Recovering from depression isn’t a smooth one way process. There’s lots of relapses. It’s necessary to have a depression relapse safety net in place. A good one can limit the severity and duration of your relapse. Relapses are okay. Relapses are part of depression. They are meant as warning signals that you might be pushing yourself too much emotionally, mentally, physically, or spiritually. Like a cold that sneaks up on you, a depression relapse can suddenly appear. But relapses can be nasty and leave you feeling like you’ve fallen back down depression’s deep hole. You can’t escape relapses, but you can plan ahead for one. Ask a friend or family member to monitor your mood, so they can spot the return of the dark side of depression symptoms and help you stabilize yourself. Here’s 5 ways you can get a depression relapse safety net in place.

Have a Plan.

You know a relapse will happen sooner or later, so plan ahead. 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 should outline what to do if you or someone notices warning signs of a relapse. You’ll want to list as many symptoms of not feeling good as you can think of, and be honest when you’re doing this. Write out your triggers. This can help identify what set the 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 you can’t be trusted to take care of yourself. Have a list of 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 thoughts, events, or situations that initiate symptoms of depression or anxiety. Know your triggers! The most common types of triggers are: poor sleep, loss or grief, conflict among loved ones, an unpleasant evening, criticism, disappointment, failure, and certain times of the month or year. Figure out how, or if, you can avoid your triggers. Some triggers are totally unavoidable, like calendar events or deaths. Have someone be available to help you on those dates you know are emotionally difficult. Some negative people stay negative no matter the truth of the situation. Avoid those people. Other triggers you can start to challenge. 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 they put off going to their doctor when they start feeling worse. 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 from dragging yourself off to your doctor when you’re having a relapse. Visiting your doctor will help you because sometimes changing the medication levels or drug schedule can take you right out of your relapse. It’s also good 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. Sometimes depressed people stop taking medication because they feel better, but that puts them into relapse.

Keep a Journal.

Early warning signs of a relapse are subtle. They can easily go unnoticed. Journaling is a track record of your emotions. It can help you spot behavior or thinking that you might not be noticing or dismissing. You can track your daily mood with a scale from 1 to10, with 1 representing severe depression and 10 being total joy. 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 periods, 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.

Healthy Thinking.

Depression deeply affects how you view yourself, others, and the world around you. 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 keeps you bound 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. Tell yourself not everything is as bad as you believe. Write down two things you like about yourself and then say them aloud.

Tell yourself, or have a friend tell you, relapses are normal and you will make it through. It’s also a good idea to hang around with friends and family who remind you of your positive qualities.

Recovering from depression isn’t a onetime event. It’s an ongoing process of going forward and then sliding backwards, but then going forward again. A depression relapse safety net involves having a plan, knowing your triggers, visiting your doctor, journaling and healthy thinking. 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.

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