Recognising and Managing a Depression Relapse

Recovering from depression is rarely a smooth ride. We might have days, weeks or even months when we feel like we’re back on top, but at some point, we’re likely to face dips. It’s normal, and part of the game depression plays with us, but it can feel like a disaster – like we’re back where we started. So how can we recognise the signs of a relapse or dark time, and what can we do to manage it?

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There are two main things to remember, and helpfully they rhyme: self-aware and self-care. The sooner you become aware of the warning signs, the sooner you can take action to look after yourself.

Here are some of the tell-tale warning signs:

Not enough sleep

You might find you’re struggling to get to sleep, or that you’re waking up during the night and can’t get back to sleep. You might realise that you’re always tired.

Lurching and stressed out

Are you always flying by the seat of your pants from one thing to another? Is your daily life a constant rush? There are times we can’t avoid this, but if it continues for several weeks, the tiredness and tension will have an impact on your health – and you might not realise it at first.

A little stress in our lives can be a positive thing – in the short term, it can give us the motivation and adrenaline to get things done. But if you’re always tense and stressed out, and it continues unchecked, it can pave the way for depression to get in on the action.

Anxious and afraid

If you notice you’re worrying more than usual and you’re feeling on edge a lot of the time, this can be another clear sign that you need to take action – especially if you find you’re not looking forward to anything, or have a feeling of dread.

Negative self-talk

Are you always telling yourself that you ‘must’, ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ do something? Do you tell yourself that you ‘can’t’ do something, or that something ‘always’ or ‘never’ happens to you? Do you beat yourself up for getting something wrong? These thoughts can lead you into a negative spiral that’s hard to escape from.

Physical symptoms

We talk about mental health, but there are physical signs too, which commonly include frequent headaches or an upset stomach. You might recognise other symptoms too.

Neglecting self-care

Maybe you know what you need to do to look after yourself, but you think it’ll be OK if you do it another time. If you’re thinking that, it’s probably the exact right time to do it.

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So what can you do?

The first thing is that you’ve noticed – and now you’ve done that, it’s time to take some steps to look after yourself.

Plan some ‘you time’

It’s important to find time for something you enjoy doing, and which helps you to relax – you could rediscover a hobby, plan a day off to be by yourself or with a friend or partner… Whatever you would enjoy most. It doesn’t have to involve doing anything much.

We heard a phrase recently that made a lot of sense to us: “People are human beings, not human doings.” In other words, we can’t think or do all the time – we’re just not built that way. Everyone needs time to switch off. There are some apps you can try to help you relax.

Positive self-talk

If you’ve been putting yourself down, beating yourself up and generally being your own worst critic, you’re not alone – we know what that’s like. It wears us down and erodes our confidence. But we have to try to remember that what we tell ourselves isn’t true. What we tell ourselves is important – look out for those thoughts, and read our tips for building self-esteem. Start off with a rule for yourself: if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself.

Talk to someone

If you think you might be heading for a relapse, tell someone about it. Don’t allow it to become a secret – depression thrives on secrecy. Get as much support as you’re comfortable with.

Find inspiration

Different things work for different people, and it can be hard to know where to start. It can be overwhelming to try and process information amongst the noise in our heads. But help is at hand – try our self-care starter kit to get some straightforward inspiration.

Do you have any tips for recognising warning signs or for self-care? We’d love to hear them!

Sharing is caring: please share this post to help others, you never know who might need it. 

  • Colette

    I have been recovering from a severe episode of depression last year which I have completed CBT and had my medication levelled. Over the last few months life has felt good and felt that I was really feeling well again. Then over the last few days I’ve felt the cloud come over and struggling to keep it together. My employer are really supportive and I have flexible working in place but don’t know if taking time off again after having a whole year off last year would be seen as unreasonable and may affect my career ? Do relapses happen like this and so rapid? Will this part of who I am now and get ill easily?

  • J Brown

    I think coming to terms with the fact there will be relapses helped me, To begin with I would beat myself up, thinking I had failed everyone AGAIN. Knowing there are other people going through the same thing definitely stops me being so hard on myself. The tips given and knowing I can come back to the site whenever I need it is so helpful along with the daily posts.

    • Clare23911

      Completely agree – feel like a failure every time I relapse but knowing that this happens to other people makes me feel less alone and I’m a bit easier on myself. Take care x

  • Sarah Todd

    I have been through so so many relapses in the years since 1993. My early warning signs are not having the energy to put my contacts in (also eyes hurt too much) and having no desire to buy flowers to decorate my home. But I have had many years when these have applied the entire year. The tips above are SO practical. CBT has helped me to identify my negative self talk and replace it with balanced thoughts, as has DBT (planning what to do in the stressful situation I am unable to extract myself from) but the only thing that gives me hope that I may not relapse again is that my life circumstances are changing. Also, read Tim Cantopher’s “Stress Induced Depressive Illness” about how to get that balance in life. It’s a bible for me. HUGS!