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Therapy Motivation: 10 Simple Ways to Stay Engaged and On-Track

Therapy Motivation: 10 Simple Ways to Stay Engaged and On-Track

January 20, 2023

Talk therapy is a powerful tool for making progress with your mental health. While it can be incredibly gratifying, finding the motivation to stick with it and apply your therapist’s tips and tools can be challenging. Mental health conditions like depression can sap your motivation, making it difficult to accomplish goals both in and outside therapy. On top of that, therapy often requires patients to confront difficult topics. In some cases, this means patients aren’t able to stick with therapy as well as they otherwise would be.


Here are 10 simple tips for boosting your motivation as you continue your wellness journey.

#1: Start Small

If your mental health plan is too demanding early on, you might have more trouble starting to apply all the advice you’ve been given. Instead of overwhelming yourself, start small. As you build your therapy muscles, you’ll be able to use the recommended strategies more consistently.

#2: Remember Your Goals

Because your mental health homework may not be intrinsically rewarding, it can be helpful to focus on the external benefits of the activities and specifically on why you set out to improve your mental health in the first place. Keeping these goals in mind can help you stay motivated and stick with your therapist’s recommended strategy.

#3: Normalize Feeling Stuck

Putting too much pressure on yourself to make progress and strictly adhere to treatment can be counterproductive. 

“Feeling disappointed in yourself whenever you less productive in therapy, miss an appointment or forget to apply a technique in everyday life can challenge your motivation to stay committed to therapy,” shares Andrea Marquez, LCSW, an Austin, Texas-based therapist here at Heading Health. “But, that’s a normal part of the process and of life. Rather being hard on yourself practice self-compassion instead. You’re more likely to get back on track when you practice self-forgiveness.”

Remember, even in moments when it feels like progress has stalled or you’ve gotten off track, you can begin again and it won’t be a square one. 

#4: Seek Support From Friends, Family, and Support Groups

You don’t have to tackle therapy all on your own. If you are comfortable talking to friends and family about your therapy journey, let them know you’re working on your mental health. Their loving support and helpful reminders can give you the energy you need to stick with therapy. Support groups for individuals in treatment can do the same.

#5: Set Time-Limited Goals

Therapy goals can seem unachievable when you feel like you should always be working on them. Instead, specify a limited amount of time you can dedicate to applying mental health help strategies daily. This will lower the mental hurdle you need to overcome to start your mental health workouts.

#6: Measure Your Progress

Going to therapy and sticking with your provider’s advice can be more challenging if you don’t have clear evidence of progress. Because progress often builds slowly and progressively, you might not notice it right away.   Mental health is not linear. Unlike healing a broken bone, therapy progress is not always straightforward. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up on measuring progress. Ask your therapist to provide regular evaluations to see how you’re doing. If you’re getting better, that’ll motivate you to keep going.


If you’re not, that’s a reason to change things up (see tips #8 and #9)

#7 Celebrate Your Wins

“Making progress, especially in therapy, is a big deal,” shares Julia Lopez, brand manager at Heading Health. “I remember the first time I told my husband about a therapy break though I had I was so nervous! He celebrated with me. So when you see yourself getting better, celebrate it – maybe its not with your partner but perhaps your best friend or another trusted person.” 


Do something fun with your friends, or reward yourself with a self-care day. You may even share your therapy breakthrough with someone you trust. 


This will help you recognize mental health progress as the achievement it really is and allow you to feel more positively about putting in the hard work. 

#8: Try a Different Form of Therapy

From cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to psychoanalysis, therapists utilize various therapies to help guide their clients’ treatments. When you start therapy, your therapist will decide which strategies to use as primary tools in your mental wellness journey. However, no treatment works for everyone; sometimes, adjustments must be made. 


Let your provider know if you are having trouble sticking with treatment, and they can decide whether it would make sense to try a different type of therapy. Many therapists are skilled in many modalities, and draw from a range of theories to personalize their approach with clients. They will probably be really glad when you take this level of interest in your care and their approach. Therapy is intended to be collaborative. 

