Lapse vs. Relapse: How to Stay Focused During Challenging Times

After the holiday season, staying on track with your health goals may feel like an uphill battle. Your motivation may lessen with the cold weather, winter comfort foods, and the mix of advertisements that promise a quick fix to optimal health.  But, despite the temptations, don’t lose sight of the progress that you have made (even in the face of challenging times).

Let’s be clear, when it comes to behaviour change, you may experience a lapse or relapse. A few ‘lapses’ are not the same as a full ‘relapse.’ Now, you may be thinking: what is the difference between lapse vs. relapse? And, how do I avoid undoing the progress that I have made?

Lapse is often referred to as a “slip.” You may veer off track in your road to progress. But, you are able to regain control, and continue to follow your healthy living plan. Lapses happen – especially during difficult times. The important thing to remember is that your one time “slip up” is not the end of the world. You have the power to return to a place of grounding.

Relapse is a process of gradual decline into old habits and behaviours that may make you feel “out of control.” It is important to reach out for help during the times where you feel most vulnerable in order to learn new skills and strategies to prevent relapses.

Tips for managing ‘Lapses’ and regaining your confidence:

  • Challenge negative thoughts. Lapses happen, and that’s okay.  Remember that lifestyles changes do not happen overnight. Return to strategies that keep you present, such as journaling or speaking with a counselor.
  • Use lapses to understand more about your ‘triggers.’ Do you always feel pressure to eat dessert when you go out with a particular friend? Or, when you don’t get enough sleep, do you end up hitting the pause on that morning walk routine? Notice when you don’t feel good about your behaviours, then investigate! Once you know your triggers, you can take steps to manage them.
  • Talk to someone. Whether it is a family member, friend, or member of your health care team, talking about your challenges may help alleviate some pressure. Your health care team may also be able to assist you with developing coping strategies to use during challenging times.
  • Regain control immediately after your lapse and do not delay getting back on track. A lapse is not the end of the world or a reason for you to give up on all your hard work.
  • Plan ahead. If you are going to an event that you know may be a trigger to old habits, plan ahead, and use effective strategies. Planning ahead will allow you to enjoy yourself while being mindful of the challenges ahead.

Blog post contributed by Alyssa Ramuscak, dietetic student, University of Western Ontario