To prevent a relapse, it is useful to know what the possible triggers may be, what the early warning signs are for relapse, and what to do if early warning signs are present.
Recovering from any physical or emotional illness or changing long-standing patterns of thoughts and behaviours takes time. People experience ups and downs along the way. Having setbacks both during and after therapy is a normal part of the change process. There are ways to reduce the impact of setbacks and prevent relapses from occurring.
Identifying and monitoring your early warning signs
Early warning signs are changes in feelings, thinking, or behaviour which signal that anxiety is starting to take hold again. These changes often happen slowly and can be noticed well ahead of an actual relapse. Common early signs are changes in sleeping or eating patterns, isolating yourself from others, difficulty concentrating, feeling more anxious or irritated than usual, avoidance behaviours, and being more unmotivated or less energetic than usual.
Make your early warning signs as specific as possible—your Certified Hypnotherapist can help you with this. Your Hypnotherapist will also be able to help you distinguish between symptoms that you can manage on your own and symptoms that signal the need for more help.
Being aware of situations that cause you to stress
You well know that stress is a part of life. But, if stress becomes too overwhelming or too intense it makes it difficult to manage your feelings, thoughts, behaviours, and life in general. So, it is important to be aware of what situations cause you the most stress so that you can do something about it. Some situations that can cause stress are relationship problems, loss of employment, lacking a stable place to live, meeting new people, and being around critical people.
Being aware of what increases your vulnerability to stress and anxiety
Factors that can increase your vulnerability to stress and anxiety include being physically unwell, lacking sleep, being overworked, not maintaining a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise), and not communicating your wants and needs. If you are feeling higher tension, stress, or anxiety, this is probably a sign that you need to take better care of yourself.
Identifying strengths that can assist in managing stress and anxiety
Everyone has personal strengths that help them cope, interact with others, ask for help, and survive. Write down your strengths as well as how they have helped you in the past and how they can help you through challenging times in the future.
Regular practice of new skills
You have learned new skills to help you manage stress and anxiety, both in general and in specific situations. Maybe you found some strategies more helpful than others. Write down the skills and strategies that most effectively help you to manage your stress and anxiety so that you can refer to it whenever you need it.
Some strategies you may find helpful are talking to someone about it, limiting contact with certain stressful situations or certain people, positive self-talk, practicing breathing and relaxation exercises, etc. Since stress, anxiety, and fear are part of life, it is important to continue to practise your new skills on a regular basis and deal with the setbacks that normally occur.
Taking medication as prescribed
If you are taking prescribed medication, take it as prescribed and only reduce or increase medication with your doctor’s supervision.
Building a support network
Support networks include all types of relationships—what is important is to develop and maintain relationships with people that are friendly, understanding, and supportive. It is helpful to have a list of people to contact for support if you start noticing early warning signs or you are finding it difficult to cope. Your support network may include family members, friends, doctor, people in your local community, and people you work with.
Accessing resources in your community
Sometimes going straight from therapy to being on your own can be quite challenging and scary. There are many resources in the community that can provide you with a supportive transition period or even ongoing support. Resources in the community include support groups, educational courses, social groups, telephone support, and counselling services.
Developing a prevention plan
Once you have identified your early warning signs, stress triggers, and coping strategies and supports, it is useful to write it down. That way you will be able to refer back to it whenever you wish, you can show your plan to others, and you can take charge of your mental health.
This article was adapted from the Dealing with Stress and Anxiety Program of the Clinique d’hypnothérapie et de relation d’aide which is based on the work of Lillian Nejad, PhD and Katerina Volny BSc.
When choosing a hypnotherapist, it is important to be sure that he or she is qualified. Pierre Benoit, CHt, RCCH, is a member of the Association of Registered Clinical Hypnotherapists of Canada (ARCH) and of the International Medical and Dental Hypnotherapy Association (IMDHA) and can be reached at (514)472-3535.