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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.
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.
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.
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.
13 SMART Goals Examples for Depression and Anxiety
1. Practice Anxiety Management Techniques
“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. Write Down Positive Interactions
“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
“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. Use Positive Affirmations
“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.
For additional tips, check out this post: 9 Steps to Stop Intrusive Thoughts from Invading Your Mind
5. Use Positive Coping Skills
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. Start a Hobby
“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. Journal Every Night
“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.
8. Talk to a Person in Your Support System
For the next three months, I will message someone in my support system weekly so we can talk to each other about how we’re doing.
S: This goal is specific because it states that you’ll message someone and have an open conversation about how each other is doing. This way, you’ll have an exact action item to do once a week.
M: The goal is measurable because it allows you space to talk to someone in your support system about how things are going for you that week.
A: It can be hard to reach out to other people when you’re feeling down. But messaging a trusted person who supports you is likely achievable if you set an intention to do so.
R: The goal is relevant because it’s easy to feel isolated when you’re dealing with depression. You may not have the energy to make social plans, or you may feel like you have to carry your burdens all alone. Making a connection with someone in your support system just once a week might help curb isolation and give you a safe space to talk.
T: The goal is time-bound because it specifies a three-month time period to try the goal.
9. Practice a Self-Care Activity Twice a Week
I will take a hot bath with Epsom salts once a week and take a short walk in nature with my phone off twice a week. After two months, I’ll journal how these self-care activities affected my anxiety and depression symptoms.
S: This goal is specific because it talks about what self-care activities you’ll implement. This way, you don’t have to spend time or energy trying to decide what kind of self-care to do.
M: The goal is measurable because you’ll set aside time after two months to journal on your depression or anxiety symptoms, reflecting on whether practicing self-care was helpful.
A: The goal is achievable because it only asks you to take a hot bath once a week. And you don’t need to take a very long walk to get some time out in nature. If a goal like this does feel overwhelming, you could focus on just one of the activities for two months instead.
R: Self-care is an important part of nurturing your mental health, making this a relevant goal for someone living with depression.
T: The time-bound part of this goal comes in after two months when you’ll assess and reevaluate what did or didn’t work for you.
10. Exercise Three Times a Week
I will do 30 minutes of exercise first thing in the morning three times a week. This could be gentle walking, a cardio video, or yoga. In one month, I’ll journal about how exercise made me feel and how it helped my depression symptoms.
S: This goal specifies that you’ll do 30 minutes of exercise and also names three kinds of activities to do. This way, you can choose three days of the week to start the day off with exercise and not have to deal with decision fatigue of when or what kind of exercise to do.
M: The goal is measurable, since you’ll take stock of how you’re doing after one month.
A: 30 minutes of intentional, gentle exercise three times a week is much easier to achieve than bigger goals. This may help you ease into an exercise routine rather than setting a goal that may feel more overwhelming, like shedding X number of pounds or exercising every single day. If three days a week is too much, you could start with just one or two.
R: Exercise has been proven to boost your mood as well as benefit your body. So while clinical depression may not just disappear from exercising more, exercise can help support your mental health journey and improve your overall sense of well-being.
T: This goal is time bound because it asks you to exercise for 30 minutes three times a week and evaluate your progress in a month.
11. Make Plans with a Friend
I will make plans to go out to the movies or on a nature walk with a friend twice a month for three months.
S: This goal lays out two easy activities you could do with a friend — going to see a movie or taking a nature walk. It also states how often you’ll try and make plans.
M: This goal is measured by getting out and doing something fun with a friend from your support system twice a month.
A: It may be difficult to meet up with friends even once a week if you’re struggling with depression or just busy. Aiming to socialize just twice a month is a more achievable start.
R: Socialization can improve your mood, so this is a highly relevant goal if you tend to feel blue.
T: The goal is time-bound because it specifies how often you’ll try to get out with a friend as well as how long you’ll try this routine — three months.
12. Eat Regular, Healthy Meals
I will meal plan and prep once a week to take the guesswork out of mealtimes. I will aim to eat three meals a day rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins. I will have a snack in between if I’m hungry.
S: This goal aims for plenty of fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins to be included in your meal planning. It specifies when you’ll plan and prep for the week ahead so that eating healthy won’t get lost in the shuffle.
M: This goal is measurable because you’ll be able to plan a certain number of meals for the week, and you could incorporate a set amount of snacks as well.
A: Taking time once a week to meal plan meals is likely achievable.
R: This goal is relevant because a healthy diet is vital for your health and well-being. It can be tempting to skip meals or reach for sugar if you don’t feel up to cooking. However, eating three meals a day will help you establish a routine and keep your energy levels consistent so you don’t reach for unhealthy foods.
T: This time-bound goal gives you a day to intentionally plan out your meals for one week.
13. Have a Consistent Bedtime and Wake up Routine
I will go to bed by 10:30 PM on weeknights and put my phone away at least half an hour before bed. I will also get up at 7:30 AM every weekday. I’ll make a mark on my calendar for each day I follow this routine and make a note of whether I feel rested at the end of the week.
S: The goal specifies a set bedtime as well as when you’ll rise in the morning.
M: With this goal, you’ll keep track of how often you succeed in following your sleep/wake routine and how rested you feel. That way, you’ll be able to assess whether it’s achievable for you and if you need more or less sleep.
A: Going to bed and waking up are a part of everyday life, so it’s probably achievable to try setting regular times for sleeping and waking. You can also adjust the times to your schedule and current mental health needs.
R: Depression can make it hard to sleep or even to get out of bed. However, lack of sleep can exacerbate depression symptoms. Establishing a routine can help your body get used to a healthy sleep cycle to support your mental health and well-being.
T: This goal gives you an opportunity to see how a sleeping and waking routine is going for you.
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.
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:
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.
If you know someone who is feeling depressed or sad but don't know how to talk to them, check out this post on the various ways on how to comfort someone.
And if you want more SMART goal ideas and examples, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 7 SMART Goals Examples for Creatives & Artistic People
- 5 SMART Goal Examples to Practice Daily Self-Care
- 5 SMART Goal Examples to Improve Your Positive Mental Health
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.
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.