. “I will gain a better understanding of my depression and anxiety triggers by spending 20 minutes each night journaling about that day’s symptoms for the next three months.”

S: This action statement describes what the person will do to tackle the underlying cause of their depression and anxiety.

M: This is measured by journaling for 20 minutes every night for the next three months.

A: This is a very reasonable goal.

R: This goal is relevant to eliminating depression and anxiety.

T: This goal will be practiced for three months.

When to Get Help

You can make great progress on your own when it comes to reducing anxiety and depression and creating a more positive life for yourself. However, having additional support and guidance may make your journey to a better life faster and smoother.

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Having additional support and guidance may make your journey to a better life faster and smoother.

Only you know your “baseline” and what mental state is standard for you. If you start having feelings or exhibiting behaviors that are outside of your norm, it’s likely a sign that you need to reach out for help from a professional mental healthcare provider. It’s always a good idea to share your feelings so if you need additional treatment, it can start sooner rather than later.

So if you feel like your depressive thoughts have been interfering with your life for more than two weeks, you have sudden unexplained changes in your emotional state, or if you’re having thoughts of suicide, here are some resources you can use to get help right away:

  • SAMHSA – The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on our country.
  • Mentalhealth.gov – This website from The Department of Health & Human Services offers resources for getting immediate help for mental health crises.
  • Mental Health America – This community-based nonprofit promotes positive mental health on a local basis.
  • Mental Health First Aid – Managed by the National Council for Behavioral Health, Mental Health First Aid is a program that teaches the necessary skills to help in a mental health crisis.
  • Or, you can always find a trained mental health professional in your area who you can set up a time to meet with in person.

Whether you find support virtually or face-to-face, it’s important to check out some resources that may help make all of the difference for you.

Final Thoughts on SMART Goals for Depression

I know nothing that is “calculated” sounds like it could eventually come naturally, but with enough practice, practicing SMART goals such as those laid out in this article will become everyday habits. You can tailor these goals to meet your personal needs and create the best life for yourself. Start by practicing one or two of these goals and you will likely notice a positive change in your life.

Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.

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