Coping with Self-Help Strategy Setbacks

Ph.D., CPsychol., AFBPsS, Health Professional

Self-help strategies can be very effective but they may also be strewn with setbacks and frustration. There are lots of reasons for this but some of the more common include:

  • forcing the pace in order to get ahead and feel better
  • skipping important and/or uncomfortable steps
  • misunderstanding or misinterpreting what is intended
  • lack of practice

Going it alone may seem appealing but the most effective self-help techniques are often supported and guided by more formal therapy. This provides the structure, pacing and feedback that is often missing with going it alone. With  anxiety conditions  the temptation to skip issues that cause anxiety is a particular problem. Still, for this post lets assume you've been improving and that you're now experiencing some setbacks.

Why Do Setbacks Happen?

Therapy is not necessarily a cure and this is an important distinction to reinforce. Some anxiety issues last months or years and the goal of therapy is to reduce the worst symptoms and encourage more adaptive ways of coping. Setbacks can occur when mistakes are made and there is every chance of this happening. Why? Well, you might for example, pick the wrong technique for a particular issue, or you may define the problem wrongly, or even attempt to solve an unsolvable problem. The danger is that you view a setback as total failure and conclude your situation is hopeless and unresponsive.

Positive Thinking Can Be Unrealistic

Black and white thinking can follow setbacks. Suddenly everyone else seems fine and you aren't. You will never get better or never improve. You've tried to think positively because you know that negative thinking drags you down. These extremes can be false dichotomies. The opposite to negative thinking may appear to be positive thinking but if this means replacing one set of unrealistic thoughts with another then it's unhelpful. Realistic thinking acknowledges the fact that things can go wrong but also that they go well or better over time if this is your goal.

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