There are a number of steps that you can take to prevent a relapse with most mental illnesses. These include medication management, lifestyle habits, environmental control, and recognition of signs and symptoms.
Medication management includes taking the right dose, at the right time. If you miss a dose, do not double up your next dose. Doing so can be harmful to your system. If you miss more than two doses, you should generally notify your physician. If you need help in remembering to take your medication, enlist a family member or friend to help you. There are weekly pillboxes available with up to 4 doses per day in them. These are useful in that you are able to set up a full week worth of medication, take a single dose at a time, and always know if a dose has been taken. Medication should be stored in a cool, dry place, not kept in the hot places such as the car or bright sunlight for extended lengths of time. Understand what the medication is supposed to do for you, and the side effects of your medication. Your pharmacist and doctor can both explain these to you. You and your support system can watch for these effects so you can accurately report back to your doctor.
Lifestyle habits are an essential part of maintaining good mental health. There are obvious choices we can make such as not drinking alcohol and not taking street drugs. There are less obvious choices in the meals we choose to eat. The more balanced and healthful our diet, the more healthy our bodies will be, and the more energy we will have, which can positively impact our mental health. In addition, caffeine is a stimulant that can affect the mental processes and affect the medications which we are on. It should be taken in moderation. Daily exercise, from walking to more vigorous aerobic activities that we engage in, releases the body’s natural endorphins which stimulate better mental health. Adequate rest or sleep, without excess is also a necessary component of our daily lifestyle. Too little sleep can tend to make a person with bipolar disorder manic, for instance, while excessive sleep can make it difficult for a depressed person to climb out of the well of depression.
Finally, take time out for yourself in the form of relaxation, whether it be reading, meditating, yoga, warm baths, or any other quiet activity. You can control your environment, to some extent. Daily structure is essential, from a schedule of time to get up to meals to productive activities to relaxation – don’t schedule large blocks of time with nothing to do. Even small tasks are useful when first recovering. While scheduling your day, attempt to keep the stimulation around you to a level which is comfortable. This stimulation comes in the form of literal noise, of numbers of people around you, of tasks to do, of emotions you experience (from a heart-wrenching movie for example). You need a certain amount of stimulation, but not too much so as to overwhelm yourself. Finally, learn your own signs and symptoms of relapse. Charting is the ideal way to do this. Through learning your own signs and symptoms, you are able to begin to see when you are starting to slide into a relapse. Your beginning signs, once you have them mastered will not change much, and are very good indicators to you that you need to take proactive steps to prevent yourself from a full relapse.