Moving Forward in Anxiety Recovery: A Setback Isn't Defeat

Moving forward in anxiety recovery can seem pointless when a setback comes along. But a setback isn't defeat. Here's how to keep moving forward anyway.

It can be so disheartening to suffer a setback after moving forward in anxiety recovery for so long. Your anxiety and/or panic were once so intense and they got in the way of your ability to fully live your life the way you wanted to live it. You wanted more for yourself, so you worked your way past the obstacles and you were doing great. But then something happened to make anxiety flare up again, and it felt like you went back to square one, no longer moving forward in anxiety recovery at all. Disheartening indeed.

When you're sailing along on the waves of progress and the wind comes up and blows you back in the other direction, it's known as a setback. "Setback" has numerous synonyms such as difficulty, stumbling block, hurdle, obstruction, glitch, and delay. Each of those words connotes going backward with the implication that forward motion will resume. Words that aren't synonymous with "setback" include apocalypse, catastrophe, doomsday, or end-of-the-world.

Keep Moving Forward in Anxiety Recovery

Setbacks can be overwhelmingly disappointing, so much so that you'd almost like to retreat into a hole and never come back out. Don't do it! Many of us have experienced that desire to permanently hide from the world. Think, though, of the life you really want. The way to overcome your setback and achieve that once again is not to retreat but to keep moving forward. I discuss this further in the short video.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2014, February 24). Moving Forward in Anxiety Recovery: A Setback Isn't Defeat, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS

Tanya J. Peterson is the author of numerous anxiety self-help books, including The Morning Magic 5-Minute Journal, The Mindful Path Through Anxiety, 101 Ways to Help Stop Anxiety, The 5-Minute Anxiety Relief Journal, The Mindfulness Journal for Anxiety, The Mindfulness Workbook for Anxiety, and Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 steps. She has also written five critically acclaimed, award-winning novels about life with mental health challenges. She delivers workshops for all ages and provides online and in-person mental health education for youth. She has shared information about creating a quality life on podcasts, summits, print and online interviews and articles, and at speaking events. Tanya is a Diplomate of the American Institution of Stress helping to educate others about stress and provide useful tools for handling it well in order to live a healthy and vibrant life. Find her on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

December, 29 2015 at 6:19 pm

Ok so the past month i have been a bit all over the place...very high at times & in total control...exercising going to public events trying mindfulnes techniques & enjoying life & just overalk having a great sense of relaxation.....but then i can hit rock bottom for a period of days on end all because i let a stupid thought worry me & it gets out of times i can brush it off but on occasions i find thats when i will sweat in my sleep get very bad muscle tension problems feel down in the dumps wont eat or feel hungry & just overall feel lime sleeping all sucks because i know 5 days earlier i was happy & anxiety free up & making the most of my day....its just when these crazy thoughts of me doin something out of control or dangerous scares me im back at square one.i know im supposed to not let these thoughts worry me & just accept them but sometimes they r just so troubling that it becomes to overwhelming....

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

December, 30 2015 at 4:25 pm

Hi Chris,
This is such a frustrating experience. I've been there, and so have many, many, many others. You're not alone! That doesn't make this easier, of course, but hopefully knowing that this isn't you or your fault -- it's a part of anxiety. Don't beat yourself up for this. That will make things even worse because you're focusing on it and staying stuck. Sometimes it helps to remind yourself the ways things were going well, and keep doing those good things (exercising, going to events, using mindfulness, etc. -- all the things you mentioned). Doing them even if you don't really feel like it can actually help you feel better again. There's something powerful about "doing." I've found also that taking my thoughts and gently replacing them with different ones helps. The thoughts keep coming back, of course, but when I shift my attention over and over again, I find that the "bad" ones aren't as strong. Hang in there! You've gotten past this before, which means you'll do it again.

November, 27 2015 at 9:49 pm

Hi am 33 yrs old and have always struggled with anxiety & depression throughout my 20's although the past 4 yrs have been my best experience, stress free /anxiety free happiness in my life.until 5 months ago my fiancee & i started having relationship problems & later finding out she had an underlining mental health problem that went unnoticed even by myself. She attempted suicide by medication overdose twice....she is since doin fine & on her way up but understandably my stress & anxiety have hit the roof....panic attacks ...not frequently but enough to bother me & negative obsessive/intrusive thoughts....which are quite disturbing & obviously unwanted & causing alot of anxiousness....i know people will read this & say well u have been threw alot & to give it time....but the truth is ive been in this position before in my early 20's.too much stress in my life always equals anxiety/depression / intrusive thoughts....could it b o.c.d?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 28 2015 at 5:13 pm