#9: Look for a Different Therapist

Even if you’re trying out the right therapy, it might not work as well if it’s not coming from the right therapist for you. Research has shown that patient-therapist fit matters, including when it comes to how well patients adhere to treatment. If you don’t connect with your therapist, you may be less likely to attend your appointments and listen to their advice. This can mean you need to find a new provider who you’re more likely to like and relate to.

#10: Ask if Medication Would Help

While therapy can be incredibly impactful on its own, studies have found that it often works best when combined with medication or other biological interventions, such as ketamine or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Among other things, these tools can boost your motivation, providing you with the extra energy you need to stick with therapy.

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anxiety Blog depression therapy wellness

Stress Can Be Good for You: Here’s How

Stress Can Be Good for You. Here's How

December 30, 2022

Stress is generally seen as an undesirable state to be avoided whenever possible. It feels bad, can interfere with attention and productivity, and, when experienced chronically, may harm the body and lead to mental illnesses, including depression and generalized anxiety. 


Despite stress’s bad reputation, its effects aren’t universally harmful, and there may be some downsides to a completely stress-free life. Learning when stress is good and why can help you identify when it might be working in your favor and when to get rid of it.

What Is Stress?

Before it’s possible to see how and why stress can be good, it’s important to understand what stress is. 


Generally, when discussing mental health, we are referring to what’s called psychological stress, which is an ordinarily unpleasant feeling of arousal or tension you experience in response to a negative or challenging circumstance. For example, you may feel stressed about your looming work deadline or financial pressures. 


Sometimes, when experts discuss the effects of stress, they are talking about physiological or biological stress, which refers to the physical changes that occur in the body in response to actual or perceived danger, such as an increased heart rate, dilated pupils, or the release of stress hormones. 


‘Stress’ can also refer to circumstances or situations that cause or warrant stress. For example, we may say of someone, “They are dealing with a lot of stress right now,” when we mean they are in a stressful situation. Here, ‘stress’ is more synonymous with ‘pressure.’


Experts aren’t always clear about which type of stress they are referring to, though they often have psychological stress in mind. 

What is Stress Good for?

There is a reason our bodies evolved a stress response, and it’s not because feeling stressed is always bad for us. When experienced in moderate amounts for short periods. 

Stress Serves as a Wellness Threat Detector

Perhaps one of the most obvious benefits of stress is that it can direct our attention toward and make us care about threats to our well-being. If your ancestors didn’t feel stressed when encountering a dangerous animal in the wild, they might not have known or felt compelled to avoid or attack it.

While the nature of the threats may have changed, our danger detection system lives alive and well in our feelings of psychological stress. They remain an important signal from our bodies that a situation or something about it might be bad for us.

Stress Can Improve Performance

Having no stress at all isn’t always a good thing when it comes to skills and tasks. According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, optimal performance occurs between no pressure and high pressure in a goldilocks zone, where attention, motivation, and alertness are increased. For example, while a next-day deadline might result in crippling anxiety that prevents you from making progress, no deadline at all might mean you never complete the project. Stress Can Enhance Your Memory

In some instances, our brains appear to respond to stressful experiences by growing or reorganizing in a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity to better respond to similar situations in the future.


Memory is a good example of this. Animal studies show the brains of mice that underwent a stress test grew new neurons and performed better on learning and memory tests. Dr. Daniele Kaufer, an associate professor at UC Berkeley who studies the biology of stress, shares:


“[This] makes sense from an adaptive point of view.[…] If an animal encounters a predator and manages to escape, it’s important to remember where and when that encounter happened to avoid it in the future. If you’re walking down an alley and somebody threatens you, it’s important to remember exactly where you were in order to avoid that alley in the future.” 

