You may have already experienced setbacks with your anxiety – periods when all symptoms and tiredness seem to overwhelm you again, everything goes wrong and you wonder whether there is any point continuing with your recovery programme and exposure exercises. It is absolutely normal to have these setbacks, which are simply stages on the way to recovery.

If a setback happens it does not mean you are relapsing; it is simply an unpleasant, but temporary state of affairs that can be overcome. There are some important guidelines to follow if you have a setback with your recovery programme:

  1. Don’t panic. Remember that setbacks are not a disaster. As long as you don’t give up you can overcome it
  2. Make use of setbacks. You can learn from them as they teach you about the sorts of things that make you feel worse, and give you a chance to practice and strengthen what you have learnt,
  3. Setbacks do not mean your recovery programme hasn’t or isn’t working. Look at what is causing you problems, look at the pattern of activity and symptoms and plan your programme accordingly, i.e. as before, planned, manageable, regular and frequent exposure tasks.
  4. Remember the improvements you have made. Even if they seem to have gone at the moment, they will come back. Follow point 3 and you can ensure they return.
  5. Don’t feel that you have to start again from scratch: the more you have improved the worse your setback can seem in contrast. Seeing it as starting from scratch will just make you feel worse. It is highly unlikely to take long before you are back to the level you were at before your setback.
  6. Don’t blame yourself. Setbacks can happen, and the best way of looking at them is a problem to be solved, not as a rod with which to beat yourself up with.
  7. Keep trying! Even if you can’t get over a setback immediately, don’t give up. You will overcome it, given time and perseverance. Temporarily downgrading your exposure tasks to a level you feel able to manage can help relieve the pressure to simply want to give up.

The best way of beating setbacks is to be aware that they may happen, and plan for them. There are specific circumstances, which increase the risk of a setback: physical illness, unexpected stressful life events; changing jobs, bereavement, moving house etc.

At times you may also find yourself slipping back if you simply stop using the techniques used in your self-help exposure programme. This can be avoided if you stick by the principles of consistently grading and pacing yourself.