What is my perspective on setbacks? I used to perceive setbacks as something awful. Of course this is understandable because we make some form of progress and then slide back down, so it’s perfectly normal to feel frustrated and discouraged. What that being said, do we really slide down all the way back to square one, or does it just feel like this is the case? In my opinion, I don’t think we can undo the progress we’ve made. While it feels like we’ve undone the progress, this is an illusion appearing to be real at the time.
It became quite obvious that after a while having a negative attitude and a lack of understanding towards setbacks was actually what caused me to sink deeper into suffering. One of the mistakes I made at the time was expecting to feel no element of anxiety during the recovery process which wasn’t very helpful. I thought the whole idea was to not feel anxiety so I tried my hardest to maintain a decent state of mind which involved no anxious thoughts or sensations. As you can imagine, this didn’t end very well. The very effort which is made in trying to maintain an anxious state is a form of resistance and suppression which just increases anxiety.
How to deal with setbacks?
I’m not trying to belittle the experiences of setbacks because they are not pleasant. Frustrating is probably the best way to describe it. However, setbacks are not what they seem to be. If we choose to adopt an empowering perspective towards setbacks, then we can make our journey of moving on from them a little less unbearable.
The mistake I made when having setbacks was to fight against my current experience and tell myself that setbacks were bad. By now you will know that I believe learning to stop fighting anxiety and all of the unpleasant and scary sensations and thoughts that comes with it is one of the keys to becoming free of it.
The truth is that setbacks are a normal part of the recovery process. Believe it or not, setbacks are to be expected. I don’t know whether you’ve seen the picture of what progress looks like but it’s never a straight line… unfortunately. It’s a squiggly messy line which looks up and down. This is exactly what happens during setbacks. We have a few days (maybe longer) where we feel like our old selves again, only to be accompanied by a return in more intense sensations and disturbing thoughts.
I know how it feels, it sucks. But the best way to deal with setbacks is to approach them with an attitude of acceptance. Never and I mean NEVER (I finally learnt this after many setbacks) beat yourself up and feel guilty for having setbacks. It makes no sense to beat yourself up once you fully understand that setbacks are normal and expected during the recovery process. Beating yourself up and feeling guilty will only add to your anxiety levels. Forgive yourself for having a relapse, it’s perfectly okay and they happen all the time.
Getting familiar with the fact that recovery from anxiety isn’t a smooth straight line with a rosy path means that having a setback will not throw you off guard and/or trouble you so much when they inevitably show up.
The path to gaining empowerment even in the midst of a setback is in our response to them. We can never control if or when a setback occurs but we can always control how we view them. The next time you feel the return of the sensations or unpleasant thoughts, remind yourself that setbacks are expected and not to be feared. Completely allow yourself to feel the way you do in that moment, this is what acceptance is. Complete and utter resignation to your thoughts and sensations.
I suffered from a lot of setbacks during my journey to overcoming anxiety disorder and it wasn’t until someone introduced me to looking at setbacks in a new light that they didn’t effect me as much. It’s truly amazing how life changing a different way of looking at things can be. Especially one that actually empowers us.
Look how far you’ve come
Another way to empower yourself is to remind yourself of the progress you’ve made before the setback. You’ve come a very long way from where you were, it’s actually not possible to ever go back to square 1. I know it feels like you’ve gone backwards but because you have the knowledge and tools to deal with anxiety, you can’t ever be the same as you once were. The experiences and understanding you’ve gained throughout your journey has deepened your wisdom and resilience.
Of course, I’m human so I still get anxiety from time to time but I don’t have a fear of the thoughts and sensations like I used to so it passes on through without ever developing into a disorder. I just experience anxiety whenever I perceive something to be threatening. Now I don’t fight and fear the experience of anxiety, it dies down on it’s own without me having to do anything about it.
To summarise what I’ve written here, the ways to deal with setbacks is through understanding and acceptance. Understanding that setbacks are not to be feared and that they are a normal and natural part of the recovery process.
Adopting an acceptance attitude towards them will stop yourself from getting internally entangled in them when they inevitably show up.
Please let me know what you thought of this email because your feedback can help me improve and refine my writing to help you further more.
Until next time