By regularly monitoring your body, mind and spirit, it is possible to identify relapse symptoms early on, before you slid back into severe depression.
Recovering from depression isn't a smooth one way process. There's lots of relapses. Relapses are okay. Relapses are part of depression. They are warning signals that you might be pushing yourself too much emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually. Relapses can be nasty, not just for you but people you care about. Having a good depression relapse safety net in place can limit the severity and duration of your relapse. Here's 5 ways to prep for a depression relapse.
Have a Plan.
Pre-planning preps everyone about what support you'll need, and provides information on who to contact if things don't go well. Your plan is an outline at best, so don't fret if you miss something. The plan starts by listing as many symptoms of not feeling good that you can think of. Next, name your triggers. This helps identify what sets a relapse in motion. Set markers for: who you want to help you, when someone should step in to help, how much help you'll need, and at what point you'll need more help than the person can give, or when you can't be trusted to take care of yourself. List your medications and therapies. Include the contact information of your doctor and mental health professional. If you believe your relapse might become severe, have arrangements in place for who'll take care of your children, household, and finances.
Know Your Triggers.
Triggers can be anything - thoughts, events, or situations that initiate symptoms of depression or anxiety. Know your triggers, big and small! The most common triggers are: poor sleep, loss or grief, conflict among loved ones, an unpleasant evening, criticism, disappointment, failure, and certain times of the year. Figure out how you could avoid your triggers. Some triggers are totally unavoidable, like upcoming calendar events or deaths. Avoid negative people if you can. You can start challenging some triggers. Hearing only the negative and ignoring the positive can be challenged by looking at the evidence, and putting aside guilt. Ask yourself if you've considered all the information, then challenge yourself to look at the situation from a different perspective.
Visit your doctor.
One of the biggest mistakes people who are depressed make is not visiting their doctor when they start feeling worse. I'm guilty of that too. Why? Because it's the assumption you're already medicated so somehow you'll be able to ride out the wave. There's also the fatigue that comes with a relapse. You really don't feel like dragging yourself off to your doctor then. But visiting your doctor can help because sometimes changing the medication levels or drug schedule is all that's needed to take you out of the relapse. It's also a good idea to check if it's the medication that's triggering the relapse. Some meds have side-effects that include suicidal thoughts and fatigue. Fatigue can cause more negative thinking, which increases your chance for a relapse.
Keep a Journal.
Early warning signs of a relapse are subtle. Journalling is a way to get your thoughts out of your head. Whether the journal is about self care, daily gratitude, or positive affirmations, it's a track record of your emotions. A journal can help spot behaviour or thinking that you might be dismissing or not noticing. Keep a list of your medications and write down any side effects or symptoms. Sometimes changing medications can trigger a relapse. Therapy can also set off triggers. Calendar events can be difficult, like the anniversary of a death or divorce, or anxiety about a medical test. Writing out your thoughts and reading them aloud can also show you "thinking traps" or where distorted thinking makes you see a situation as being worse than it might be.
Part of healthy thinking is identifying and challenging thought traps. Thought traps change the way you see a situation by overgeneralization (everything is bad), filtering (only hearing the negative and ignoring the positive), or seeing a small mistake as a massive disaster. A relapse binds you in thought traps. You see everything as bad, and focus only on the negative. You start believing you made a mistake, you'll never get back to feeling good, and depression will suck you down. Challenge this thinking by telling yourself not everything is as bad as you believe. Write down two things you like about yourself and then say them aloud. It's also a good idea to hang around with friends and family who will remind you of your positive qualities.
Recovering from depression is an ongoing process of going forward and then sliding backwards, but then moving forward again. By regularly monitoring your body, mind and spirit, it is possible to identify relapse symptoms early on, before you slid back into severe depression. You might want to ask a good friend or family member to monitor your moods, because as an objective person they won't be listening to negative thought traps. Remember, you matter.