Seven Ways to Avoid a Relapse of Depression
If you’ve had an episode of depression in the past, your chances of having another episode are about 50%. And if you’ve had two episodes of depression, your chances of another episode rise to about 80%. Depression is inherently miserable and no one wants to weather another episode. If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, there is even more at stake, since depression is a major driver of addictive behavior. The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce your chances of another episode of depression or reduce the severity of an approaching episode if you are able to catch it early.
1. Know Your Patterns
First, it’s important to know your patterns and triggers. Typically, the first episode of depression is triggered by something--a traumatic event, major stress, grief, and so on--and that can give you a clue to what might cause a relapse. Stressful events like having a baby, moving, a breakup or divorce, losing a job, getting a promotion, and so on are all things to watch out for.
Many people are also affected by seasonal changes, especially as winter approaches and the days get shorter. This is known as seasonal affective disorder and it can happen in the summer too. Finally, anniversaries are often a problem. It could be the anniversary of the death of a loved one or the first holiday after a divorce. Knowing your triggers and taking extra precautions can help prevent a relapse of depression.
2. Keep Track of What Works
Second, keep track of what works. If you had help from a therapist to get through your earlier episode, you have a headstart in this regard. Depression is different for everyone and it appears to have a variety of possible causes, which means it also has a variety of solutions. It’s a good idea to keep a record of what works for you someplace you can easily reference it.
For example, some people do really well on one kind of medication but not another. You may discover that there are two or three kinds of cognitive distortions that cause most of your problems. It can be hard to keep track of all these things so make a list and consult it often.
3. Stick to Your Treatment Plan
If you worked with a therapist during previous depressive episodes, you probably worked out a recovery plan, even if it wasn’t strictly codified. It might involve taking an SSRI, keeping up with therapy, making some healthy lifestyle changes, and so on. As you start to feel better, it’s tempting to start cutting corners.
You might be able to coast for a while but it will eventually catch up to you, especially if you suddenly have to deal with a lot of stress. Sticking to your treatment plan--or going back to it as soon as possible--is the single best way of preventing a relapse of depression.
4. Stay Connected
One common early symptom that depression is coming back is that you don’t want to be around anyone. People ask you if you want to go out but you’d just rather stay home. You feel like you can’t be bothered. Unfortunately, isolation is one of the things that will make you spiral down the fastest. The worse you feel, the more you want to be alone.
Staying connected is one of the best ways to improve your mood and feel better about yourself. It’s especially important when you feel tempted to isolate yourself. It’s crucial to resist that temptation, even if you’re only texting with friends and family.
5. Talk to Your Therapist
These days, psychotherapy isn’t typically like psychoanalysis, where you go every day for years. A course of cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, might only last a few months. It tends to be more targeted to specific solutions and when those goals are met, there’s no reason to continue meeting. However, you shouldn’t hesitate to resume therapy if you feel like you might be heading for another episode of depression.
The earlier you see your therapist, the better. Often, just feeling somehow “off” can be a sign that depression is returning. Maybe you feel irritable or that mundane tasks are extremely frustrating. It’s better to talk things over when you’re not sure exactly what’s wrong rather than wait until you’re in the middle of a crippling episode of depression.
6. Boost Your Mood
When you’re already in the middle of an episode of depression, advice like “Cheer up,” “get out of the house,” “do something fun” sounds hopelessly oblivious but if the feelings of depression have just started creeping in, a little boost in mood can go a long way. There are many ways to change your mental state. You can listen to music, go for a walk, go out with friends, watch something funny, do something creative, or try something new.
If you can, travel is often a great way to change your state. Even a short trip to a new place can interrupt a downward spiral. The key is to figure out what works for you and add it to the list, as discussed above. Having a few go-to tactics for improving your mood can make the difference between being in a bad mood for a day or two and being depressed for months.
7. Take Care of Yourself
Self-care is extremely important for avoiding depression, avoiding a relapse of substance use, and for staying happy and healthy in general. The three main pillars of self-care are a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and regular exercise. These all help reduce your sensitivity to stress, help you regulate your emotions, boost your mood, and reduce inflammation, which is a factor in more than half of depression cases.
In addition to these, it’s also important to take time each day to relax and do something fun, even just for a few minutes. Spending time with friends and family, as discussed above, is also an important aspect of self-care.
Depression is a major risk factor for substance use and it is also very likely to return after you’ve had one episode. Fortunately, it’s not guaranteed to return. If you know your patterns and triggers, are aware of early warning signs, and take action early, you can avoid future episodes or at least reduce their severity.
At The Foundry, we know that substance use is often just a symptom of other problems. Mental illness, substance use, dysfunctional family dynamics, and maladaptive behaviors all feed on each other and keep you trapped in the cycle of addiction. That’s why we emphasize mental healthcare such as CBT and DBT as well as healthy family dynamics and healthy lifestyle changes as part of our holistic treatment program. For more information, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
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