Mental Health and Life Setbacks: How to Cope

Nothing impacts your mental health more than the experiences that you go through. A positive encounter in your apartment complex or a dose of negative news about your local city can all mix together in a smorgasbord of thoughts and feelings that can be difficult to process at times. 

If you find that your mental health has been struggling with the pendulum swing of life’s events, you’re not alone. In fact, there are a number of coping mechanisms to help you regain a sense of peace and serenity, even in the midst of the chaos that surrounds you.

The Ups and Downs of Life

Life has a lot of ups and downs. That should be a surprise to no one, but it’s important to address nevertheless. Why? Because searching for a solution without understanding the problem often leads to failure. 

Before breaking down the various coping mechanisms that can be used to preserve your mental health, it’s important to realize what is meant by “ups and downs.” This can refer to a wide variety of life experiences.

Positive events can include things like getting a job that you wanted or graduating from school. Negative events can span the gamut, from privately struggling with depression to suffering a life-altering injury at work. At other times the ups and the downs can combine, as is often the case with adjusting the parenting or getting married. In addition, sometimes life will hit you with a setback whether you like it or not, as was the case for everyone when the coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to life as we know it in early 2020.

Regardless of the specific ups and downs that you’re facing, it’s important to understand that they’re just that — ups and downs. They aren’t pure good versus pure evil. They’re simply events that take place in your life. Some are in your control and others aren’t. 

When negative setbacks, in particular, take place, this is important to realize. This can help alleviate things like guilt or developing a victim mentality. Instead of wallowing in your feelings, understanding that the ups and downs are normal events can embolden you to do something when the negative events, in particular, take place.

Coping with Life’s Setbacks

While it’s easy to identify the various reasons life can be tough, learning to properly react to those situations is a bit more difficult. If you struggle with mental health, particularly throughout life’s natural ups and downs, here are a few coping mechanisms to help you navigate through your thoughts and emotions successfully.

Set Expectations

Addressing mental health is much like getting physically fit. It doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why the first thing that you should do is set expectations for yourself. 

For instance, if you struggle with being a perfectionist, understand that you absolutely won’t be perfect as you tackle your mental health struggles. You’re going to slip into bad habits, act out in destructive ways, and generally continue to deal with many of the same issues you’re already used to — at least for a while. And that’s okay. 

The important thing isn’t maintaining a perfect track record with your mental health. It’s about starting to inch your way toward something better. By setting reasonable expectations from the start — such as understanding that this is a process and not a pass or fail test — you can maintain your focus and commitment to your mental health, even when you suffer a setback.

Practice Mindfulness

When things go wrong, it’s easy to wallow in the past or fret about the future. However, if you want to overcome the anxiety that bad times can foster, it’s important that you keep your mind rooted in the present. 

Practicing mindfulness and being aware of your surroundings is a great way to manage stress and help you think and react in a calm and rational manner.

Learn to Label Your Feelings

Labeling feelings is a key coping mechanism. If you can slow down and become more mindful of your surroundings, you can use that mindfulness to consider how you’re feeling at any given moment. Are you upset? Scared? Worried? 

Simply understanding how you’re feeling can go a long way in diffusing any overreactions to life’s setbacks.

Look for Patterns

Often setbacks can push you to fall into habitual patterns of behavior. This can include anything from smoking or overeating to yelling at a loved one or withdrawing into one’s self. 

It’s important to look for these patterns whenever possible. Often a counselor can help identify them by bringing a third-party perspective to bear on the issue. Once you’ve identified them, you can begin to work toward addressing them in the future.

Learn to Withdraw from Situations

Finally, if you find that you’re tempted to slip into familiar patterns of behavior as a response to mental strain, look for an alternate action to counter it. If you find yourself yelling at your spouse, get outside for a bit. If you’re craving a drink, consider keeping a dry house for a while or locking up the alcohol in a cabinet and give the key to your partner. 

By learning to withdraw from situations when you’re stressed out, you can proactively avoid slipping into destructive habitual behaviors.

Managing Your Mental Health During Life’s Setbacks

Setbacks happen in life. It’s a fact. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be at their mercy. By studying coping mechanisms like those listed above, you can regain a sense of control over your thoughts and emotions. 

Just remember that crucial first step. Set expectations now, so that you can stay the course even when things go wrong. Godspeed!

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