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Mental Health

Expert Advice: How Do I Recover From a Setback?

Turn a setback into a comeback.


Everybody suffers. Whether you’re going through a breakup, dealing with a recent weight gain, or being passed over for a promotion at work, it’s not uncommon to face challenges. The truth is, sometimes things are hard and bad — and this may lead to you feeling extreme disappointment. But while we all fall short from time to time, these challenges certainly don’t have to derail us. Here, our experts share some easy strategies to recover from a setback.

Meet our expert panel

  • Liz Hall, PhD, is professor of psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, where she teaches courses on the psychology of religion.
  • Leah Marone has more than 20 years of experience as a psychotherapist. She is also a corporate wellness consultant and speaks on resilience and mindfulness.
  • Deborah Gilboa, MD, author of From Stressed to Resilient, is a resilience expert who works with people on strategies that turn stress into an advantage.

Acknowledge the pain.

When facing a mishap, we often try to protect ourselves by minimizing our disappointment, but accepting it is the first step to getting back on our feet. “It may seem counterintuitive, but research shows the more we acknowledge our pain, the more easily we move on,” promises expert Liz Hall, PhD. Validating your feelings is the first step to resilience.

Ask these questions.

To shift into a solution-focused mindset, ask yourself three questions, urges expert Leah Marone. What can I control? What are my options? and What can I let go of? If the setback involves one of your relationships, is there something you can do to heal the dynamic, or is it beyond repair? As for what to let go of, focus on your perfectionism, she advises. Start by releasing those high expectations because setbacks don’t make you a failure, they make you human.

Reassure out loud.

One of the most effective ways to silence a self-deprecating inner voice is by reassuring yourself out loud, as if you were comforting a friend, says expert Deborah Gilboa, MD. “For instance, if you catch yourself thinking, I can’t do anything right, just say, ‘I’m doing my best!’” Voicing empathy for yourself halts negative thoughts and reinforces neural pathways that lead to positive thinking.

Find meaning.

The most resilient people find meaning from their setbacks, observes Hall. “It’s not that suffering or facing challenges automatically provides growth, but it can, if we learn from our experiences.” One of the best ways to do that is by reaching out to others. “I see this quite a bit in my research: Helping someone else helps us feel stronger.” Whether you share lessons you learned or simply volunteer in your community, reaching out to people immediately makes you feel a sense of connection that boosts your confidence.

Note progress.

One of the most overlooked lessons from a setback? It means you tried. “Acknowledge the chances you did take,” encourages Marone. “Think of a setback like a ‘rep’ in weight training: The more you do, the stronger you become.” Also, celebrate the times you stepped out of the box and tried something new. “Simply validating all that you’ve done helps you become more willing to take risks.”

Check in with yourself.

The more in tune we are with our emotions, the more confident we become, notes Marone. “Check in with yourself,” she urges. “While you’re having coffee in the morning, for example, observe how you’re feeling.” Soon, being present with yourself will become part of your daily routine, which builds resilience and boosts self-esteem.

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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