Best Ways to Avoid Depression Relapse
Recovering from depression is a long and difficult journey.
Unfortunately, 50% of people who have one major episode of depression will relapse, and the likelihood goes up if you’ve had more than one episode, says Eve A. Wood, MD, medical director of the Eating Disorder Center of Denver and author of 10 Steps to Take Charge of Your Emotional Life.
Your relapse risk can vary, depending on the severity of your symptoms and family history.
The good news is that there are some steps that may help you avoid depression relapse.
Don’t take on too much
While staying busy isn’t a problem, doing too much, too soon could be.
Feeling overwhelmed creates stress, and stress is a risk factor for depression, says Nancy Irwin, PsyD, author of You-Turn: Changing Direction in Midlife. What’s more, stressful experiences can make the symptoms of anxiety and depression additionally severe.
“Thwart stress by creating balance and knowing your limits,” Irwin says. “If you are prone to depression, this is your responsibility—just like brushing your teeth or obeying the speed limits.”
One of the best ways to prevent depression? Exercise.
“Exercise appears to be an antidepressant in its own right and may act like an antidote to stress,” says Gerard Sanacora, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Yale University and director of the Yale Depression Research Program, in New Haven, Conn.
A 2009 analysis found that exercise lightens depression as well as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or antidepressants.
A resistance and aerobic combo seems better than aerobic exercise alone. Workouts with a meditative focus, such as tai chi and yoga, also help, according to a 2008 study.
Work on a positive attitude
Is your glass half empty? It can help to try to have a more positive attitude.
In fact, certain depression treatments, such as CBT, can help you develop a more upbeat outlook—although this treatment doesn’t work for everyone.
“Not all respond to CBT interventions,” says Dr. Wood. “The underlying philosophy of CBT is that the thoughts are what cause the distress and if you change the thoughts you can change the depression, but that’s true for only a subset of people.”
Take care of your health
Now is the time to focus on both your mental and physical health, because the mind-body connection plays a role in depression and relapse.
“The more we take care of ourselves, the less vulnerable we might become to depression, as well as to a recurrence,” says Dr. Wood.
Depression is associated with a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes.
“There’s very good evidence that people with depression have higher rates of medical illnesses than people without depression, and the more medical illnesses you have, the more likely you are to have depression and to relapse,” explains Dr. Sanacora.
Put off big decisions
You may feel like a new person, but it’s not the time to make major changes—even ones that you think will make you happier.
“Both good and bad ‘big decisions’ are stressful,” says Susan L. Marusak, MD, research physician and clinical faculty at the Mood Disorder Research Program at UCLA Medical Center and a private practitioner, in Santa Monica, Calif. “I often advise patients to wait, if they can, until they are feeling stable and euthymic before making a major life-changing decision.”
Irwin recommends putting off big decisions until you’re at least a six on a happiness scale of one to ten (where zero is misery and ten is elation).