You are no stranger to emotional distress. You have been down this path before and worked hard to get through it last time. Vowing that you NEVER wanted to feel that way again and wouldn’t let yourself ‘slip’ back into those old symptoms or behaviors.
But it happened and here you are. You’ve had a mental health flare up. These types of flare ups can catch you off guard, be super frustrating and downright scary. You may wonder: What about all the progress I thought I made? Has that gone away? Was that all for nothing? Will this just keep happening over and over again?
First thing first: Take a second to BREATHE. Mental health flare ups can be completely normal, and part of the healing and growing process, no matter what you’re dealing with. Progress is not a straight line or an easy path for most people. It’s much like the example of a child learning to walk, they fall down, ALOT, but they keep getting back up and trying again. Their pride is hurt, their scared, their bum is a bit sore, but they STILL get up eventually, and try again.
So what does a mental health flare up look like?
Flare ups may seem like a set back or slip up in your progress, but they don’t necessarily mean that. Flare ups look like the surfacing of some or all of the mental health symptoms that you’ve been processing and working through. Sometimes things seem to get even worse than you remember. This may look like a sudden increase in anxiety after you’ve been managing it fairly well. Maybe depressive symptoms strike up with a vengeance and you spend one day unable to get out of bed and avoiding everyone’s calls, when that hasn’t happened for you in weeks. Maybe you’ve been working through a traumatic experience and just had a nightmare or flashback for the first time in a long while and it has thrown you for a loop.
Here are some things to remember during a mental health flare ups:
- They don’t mean that you’re doing a bad job
- They aren’t a signal of failure
- You can recover from them, even if that looks more involved than “bouncing right back”
- They are actually a sign that you’re healing
Let’s go with that last point for a second. Healing probably feels like the last thing that a mental health flare up signals, but think about how a wound or other physical injury heals. It’s often not all at once. Stitches can break, scabs crack, there is often some unexpected pain that comes up during the healing process. Everyone’s healing process is unique and your recent flare up may simply be signaling that more work needs to be done to keep things moving forward.
Healing can be messy. And if you have already experienced some relief from the depression… anxiety… anger… loss… that you’ve been dealing with, then hold on to that and know that the experience of relief and healing is possible. That possibility wasn’t permanently ripped away from you just because of a mental health flare up, though it might seem like it. Maybe this flare up is indicating to you that some tender parts of yourself need some specific work or simply compassion while healing. You may have approached a significant anniversary date, lost some supports that you depended on, have people in your life that may not be healthy for you, or even are going through a physical issue that is impacting your emotional self.
Whatever the reason for the flare up in symptoms we have some suggestions on how to get through them.
Put down the bat
Meaning, don’t beat yourself up about this. If you’re angry or disappointed with yourself, try to shift to take a stance of compassion or understanding. Think of it as if your best friend had a flare up. How would you approach them? Would you be saying to them what you’re saying to yourself? If you don’t feel you deserve the kindness that you would show your best friend, consider this; being mean to yourself may actually prolong your symptoms instead of pushing you through and past them. Focus on a way to motivate yourself to get re-grounded in the path of healing and growth.
Take [extra] good care of yourself
This might seem like a no-brainer, but during mental health flare ups self care often goes by the wayside. Maybe your first response was to binge eat candy or carbs or maybe you didn’t eat anything at all. When we start feeling crappy we tend to pick back up quick fix habits that may give us immediate gratification but that tend to wear us down over time. Here are some basic self care tips when you notice a flare up that help you on the road to recovery:
- Stay hydrated. Drink lots of just water to flush out the stress toxins.
- Try to eat something with nutritional value to fuel your body. Leafy greens are always a good option. Often foods you crave are the ones that don’t help you (candy/greasy foods). If your energy and motivation to cook are low consider a ready to go protein shake or nutritional bar. Cliff and Kind bars are ones we like to keep in stock at Angelus, Check out this link of the best and worst quick grab bars on the market
- No screen time for an hour before bed (this means TV, cell phone or tablets). It can be easy to get lost in mindlessly scrolling but that actually raises your stress levels. Add to that how quickly we can get pulled into the process and we can easily stay up WELL past out intended bed-time and feel more worn out and tired the next day. A better suggestion may be to read a relaxing book or magazine at night and put your phone far away from your bed so that any alerts you get through the night don’t wake you up.
- Go for a walk, ride your bike, take a swim. Get ANY type of physical exercise to get your body moving, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Try to aim for doing this daily when you start seeing symptoms return.
- Make sure that you get back into your hygiene routine if that took a backseat during your flare up. Bathe regularly and take the time to groom how you normally would so you feel good about yourself. This means changing OUT of the Yoga or pajama pants that you may want to lounge around the house in, make yourself up as if you are meeting a friend for lunch even if you aren’t planning on leaving the house.
It’s your choice who you do and don’t tell about your flare up. Maybe you don’t want to tell anyone. However, even though you may not want to be bothered with dealing with other people, friends and family may notice a change in you and this can trigger their worry response. It helps to give them a heads up that you are having a hard time and may want to take a step back on socialization for a while. This might look like:
- I’m having a hard time right now and just need some down time by myself.
- I realize I didn’t get back to you, I had a lot of personal things come up. I apologize.
- I want you to know I care about you, the reason I’ve been MIA is my anxiety flared up.
- I apologize for not doing X, I had something come up for me and I will take care of it ASAP.
Again, you get to choose how much or how little detail you provide, but usually a simple acknowledgment of your absence/not acting how you normally do would suffice.
If you’ve been taking care of yourself as best you can in the wake of your flare up, but things don’t seem right, please reach out for more support. This may look like accessing a support group (in person or on-line), reviewing past exercises you may have gone through in treatment, revisiting coping skills and strategies that may have gone by the wayside or stepping back into counseling.
If you are already in counseling, try to be as honest as you can with your therapist. They won’t take flare ups personally, blame you, or think that you are a lost cause. Those worries are part of the flare up itself. They are are there to help, but it’s harder for mental health professionals to help if you don’t tell them how you are feeling, even the parts you are embarrassed of.
If you are having a hard time saying what is happening, write it down. It is often times healing and helpful to put your thoughts on paper and share it with friends, family or your counselor. There is no shame in sharing in counseling. And you deserve that specialized time and attention to get back to where you want to be.
If you’re recovering from a mental health flare up and want more support and are in the Lawrence/ Mercer County area reach out to us at Angelus to schedule and appointment and we will help you through this flare up in sympotms. Want to check out some more great tips on managing flare ups; Click Here.
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Thank you for mentioning how you should refrain from mistreating yourself during a mental health flare-up in order to avoid the symptoms from persisting. My wife tends to experience depression whenever she thinks about her weight, and she tends to call herself names when she feels that she is unable to find the motivation needed to exercise. Maybe she should find a mental health program that can help her maintain a positive mindset.
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