Hi! I recently received an email from a reader who asked me about setbacks. She kindly allowed me to post my reply on this blog:
Hi! Thanks for your email. Nice to know someone’s reading! Sorry to hear you are not feeling too good at the moment, I will try to answer your questions as best I can!!!
I have also had setbacks in the past and they are irritating nasty things. But strangely they are your friend.
It can be tempting for people with anxiety to treat anxiety as something outside of themselves which they have no control over. You often hear people say “My anxiety subsided for a while and then came back” or “it comes and goes”. Thinking of anxiety in this way is all well and good if you can let your anxiety do what it wants, and continue with your life regardless. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Claire Weekes, an Australian doctor who advised “acceptance” – just letting your anxiety get on with it and waiting for it to go away while pushing yourself through your life safe in the knowledge that anxiety is harmless. This technique, as part of a wider arsenal, is a good one to learn about, as it can help (and has indeed helped many people). I personally believe that this can be great for cases where anxiety has been learnt and people are scared of quite specific things, like busy supermarkets etc. When anxiety is more complex – coming and going as if it had a life of its own, not being triggered by specific events, being combined with depression – then the above method becomes harder because you can’t just “unlearn” reactions to specific situations.
That is why in more complex cases I believe an analytical approach is better. Understanding what makes you tick and what makes you anxious, and then dealing with causes rather than symptoms (remember that in a simple learnt phobia there is no cause anymore, it is more like a bad habit). So in order to recover you need to understand more about why you have anxiety sometimes.
Let me backtrack. Earlier I said people with anxiety often “treat anxiety as something outside of themselves which they have no control over”. In fact, when it comes to anxiety at least, there is no such thing as random. Feelings and emotions are triggered for reasons. It looks random as we don’t know what those reasons are. But if we can find out, at least in part, then we can control it – and if we can control it we can outgrow it! (I never know whether to say “cure” or not. Certainly you can get to a stage where you get from time to time a small degree of anxiety when you push the wrong buttons – but nothing like what it sounds like you have been suffering).
Setbacks are your friend because they can give you clues as to what is actually at the root of all this. I am sure people have successfully “analyzed” themselves, but I would honestly be inclined to seek the help of a good therapist. I don’t have the magic answers to the questions: which type of therapy is best? And: How long will it take?
Perhaps a Jungian therapists that also uses art to allow communication in non-verbal and non-conscious ways is a good place to start.
I think that you can get to the bottom of all this and as you understand more about yourself you can start to feel better again. Setbacks are normal if you haven’t yet tried to start to understand the causes of your anxiety. You do return to “normal”, that is the old status quo. But why not aim for something higher: actually managing to get over the vast majority of the anxiety in your life.
Please do write back and let me know how you get on and do ask any questions. I would like to include aspects of this email (obviously without any references to you or your precise situation) on my blog. If that is OK with you please drop me a short email to say so!
All the best
If you have any anxiety questions you can email me at email@example.com