3 Simple Steps to Beating Your Mental Health Relapse

 anxious woman dressed for winter staring into distance with river in background

If you have ever experienced any sort of mental health challenge, then I bet you’ll know these feelings well.

The past few weeks, you’ve been killin’ it.  

Your self-care game is on point.

You’ve been meditating and exploring your thoughts by journaling.

And you’re eating healthy and exercising regularly.  

You’re no longer procrastinating on important tasks, and your self-esteem is rising.  

You feel like you’re finally figured out this whole mental health thing.

And then, one day, it all comes crashing down.

You feel the familiar constricting claws of anxiety in your chest and the depression has made you unable to move very far from the comfort of your bed.

You’re having a mental health relapse.

It’s terrifying, and it feels like all the work you’ve done to improve your mental health - all the exercises, the emotional unpacking of your issues, and the challenging process of building new, healthy habits - has been for nothing.

Here’s the good news: you’re completely wrong.

A mental health relapse does not mean you’ve failed or that you’re broken.  In fact, periods of relapse are an excellent time for self-care, reflection, and evaluation of your relationship with yourself.

In this post, you’re going to learn 3 simple steps for beating your mental health relapse so you can bounce back bigger, better, happier, and healthier than before.

1) Realize What’s Happening

Every person’s thought pattern is different when experiencing a relapse.  I thought I’d share mine to see if you vibe with it.

First, I experience a huge drop off in my motivation and productivity.  Then, the familiar constriction in my chest starts building, and my thoughts begin to spiral towards the negative.

I start worrying about aspects of my life that I was confident about just a few days before.

I try to attribute the physical and mental feelings of depression and anxiety to situations in my life to try and figure out what’s wrong.

Am I feeling anxious because of my relationship?
Am I sad and lacking confidence because of how my body looks?
Should I be worrying about the state of my bank account?

(Spoiler alert: the only thing that’s off is my brain chemistry.)

At this point, it’s very easy to become wrapped up in the sadness and anxiety of a relapse.

Instead of continuing to allow the negative spiral of my thoughts, I’ve worked at recognizing what’s actually happening - that I’m having a mental health relapse.  I’ve been able to build this skill through mindfulness and meditation.

When I attribute the physical feelings and negative thoughts to a mental health relapse, it takes away a lot of the panic.

I can recognize that I don’t have to spend time trying to fix something in my life to get rid of the feelings.  Instead, I trust that they’ll go away on their own.

And while I wait for the feelings to go away (and they always do, I promise) it’s time to…

2) Get Cozy

 woman caring for mental health by sitting on couch with coffee cup and dog

A mental health relapse is just a sign that you deserve a break.  Just like how a cold or the flu seems to show up when you’ve been slacking on self care or have been super stressed, a mental health relapse is the exact same thing.

Do whatever you can to make yourself as comfortable as possible. You can:

  • Take a shower and put on fresh PJs

  • Make sure you’re well hydrated

  • Take a break from work, just like you would if you had a physical sickness

  • Watch a movie or read a book

Try to make your mental health relapse as relaxing, enjoyable, and kind to yourself as possible.

Remember: you’re dealing with mental illness.  You deserve a freakin’ break.

While you’re getting cozy, be sure to evaluate your self-care routine and continue following it.

However, it’s not essential to continue all your self-care activities while you’re relapsed.  For example, if part of your self-care is a daily high-intensity workout, it might be pretty difficult to continue to have that motivation when your body aches with depression.

Look for areas where you can make lower-intensity substitutions, instead of giving up on healthy habits altogether.

You could substitute your daily workout with some light stretching or a yoga video.  There are tons of them available for free on YouTube.

Sometimes when I feel like garbage, all I want to do is eat pizza in my bed.  When I’m relapsed, I don’t fight this urge, but I make sure I’m snacking on lots of fruit and drinking plenty of water to balance it out.

By continuing to take care of yourself in a manageable way during a relapse, you’ll not only keep in the habit of your self-care, you’ll also build some much-needed self-confidence.

Once you’ve gotten comfy, the last thing you need to do is…

3) Know It Will Pass

In the middle of a mental health relapse, it can feel like it will last forever.

It won’t, I promise.

Remind yourself as often as possible that these feelings - and all feelings - are temporary.

If I’m feeling particularly discouraged or stuck then I like to make little signs and post them around my house.  Some of my favorites say “This will pass” and “It’s only chemical”.

The more you work to remind yourself of the temporary status of your situation, the easier it will be to remember.  The next time you relapse might not be as uncomfortable as the relapse you’re currently experiencing.

If, however, the feelings become too heavy or the relapse lasts too long, be sure to tell your mental health professional to figure out what’s going on.

Mental health relapses are uncomfortable, frustrating, and discouraging.  They are also very common and a normal part of the mental health recovery process.

When we allow ourselves to experience and accept the feelings of a relapse - instead of panicking, fighting them, or trying to attribute them to a situation in our lives - they become easier to bear.

The next time you experience a mental health relapse, remember to:

  1. Realize What’s Happening

  2. Get Comfy

  3. Know It Will Pass

These three steps are just the beginning of how you can train your brain to constructively handle and overcome anxious and depressed feelings.  I’ve created the Mental Makeover Challenge so your education and improvement doesn’t stop here.

The challenge is made up of four videos sent directly to you over four days.  In the first video you’ll learn about the big happiness misconception that’s making so many people miserable.  Could you be one of them? CLICK HERE to watch the first video and find out.


Hannah Thomas is a writer, entrepreneur, and adventurer.  Originally from Canada, she now lives in Costa Rica because being bipolar is more manageable with a tan.  She writes about self discovery, personal development, and mental health recovery at BeDeeplyHappy.com.