Is It Stress Or a Mental Health Relapse?

April 4, 2013 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Normal stress and a mental health relapse can be hard to tell apart. Keep this idea in mind to combat stress and a mental health relapse at the same time.

Stress affects your mental health, and if you have a mental illness, stress can cause a mental health relapse, too. If you can't tell the difference between stress and an oncoming mental health relapse, then what feels impossible can become impossible. This is why it`s important to recognize signs of stress that could lead to mental health relapse.

How Can You Separate Symptoms of Stress From Mental Health Relapse?

This is not an easy task and we often need to accept help from those closest to us when we experience stress. I know, I know, this isn't much fun but it's a heck of a lot better then relapsing!

That said, I'm going to use an example from my own life to try to tackle this question. A little over a year ago I ended a long-term relationship. The relationship was not healthy, it caused me much stress, and it made my life more difficult.

Adding this up, you might conclude that my stress level would be less once the stress of the relationship was gone, but my world was suddenly different. My stability is closely tied to having a routine, as it is for many of us. Depression soon invaded my life and I found myself in my psychiatrist office. I was certain I was relapsing and I was terrified. I waited, sitting in the chair across from her, for her to tell me that yes I had relapsed.

But my fear was met with different words:

“Natalie, you are having a normal reaction to the stress this is causing.”

That, might I say, lessened my anxiety. A little.

When you have a mental illness, it is easy to conclude that any negative reaction indicates a relapse. It’s important to learn what a healthy response to stress is and separate that from symptoms of relapse.

Symptoms of Stress That Can Lead to a Mental Health Relapse If Left Unchecked

Stress causes anxiety and anxiety, in all of its variations, isn't much fun. The following physical symptoms of stress can alert you to increased stress and anxiety so you can begin to calm yourself before a relapse begins.

Common physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Fatigue, low energy, insomnia
  • Racing heart, chest pain
  • Breathlessness; feeling you cannot breathe
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Upset stomach of any kind
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Nervousness, shaking
  • Grinding teeth or waking up with jaw pain
  • Loss of sexual desire or ability

What Often Triggers Stress?

Major life changes can affect our level of stress and our mental health. The stress life changes cause are not signs of relapse. However, if the symptoms of stress become worrisome, a visit to your doctor could be in order. Some common examples of life events that trigger stress include:

  • Relocating
  • Financial problems
  • The end of a relationship
  • Loneliness
  • The death of a loved one
  • Issues with family and friends
  • Fear of the future

These changes cause stress in everyone---not just those of us who live with a mental illness--but stress often impacts our lives and our level of functioning differently. We need to be able to recognize the difference between a "normal" reaction to stress and a reaction that may indicate relapse. The main difference is how much the stress disrupts your life. If it's causing problems, see your doctor. If it's simply annoying, up the self-care and pay close attention.

Use Self-Care and Psychiatry to Combat Stress

Self-care is an invaluable tool when it comes to understanding and relieving stress. The simple things like exercising, eating well, and working to adhere to a schedule allow us to work through the tough parts in life.

When you do experience a life change or symptoms of stress, even if they are not intruding upon your life, it's worth it to visit your psychiatrist. This is part of self-care.

Try to remember that stress can be healthy; stress is a symptom of change and change is normal. Without change, the world would be a boring place—without change we would not grow as individuals. Work to embrace change because change makes us human, and it makes life interesting.

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2013, April 4). Is It Stress Or a Mental Health Relapse?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

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