Setbacks happen, especially relating to any recovery process. Let me start this off with the biggest lesson that I've learned about setbacks.
Your reaction to a setback will literally either set you back, or it will push you forward, it's your decision!
When I experienced setbacks throughout my anxiety journey, these two mistakes that I made undid lots of hard work and caused me to stay stuck.
I didn't allow myself to feel my emotions. I'd feel angry, upset, frustrated, and sad, but I'd try to run from these emotions and I'd feel ashamed that I felt them.
I'd beat myself up for experiencing the setback. I'd tell myself that I sucked and wasn't really making any progress anyway so I might as well give up.
I didn't know how to process my emotions in a healthy way because I never really had. And honestly, I was just so consumed by anxiety, panic, and fear every day and was just trying to get by. But these things were within my control! I was capable of feeling my emotions, and I was capable of being kind to myself. So I learned how to make healthier decisions and establish healthy habits that would allow me to push beyond setbacks and keep making progress! Let me show you how...
- You must accept that setbacks will happen no matter where you are along your journey. In life, we often take two steps forward, one back, a few forward, one back… This is a part of the healing and growth process. And it’s okay to take a step or two back. What’s not okay is to take a step back, beat yourself up, and convince yourself that you are just not meant to live a life of peace and joy. You are capable of doing amazing things!
So when you find yourself experiencing a setback, accept it as it is, acknowledge and feel your emotions, and give yourself a kind, positive, and healthy message. You are working through something that is really tough and you are doing a good job. And beating yourself up is only going to lead to more anxiety, panic, and ultimately setbacks. Your brain is depending on you to give it the healthy messages that it needs in order to continue to push forward.
- Figuring out the why is helpful but not completely necessary. What caused the setback could have happened minutes before but it’s more likely that it’s something that happened days or even weeks before. When I experienced a setback, I’d immediately try to figure out what caused it, and because I often couldn’t pinpoint where it came from I would become even more frustrated with myself and my journey.
When you can’t find the immediate cause, it’s likely because it’s something that has been building up over time. Things like stress, big life events, unhealthy relationships, a lack of sleep, a lack of exercise, your diet… These are all things that can build up over time and cause setbacks (seemingly out of nowhere). I remember experiencing panic attacks after going months without one and thinking, what the heck, why now? And I’d immediately feel defeated. It was most often always due to stress or unhealthy decisions that had finally caught up to me. But if you can’t figure out what caused the setback, it’s okay. Accept the setback and make the very conscious decision to move on!
- Having unrealistic expectations and pushing yourself too hard will lead to setbacks. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself. For example… I’m going to be panic attack free in one week. It has taken time to get to where you currently are and it’s going to take a little time and hard work to push past it. I always say to start small because it’s the continuous small steps forward that will help you to reach your goals.
And yes, there is such a thing as pushing yourself too hard! If you are already having a really tough day and are feeling mentally and physically drained, please don’t push yourself to do something that you know is going to cause a panic attack. Pushing yourself too hard will lead to more anxiety and panic. On the hard days, make sure to do lots of self-care! Self-care will hugely support your recovery process.
- A setback doesn’t mean that you aren’t capable. Were you able to do something last week but now you’re finding that it’s causing lots of anxiety and panic and you aren’t able to do it? It’s okay! These tough moments don’t erase the progress that you’ve already made. What is important is that you are continuing to push yourself forward and you aren’t giving up. You are strong, brave, powerful, and incredibly capable. Don’t let the tough moments convince you that these things aren’t true, because they are!
Remember, setbacks are going to happen, but it’s your reaction to a setback that is most important. Feel your emotions and be kind to yourself! And keep pushing forward in healthy ways. You are capable of amazing things!