Warning signs and relapse prevention

Exercise and adopting a generally healthy lifestyle are often key factors credited with helping to sustain good mental health. Naturally, most people who are coming to the end of psychological therapy are keen to maintain their improved health; what is not so commonly cited is the benefit of knowing your own particular warning signs.

Recovered alcoholics are all too aware of the triggers that can pose a threat to maintaining a sober lifestyle. Willpower can be helpful in some cases, but faced with a Christmas party or a sudden life crisis, the recovered alcoholic can find themselves once again staring their demons in the eye. Even our thoughts can blind us in times of stress and worry, the idea that we can be ‘cured’ for life is misleading. It would be wise to keep in the back of our minds that we all have our vulnerabilities and though they may not haunt us in our day-to-day lives any more, they have shown themselves to be extremely powerful and deserve a degree of respect and caution as we move forward.

Any therapist worth their salt, will dedicate sufficient time towards the end of therapy for the client to explore their own ‘warning signs’: essentially emotional, physical and behavioural signs that might indicate a step towards that slippery slope. Maintaining good mental health is just that; a maintenance job, that in itself can prove rewarding as a reminder of how well one we are doing.

The less conspicuous warning signs can often be difficult to spot in order to swiftly nip them in the bud. These include sleep disturbance following a period of relative stability, weight gain or loss, physical aches and pains and even a period of elated mood that is not common to the individual despite all the positive feelings that come with it.

Relapse prevention is often best supported by checking in from time to time with a trusted clinician for a mental MOT. The simple act of keeping a diary with a view to reviewing day-to-day observations that might be impacting on our mood can also be extremely useful.

As someone who struggles with mental health issues, I am all too aware of the importance of keeping an eye on any signs that have in the past snowballed and led to a drop in self-esteem and a fear of relapse. In no way do I live my life under the microscope of these fears, scrutinizing my every move, rather, I take each day for what it brings with an awareness that just as life can be unpredictable so too can my moods. I own my vulnerabilities as well as my strengths and this alone makes me feel all the more confident moving forward.