Hi Chris,
Your insight into yourself, your finance, and your life stress will be very helpful for you in overcoming this current anxiety and panic. Stress is definitely a trigger that can make anxiety and panic return. Taking all of your insight and talking with a therapist could be incredibly helpful for you in helping you overcome this again (remember -- you've done it before, and you can do it again; it's frustrating but not impossible). Regarding OCD, a therapist will be able to determine whether this is something you experience. OCD involves bothersome obsessions and/or compulsions (frequently, both). People with OCD experience obsessions (recurrent thoughts that disrupt their life) and then, in an attempt to relieve the obsessions, will do repetitive acts (counting, checking things like locks, hand washing, or other behaviors). the cycle continues, and life is negatively impacted. Only a visit with a professional will determine whether or not you have OCD. Be patient with yourself as you work through this.

November, 28 2015 at 7:07 pm

Thankyou for your reply.yes i am currently seeing a psychologist.i just find the more i worry about a thought the more i panic which gets me down...its a vicious cycle.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

November, 29 2015 at 11:47 am

It is definitely a vicious cycle. I've been stuck in that cycle, too. Working with a psychologist can truly be very helpful, but it's not a quick fix. This cycle is fairly common with anxiety; fortunately, there are little things that people can do to back out of this pattern. I shared some thoughts about this very thing a while back. If you are interested, here's the link to that article:…. Perhaps you'll either find something helpful, or maybe it will spark other ideas. It is very normal for this to get you down. But don't stay down!

Atif sajjad
March, 20 2015 at 4:23 am

I have had anxiety from past 7 month ,I feel like when I walk I am off balance,had MRI of brain And spine thank god it was normal... Doctor said I have generalized anxiety...recently I was doing good was coming out of it then suddenly out of no were bham I was back to square one
Place help what I shld do

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 20 2015 at 1:19 pm

Hello Atif,
What you describe is incredibly frustrating. Perhaps you will find comments on some of the Anxiety-Schmanxiety post from people in your situation that might give you helpful ideas. Also, you mention that you were recently doing better. What was different for you when you were doing better? It can even be a small thing. The key might lie in what was going right during that time rather than in what is going wrong now. If you reflect on the things that were different, you might be able to do more of that now and find your anxiety begin to decrease once again.

June, 11 2014 at 7:21 pm

having a setback to me feels like It will never end, I began having panick attacks last year after a stressful period stariting with seperation from my husband. It took me a whole year to begin feeling close to myself then recently more stress resulted in more attacks. I feel hopeless now and physically this time is worst than last.I cant see the way out

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

June, 13 2014 at 12:54 pm

Hi Tasha,
I'm sorry to hear of your setback. Believe me, you're not alone. Not at all. Sadly, setbacks seem to be the rule rather than the exception when it comes to mental health recovery. Sometimes they feel worse than the original because it's so very disheartening to step backwards. What did you do last time to help you feel close to yourself again? Since you've been through this, perhaps you have a better feel for what works for you and what doesn't. Sometimes making a list of helpful activities, thoughts, etc. is helpful. Stress management is important, too. Also, you said that physically the panic is worse. Is it possible for you to do something like yoga or ta'i ch'i (in a class or at home with a DVD) to connect with yourself physically and help your body calm down more quickly when panic surges? These are just some thoughts. Don't give up hope! I get disappointed, too, when it happens to me. Know that you can get through this again.

February, 27 2014 at 11:22 pm

I've been having bad panic attacks and anxiety since October 2013 I lost my dad a year ago to cancer but it didn't hit me till now my mum has BPD and I look after her full time I feel so empty and alone and the friends I thought I had are gone

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

March, 3 2014 at 6:02 pm

Experiencing anxiety and panic, loss, and being a caregiver are all stressful on their own, and combined they can feel crushing. It's not at all surprising that you are feeling isolated and empty. Have you explored support groups in your area? These can be very helpful. Also, is there an old friend who perhaps isn't fully gone, just distant. Given everything you're experiencing, re-establishing connections might feel difficult, but if you take small, gradual steps, you can overcome that feeling of emptiness.

February, 27 2014 at 12:59 pm

The worst part of crippling anxiety is that no one understands it if they haven't experienced it. They don't understand that it can be so crippling that you can't even set foot outside in the daylight.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 27 2014 at 4:04 pm

Anxiety can be incredibly debilitating, and that's frustrating and frightening and disheartening. And not feeling understood does make it that much more difficult. When your anxiety is at it's most intense, what would be most helpful: to have someone understand, or to just be able to set foot outside again (there isn't a "right" or "wrong," answer, of course). What small step can you take to start moving in the direction you want to go? It's not easy, but it is possible!

Leave a reply