How to Prevent Mental Health Relapse During a Stressful Time

January 28, 2020 Megan Griffith

In addition to recovering from mental illness, it's also important for us to learn how to prevent mental health relapse in times of stress. Lately, my mental health has been doing really well. I've put in a lot of work, and it's finally paying off, but recently, some family stress has put all of my progress to the test. I've noticed a lot of my typical mental illness symptoms struggling to reemerge, to rear their ugly heads and completely derail my life. Luckily, I've managed to keep them to a minimum and prevent a full-on mental health relapse. I thought it would be helpful to share how I'm managing to prevent relapse.

How to Manage Symptoms to Prevent Mental Health Relapse

To me, mental illness relapse is when our symptoms reemerge to a degree that it significantly impacts our life in some way. Even if you have a disorder you can never fully "recover" from, you might learn to manage your symptoms so they don't control your life anymore; but when relapse happens, the symptoms take over again. These tips can help you stay healthy and safe, preventing mental health relapse, even as you go through a stressful time.

  1. Create healthy boundaries when it comes to the stressor. If you notice your symptoms returning in the wake of a significant stressor, one way to combat relapse is to build healthy boundaries around the stressor. For instance, give yourself an hour at the end of the day to worry about the stressor and try not to let yourself ruminate it throughout the rest of the day. You could also journal about the stressor or call a trusted friend during that hour of worry time. If others try to discuss the stressor with you outside of your worry time, politely ask them if they can call back later. Try to maintain some semblance of normalcy for yourself to maintain the good mental health you've been building toward.
  2. Take extra time for self-care. Make sure you're doing things to take care of yourself and show yourself kindness. As a new mom, I don't have a ton of time for self-care, but right now I'm making sure I take the time for it. Taking care of myself will help me prevent relapse and that will make me a better mom, so it is worth it. Unexpectedly, I found that taking the car through the car wash is surprisingly relaxing. I highly recommend it, so long as you aren't too claustrophobic.
  3. Find ways to escape fight/flight/freeze mode. When something stressful happens, it can trigger your fight, flight, or freeze response and make you feel unsafe, which can bring back some unhelpful coping mechanisms from your past. It's important to work with your body to calm down enough to exit this state of mind so you don't end repeating unhealthy patterns triggered by these feelings. Exercise is one good way to help your body return to a less agitated state, but if you're frozen and can't get your body to move, try talking to yourself like a child. Comfort that child and know that you deserve to feel safe.

If You Can't Prevent Mental Health Relapse, It Is Okay

Sometimes, even when we do our best to reduce our symptoms and prevent mental health relapse, it can happen anyway. I want you to know that this does not mean you have failed. I promise. Mental health relapse is an incredibly normal part of recovery. Recovery is not linear, and there are going to be lots of ups and downs along the way.

Sometimes you'll feel like you're on top of the world, doing better than you ever have, but then other times it might feel like you've made no progress at all. I understand this can be frustrating, but resist the temptation to get upset with yourself over it. You are doing your best, and I think that's wonderful.

How are you preventing mental health relapse? Share your thoughts in the comments.

APA Reference
Griffith, M. (2020, January 28). How to Prevent Mental Health Relapse During a Stressful Time, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 24 from

Author: Megan Griffith

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