Picture this, you’ve gone through counseling, it’s been helpful, and you’ve gone several months to a year without an anxiety attack, then one day, that anxious feeling returns. It’s frustrating, right!?
This might be the first time you’re hearing the term “Mental Health Relapse,” and you might be asking yourself “what is that?” A mental health relapse is when a person has gone a period without experiencing symptoms and then they begin reexperiencing symptoms.
What causes a mental health relapse?
There are several factors that can contribute to a relapse in symptoms including situational stressors, life transitions, or behavioral changes (I.e., no longer working out, not practicing self-care etc). It’s important to know and be aware of your triggers. Common triggers might include:
- Stress: Stress causes our body to enter “fight or flight” by activating the sympathetic nervous system. Stress hormones are released into the body making a person feel as if they do not have as much control.
- Negative Thinking Patterns: Self-criticism, perceived failure and other cognitive distortions affect the way we feel and behave.
- Relationship Problems: Conflict, breakups and loss can all contribute to mental health relapses.
- Unrealistic Expectations: Sometimes we place a lot of pressure on ourselves by setting expectations or goals that we cannot meet.
- Changes in Sleep: Have your sleeping patterns changed? Perhaps you’re getting less sleep, having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
- Social Withdrawal: With in the last 2 years, isolation from others has become a norm, but we were created to be in relationship with others. Not having a strong support system or withdrawing from the one we had can add to mental health related problems.
- Substance Abuse: Drug and alcohol abuse can lead to an increase in mental health problems including depression and anxiety.
- Cycles: For some, anxiety is linked to their menstrual cycle, time changes, or season changes.
What can you do about a mental health relapse?
If you begin reexperiencing symptoms of anxiety (i.e. panic attack, feeling a loss of control, irrational thoughts etc), it’s important to do something immediately. The longer that symptoms persist, the more difficult it will be in the long run to get back to baseline. When you notice those symptoms returning:
- Call your counselor/therapist
- Engage with your support system
- (Re)Implement a self-care routine
- Move your body
- Prioritize Sleep
- Reframe Negative Thinking Patterns
- Practice Relaxation Skills
- Eat well
Are mental health relapses normal?
It’s important to note that life happens and we all experience ups and downs. What I remind clients is that even though they may be experiencing a “relapse,” they’ve been in counseling and have learned the skills needed to help them get through. They haven’t lost everything they’ve learned; no one can take that away.
Dealing with anxiety is uncomfortable. If you’re experiencing a mental health relapse, think about what’s been helpful in the past and then begin implementing that again. Reach out to a trusted counselor if you’re having difficulty getting back to your baseline. Remember, you are not alone!