Recovery and staying well

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Recovery can take time. As well as getting treatment underway, the person has to find new ways to manage, and live with, the changes and challenges of having depression and/or anxiety.

While psychological and/or medical treatment can help with a person's recovery, there are many other ways people can help themselves to get better and stay well.

Below are some practical tips on how to manage depression and anxiety.


Learn new ways to reduce and manage stress

Stress is common in daily life, but exposure to prolonged stress can start to affect your mental and physical health. Whatever the cause, here are some simple steps that can help you to reduce and manage stress:

  • Making major changes in your life can be stressful at any time. If you're feeling stressed or anxious, it's probably a good idea to try to avoid moving house or changing jobs. Leave them to a time when you're feeling better.
  • Ongoing stress in personal relationships often contributes to depression and anxiety. Learn how to let people know about your feelings so that you can resolve personal conflicts as they come up. Talking to a counsellor or psychologist can help you find ways to address your problems.
  • Learn to relax. To do this, you need to allocate time to do the things you enjoy, such as exercising, meditating, reading, gardening or listening to music.
  • Take control of your work by avoiding long hours and additional responsibilities. This can be difficult, but small changes can make a difference.
  • Learn to say 'no'. Create a balance between work and the things you enjoy doing. Don't allow yourself to be overwhelmed by new commitments.
  • Include short-term coping strategies in your day, such as breathing and relaxation exercises. Listen to a guided progressive muscle relaxation exercise.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Eating healthily, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and avoiding harmful levels of alcohol and other drugs can help a person to manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Tips for eating well

Having a mental health condition can make it difficult to eat well, but keeping things simple can help. Here are some tips:

  • Keep a daily timetable and include food-related activities such as shopping, cooking and eating.
  • Learn to prepare simple meals that don't take too much time or energy to prepare. If you live on your own and aren't eating proper meals, consider using frozen or home-delivered dishes.
  • Make use of the times when you feel good to prepare meals ahead of time (e.g. if you've got energy in the morning, make dinner then) or cook large quantities of food and freeze it.
  • Find out more about healthy eating by downloading Healthy eating for people with depression, anxiety and related disorders fact sheet.

Tips for getting active

Physical exercise such as walking, swimming, dancing, playing golf or going to the gym can help relieve the tension in your muscles, relax your mind and distract you from negative thoughts and worries. Try to do some physical exercise every day, even if it's just going for a walk. Keep it simple and enjoyable. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Increase activity levels gradually. Start by planning simple daily activities such as shopping, driving, gardening, writing emails or completing simple household tasks. Completing these activities can increase a person's self-confidence and build the motivation needed to take on more energetic activities.
  • Plan activities that are enjoyable, interesting, relaxing or satisfying. These activities are important in overcoming depression and anxiety. At first, they may not feel as enjoyable as before, but with persistence, the pleasure should eventually return.
  • Participate in activities with family members and close friends, and accept social invitations, even though it's the last thing you may feel like doing. Keeping connected with people helps increase levels of wellbeing, confidence and opportunities to participate in activities.
  • Planning a routine can help you to become more active. Make sure some form of exercise is scheduled in for each day. Try to stick to the plan as closely as possible, but be flexible.
  • Download Keeping active fact sheet.

Tips for getting a good night's sleep

Depression and anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns. It's essential to try to restore a regular sleep pattern to make a full recovery, so here are some tips:

  • Try to get up at about the same time each morning.
  • If you're worrying about things during the night, set aside some time for problem-solving during the day.
  • Avoid drinking caffeine after 4pm and try not to drink more than two cups of caffeine-type drinks (e.g. coffee, strong tea, cola or energy drinks) each day.
  • Avoid using alcohol to help you sleep. As the alcohol is broken down in your body, it causes you to sleep less deeply and to wake more frequently.
  • Allow yourself time to wind down before going to bed. If you are working or studying, stop at least 30 minutes before bedtime and do something relaxing.
  • Download tips for sleeping well from Sleeping well fact sheet.

Tips for reducing alcohol and other drugs

It's a good move to try to reduce the use of alcohol and other drugs, as they can cause long-term problems and make it much harder to recover. It's also a good idea to avoid stimulants, in particular excessive amounts of caffeine and any kind of amphetamine (speed, ecstasy, ice), as these can worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. Find out more by downloading Reducing alcohol and other drugs fact sheet.

How to stay well

The recovery process does not necessarily have a clear beginning, middle and end. Some people will only experience one episode of depression or anxiety in their lives, while others may go on to have another episode, or experience recurring symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.

Recognising triggers

There are some situations or events that can bring on an episode of depression and/or anxiety. These situations or events are referred to as 'triggers'. Common triggers include family and relationship problems, financial difficulties, changes in living arrangements, changing jobs or losing a job, having other health problems and using alcohol and other drugs.

Trying to avoid or manage these triggers can be an important part of recovering. For example, if you can't avoid a certain situation that you think might trigger an episode, you may be able to manage its impact through stress management techniques or learning how to resolve conflicts early.

Warning signs

Warning signs are signals that a person may be feeling depressed or anxious and it's a good idea to learn how to recognise these signs. Family members and friends may notice changes in the way a person thinks, acts or feels. Some common warning signs include:

  • getting up later
  • finding it hard to concentrate
  • skipping meals and eating unhealthily
  • having disturbed sleep
  • feeling irritable, stressed and teary
  • withdrawing socially or wanting to spend a lot of time alone.

People can learn to identify their own warning signs by reflecting on what symptoms they've experienced in the past.

Getting over setbacks

Setbacks can be disappointing and getting over them can be difficult. When people relapse, it can be easy for them to fall into the trap of thinking that they will never feel well again. However, it's important to understand there are ways of moving through this stage:

  • People shouldn't blame themselves. Remember that setbacks are bound to happen and feeling disappointed can make moving on difficult.
  • Try again. Learning how to manage anything new can be about trial and error. Persistence is the key.
  • Focus on achievements. Feeling depressed and anxious can make it hard to see the good side of things. People should focus on what they have gained and use this to move on from setbacks.
  • Learn from setbacks. A relapse can help people evaluate their situation and, with the help of a health professional, find new ways to manage their condition. This can make people more able to cope with feeling unwell and may help prevent further setbacks.
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