Stress Can Build Your Stress-Resilience Muscles

Stress is often a challenging, unpleasant experience. While we’d all like to avoid it as much as possible, the reality is that no life is stress-free. So how do we learn to manage it better?


As with any skill, practice is essential. In the case of stress, repeated exposure to a particular stressor can reduce how stressed it makes you feel over time. This response pattern forms the basis of one of the most commonly utilized psychological therapies, called exposure therapy, which encourages individuals to confront a fear or obsession until it becomes more tolerable. 


“Stressful experiences can help you learn how to better cope with stress in the future,” shares Andrea Marquez LCSW, an Austin-Texas-based therapist here at Heading Heading. “They can show you what you’re capable of managing on your own so that the next time you encounter the same stressor, you’re better able to respond to it calmly and effectively.”

Stress Can Strengthen Your Immune System

Perhaps more surprising than the beneficial effects of stress on the mind are its healing effects on the body. While we can get an intuitive sense of how stress might help us prepare for danger or feel extra motivated to complete tasks, it’s a little harder to see how it might benefit us at a biological level.


Despite this, researchers argue that stress can be good for the body. For example, experiments have revealed that acute, short-term stress can improve immune responses to vaccinations, woundings, and infections. 

How Do I Know When Stress is Good or Bad?

While stress can improve memory, attention, immune function, stress tolerance, and more, it can do just the opposite. Whether or not a particular stressful feeling or circumstance is beneficial will ultimately depend on several individual factors, meaning there’s no one-size-fits-all test for separating the good stress from the bad. However, there are a few good rules of thumb. 

It Didn’t Last For A While

The benefits of stress are limited to brief exposures to it. If the stress you are feeling is sustained, it may be doing more harm than good. 

It Stops When the Stressor is Gone

Stress that sticks around after the danger or threat is gone is typically bad news.

It Feels Good

While stress usually feels bad, it isn’t always an unpleasant experience. For example, the stress of a workout may feel pleasurable. So, if the pressure you are experiencing feels good, that’s a sign that it might be good for your mind and body. 

You Feel Competent, Capable, and In Control

Stress tends to be less pronounced, shorter, and more beneficial when we have positive beliefs about our ability to problem solve in general or for the specific situation that is causing us stress.

You Feel Motivated But Not Overwhelmed

As we learned from the Yerkes-Dodson Law, some stress is necessary for optimal performance. But how much is suitable for any person depends on various factors from skill level to personality to confidence. So how much is enough for you? 


“A good rule of thumb is that you feel motivated but not overwhelmed,” shares Patricia Hernandez LCSW. “That way, you’ll have the energy to complete your tasks without the harmful effects of rumination and anxiety.”  

You Have a Strong Social Support Network

Social support can help ensure stress has a positive impact in various ways. For one thing, a solid social group can help you feel in control of your circumstances and better able to handle whatever stressors come your way. On top of that, social interactions can cause the release of oxytocin, which research suggests protects against the adverse effects of stress. 

You’re in a Stressful Situation

Feelings and emotions can be warranted or appropriate. For example, it “makes sense” to feel happy when something is good for you. We can evaluate stress in the same way. If you are stressed about genuinely stressful situations, then it’s more likely to be of the helpful variety. However, if your stress seems out of line with your circumstances, it’s probably not doing you any favors. 


While stress is often an uncomfortable, harmful feeling, we experience it for a reason. As a result, it’s no surprise that there’s a positive side to stress. For example, it can:


  • Alert you to threats to your well-being
  • Improve your alertness, motivation, and overall performance
  • Enhance your memory
  • Increase your stress resilience
  • Improve your immune function


The problem with stress is that it can hurt the same things it helps, raising the question, how do you know when stress is good? Stress is more likely to be beneficial when:


  • It doesn’t last for long
  • It goes away when the stressor is gone
  • It feels good
  • You feel competent and capable
  • You feel motivated but not overwhelmed
  • You have a solid social support system
  • You’re in a genuinely stressful situation
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Want to find out if Heading is right for you? 

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