When we hear the word “relapse,” most of us think of addiction. However, it can also refer to a relapse of moods, such as depression and anxiety, and problem behaviours. For example, you can be in a good mood but suddenly relapse back into a state of unexplained sadness or depression. Or, you may have stopped an unhealthy behaviour, like smoking, but then relapsed after a few months of success.
It’s important to remember that relapse is a part of change. When we relapse to an old behaviour, mood, or way of thinking, we gain an opportunity to master our triggers and warning signs. With this knowledge, we can improve the skills necessary for more permanent change the next time around.
Steps to Minimize (and avoid) Relapse
Here are three steps useful for preventing relapse in our lives. It summarizes a useful article I read on this topic (you can find the link below).
Step 1: Identify the warning signs. I can tell when I’m about to get a cold. Why? Because I’ve become really good at identifying the warning signs. It’s the same thing with moods and unhealthy behaviours. When you feel an unwanted change coming on, focus on the following warning signs:
• Thoughts – How do your thoughts and self-talk change with relapse? Do you start to become more pessimistic and negative about things? Do you start asking yourself self-defeating questions (What’s the point of trying to change? Why should I bother?). These kinds of questions indicates sadness, depression, or an unhealthy habit is trying to creep back in.
• Behaviours – What do other people notice when your mood or behaviour changes? For example, do you stop doing some of the things that used to interest you? Do you start to complain more? How can someone tell when you’re feeling down? What will they see?
Step 2: Take action. Here are some ways to take action and minimize relapse:
- Strengthen your coping skills – Exercise, diet, relaxation strategies, unbiased thinking. These are all tools that can help you cope with, and minimize, instances of relapse.
- Manage stressful situations – identify the people, places, and things that stress you out. Then, brainstorm some things you can do to prepare for these situations. Or, avoid these situations until you have strengthened your coping skills.
- Challenge your thoughts by writing them down. Then, ask yourself, “What are the benefits of changing?” “What would I tell my friend if that started thinking the same thoughts?”
- Start a journal. If you start writing down some of the answers to questions in Step 1, you’ll have a permanent record of ways that reduce relapses in life.
Step 3: Seek outside help when necessary. I’m grateful to have many wonderful friends and family whom I can call when I need someone to talk to. But, sometimes, friends and family are not able to provide me with the kind of answers or insights I need. That’s when I visit my therapist. The one hour I spend with her provides me with the insights I need to get back on track and continue on my path towards mind-body health. Having a psychotherapist who can challenge your thinking will help move you forward (and minimize the intensity of relapse).
Sometimes, it’s hard to follow these steps. But, remind yourself that it’s even harder on you, and your loved ones, to remain in a state of relapse.
Hope this bit of psychology helps you with your goals towards change.
Links in this post:
- Here’s a link to full article on this topic.
- Here’s a previous post on how changing your behaviour can also change your mood.
Announcement: I just sent my first book, Crossing the Line, to an editor the other day! So, it won’t be long before it goes into print. Click here to read a pretty cool story of how this all happened.