An error has occurred in processing the XSLT stylesheet

Relapse prevention

Am I relapsing?


Many people are afraid of losing the progress that they have made when they have recovering from a common mental health problem.  This information will help you decide if you are having a lapse or a relapse and what to do about it.

What is the difference between a lapse and a relapse? 

A lapse is a brief return to old and unhelpful habits.  It is common and a normal phenomenon.  Sometimes lapses are triggered off by stress, low mood, tiredness or ill health.

A relapse is a complete return to old and unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving.  People who have a relapse are usually doing the same things as they did before they learned some new strategies in clinic.

Stopping a lapse from becoming a relapse

Remember lapses can lead to relapses but they don’t have to! You can stop a small lapse from becoming a relapse.


Often it is what you say to yourself after you have a lapse that can either help you get back on track or lead you to a relapse.

If you see your lapse as a failure, you are likely to just give up and have a relapse.

If you see your lapse as a slip-up, but one you can recover from, then you probably won’t have a relapse.


1. Practice

The best way to prevent a lapse is to keep practicing strategies learnt in your clinic.  

If you can’t remember some of the positive coping strategies or the positive changes in behaviour then get out the information and jog your memory.  This may be all you need to do to motivate you.

2. Know your red flags

You are less likely to have a lapse if you know when you are more vulnerable to having one.  Most lapses occur during times of stress or change. 

Make a list of warning signs that tell you that you may be having a lapse. This may include:  

  • More feelings of anxiety, stress or depression
  • Increased responsibilities at home or at work
  • Spending more time worrying
  • Arguments with loved ones
  • Avoiding more activities
  • Avoiding more activities
  • Major life changes (e.g. weddings, new babies, death in the family)
  • Physical ill health

3. Plan of action

When you know what your red flags are you can make a plan of how you are going to cope with them. 

This may involve:

  • Practicing you skills learnt in clinic
  • Taking some time out for yourself
  • Relaxing– talk to a friend, read a book or go shopping!
  • Try a new challenge

4. Like everyone on this planet you are a work in progress

This means that there are always ways that you can improve yourself and make your life more enjoyable and fulfilling.  

A good way to prevent future lapses is to continue working on new challenges and new situations.  You are less likely to slide back into old habits if you are continually working on new and different ways of overcoming your low mood or your anxiety level.  

You could make a list of things you would like to try and in time you could try some of them out.

5. Learn from your lapses

Remember that it is normal to occasionally have lapses, especially just after clinics have stopped.   

In our daily lives, everyone has times of greater stress, and if you are also coping with a mental health problem, this can make you even more vulnerable to lapse. 

The great news is you can learn a lot from your lapses.

Try to figure out what the situation was that led to you having a lapse by asking yourself:

  • Were you having upsetting or anxious thoughts?
  • Was your anxiety/stress level very high?
  • Did you do something different?
  • Did you know that the situation was going to be difficult or did it take you by surprise?

Knowing why a situation was more difficult for you can help you to prepare for the next time.  You can make a plan to help you better cope with difficult situations in the future.   

6. It is very important to remember that lapses are normal 

Don’t beat yourself up or call yourself names like “idiot” or “loser” because this doesn’t help. It is much more helpful to realise that we all make mistakes sometimes. We don’t speak to other people in such a mean way, so it is certainly not a good idea to speak to ourselves in this way. 

In fact, it can actually be helpful to have a lapse, because it gives you a chance to learn that lapses are normal and that lapses can be overcome if you get back to practicing your skills. 

7. Take the time to reward yourself for your hard work

It is very motivating to give yourself a treat once in a while. A reward might be going out for a nice meal, buying yourself something new, going out with friends, or just taking some time to relax, enjoy yourself, or pamper yourself.

Remember that managing mental health is hard work, and any progress you make is due to your own efforts. Doesn’t that deserve a reward?

8. What if I have tried all of these tips and don’t feel better?

Go and see your doctor or your primary care mental health worker and discuss your mental health.

Last reviewed: 22/10/2010

Skip to top