If you feel that your mood has taken a turn for the worse, there are steps you can take to prevent falling back into depression.

Depression is a leading cause of worldwide disability, and millions of people worldwide are affected by it.

Living through its ups and downs can leave you feeling uncertain, feeling weighted down, or hopeless.

So how do you tell whether your depression is returning? And how can you prevent it from happening?

We all need reminders and encouragement to help us along our path to improved mental health. For some, this can simply be reading through a brief article, but for others, it may mean reaching out to a professional.

If you’re living with depression, it’s common to feel an improvement in your symptoms for several months followed by a worsening of symptoms.

If you feel the same or different symptoms of depression coming back after a period of improvement, this is known as a depression recurrence or relapse.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people with major depressive disorder have a 60% chance of experiencing a recurrence at some point in their life after the first major depressive episode.

The length of time between feeling better and worse can be different for everyone. It’s not clear when exactly a recurrence occurs, according to a 2018 review.

To be considered a true recurrence, at least 5 out of 5 of the following symptoms must be experienced every day for 2 weeks or more, according to the DSM-5:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • loss of interest in activities you normally like to do
  • feelings of worthlessness or severe guilt
  • decreased energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • significant changes in appetite or weight
  • psychomotor agitation (rapid movement) or retardation (slowed movement)
  • suicidal thoughts
  • overall low mood

A depression recurrence can be disheartening, especially if you’ve been feeling better.

If you start to feel depressed again, remember that it’s not your fault and that there are cognitive tools you can use to help boost your mood and prevent your symptoms from getting worse.

Symptom awareness

It may sound simple, but being honest with yourself about what you’re feeling can be a key step toward improvement.

For example, if you start to feel that your mood is shifting again or you’re staying inside more often, try taking some time to consider how often this has been occurring.

Prevention can often start by recognizing that your symptoms may be returning and that increased personal care may be necessary.

Mindfulness meditation

A mindfulness meditation practice often involves shifting your attention from negative thoughts (rumination) to how you feel in the present moment.

A 2020 study mentioned that using mindfulness meditation as a tool in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you stay grounded and reduce rumination.

Mindfulness meditation may also help reduce the chance of depression, according to a 2019 study.

Another therapy approach, mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy (MBCT), combines meditation and mindfulness with CBT. A 2019 study suggests that MBCT may help prevent recurrent depression in people who live with depression. But more research is needed.

Prescribed treatments

Sometimes people stop taking their medications or attending therapy sessions because they feel better. This may end up interfering with your progress.

If you’ve been lax about your treatments, try to resume the treatment plan exactly as it was prescribed to you.

Remember that depression requires continued management and self-care.

Daily activity planning

Loss of interest in activities that you previously enjoyed is a common trait of depression.

Planning out your activities by writing them down can be one way to increase interest in those activities. It helps by:

  • adding structure to the day
  • enhancing self-management, including negative thoughts about activities
  • increasing the likelihood of performing the tasks
  • reducing the perception of tasks being unmanageable or chaotic

In addition to adding everyday tasks such as going to the grocery store, it may also be beneficial to include pleasant tasks like a coffee date with friends.

Challenge negative thoughts

Negative thoughts, or cognitive distortions, are more commonly seen in people with depression than those without, according to 2018 research.

A 2018 review found that cognitive therapy focused on repetitive negative thinking can be more helpful for reducing this behavior than other types of therapy. But more research is needed.

Other coping strategies that can help challenge negative thinking include practicing self-love, embracing gratitude, and developing self-awareness.

Be prepared

If you live with depression, being proactive about a depression recurrence can help you be prepared when one happens.

Remember that if you’ve experienced at least one depressive episode, you could be up to 60% more likely to have a recurrence of depression, according to the DSM-5.

If you’ve had at least two depressive episodes, the chance of having a recurrence increases to up to 70% and up to 90% for those who have had three or more episodes.

You may not be able to prevent every episode, but there are ways you can be prepared for one. Some strategies you can try include:

  • keeping a journal of your feelings to keep track of your symptoms
  • identifying your triggers
  • marking on the calendar when your symptoms are at their worst
  • having friends and family help monitor your behaviors

If you’ve been following your treatment plan, but the majority of your symptoms have returned for longer than 2 weeks and are affecting your daily life, consider reaching out to your prescribing doctor or mental health professional.

They may need to adjust your medications, natural remedies, or psychotherapy.

The more concerning symptoms of depression recurrence to be aware of include:

  • feeling extremely hopeless
  • thinking that you’d be better off dead
  • using self-prescribed drugs or substances to manage symptoms
  • feeling impulsive
  • having thoughts of harming yourself

If you find yourself feeling or doing any of these, contact your doctor or reach out to one of the prevention resources listed below.

There are many accommodating resources available that can help prevent a depression recurrence. From hotlines to in-person meetings, there are people who are ready and able to listen and help you.

If you feel like you’re in a crisis and need help immediately, you can:

Here are some other links to helpful information in addition to services that may take a bit longer to access but can be planned for. You can:

It’s common for depression symptoms to return after an extended period of improvement. Depression is a mental health condition that requires ongoing care, attention, and awareness.

Similar or different symptoms can come back, but with the right support system, coping can be much easier.

It can be hard to take the first step and ask for help when you feel down. It’s easier today than ever before to get immediate help, whether that’s through a phone call, text, or online chat.

If you feel like your depression symptoms are recurring, remember that you’re not alone and there’s plenty of help available to you.