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Now What Do I Do?

Shannon M. Duffy, MFT, LCPC

Licensed Psychotherapist

Many can relate to the following scenario. Things are going well, almost too well. You have been doing all the work addressed in psychotherapy and focusing on self-care and utilizing your coping skills in all the right places and right time. Then, out of nowhere you are either triggered by a stressor or multiple stressors build up where you feel out of control and all the steps you took towards managing stress have disappeared or feel impossible to help the situation. This is where you resort back to previous habits or behaviors that feel self-sabotaging. Such as turning to substances of food or alcohol to cope with the stress. In addition to letting your mind take over towards catastrophizing all the worst-case scenarios. The self-sabotaging behaviors can feel disheartening in how you could easily resort back to old habits so quickly. All the negative thoughts creep in and you want to quit therapy as you feel overall defeated. 

We are all human and even though you have worked hard to progress forward, life can be challenging. One of the first things to focus on is that you are aware of what is going on, how you feel, and what occurred to bring on the self-sabotaging behaviors. Observing your behaviors and how easy it was to fall back indicates that accountability and skill practice needs to continue and be a focal point. Life will always throw us curve balls and especially after the past year those curve balls can feel very intense and never ending. Learning to accept where you are at and how to accept the pain can also give you the resilience needed to get back on track and stay on track. 

No need to quit therapy but it is beneficial to discuss what happened and how to gain understanding to move through the setback(s). Where to begin is to re-evaluate your coping skills, by assessing what is working and what may need to be tweaked to handle the current stressors. It can be helpful to start with what has been working and where you have felt success in the past. It creates a sense of comfort of how your coping skills can be seen and felt as still effective moving forward. Then to acknowledge specifically what skills are “right now” skills and what can be more long-lasting skills. The skills that are to distract and self-soothe are the “right now” skills. Utilizing these skills for immediate stress relief for those situational stressors that come on unexpectedly. The long-lasting skills are more sustainable with movement, meditation, and activities that are enjoyable to consistently fall back on.

The next step to take is to reevaluate what your goals are and what was the intent behind creating behavioral changes when you started to make progress away from self-sabotaging behaviors when you first entered therapy. Noting your goals can create motivation for the continued work of creating habit changes. It can also help to create more realistic goals towards feeling in control of managing stressors. When we face setbacks, we feel a loss of control in addition to feelings of frustration, self-doubt, etc. Noting that you are experiencing setbacks and that it is temporary can be helpful towards utilizing self-compassion as a coping skill. It is also key to address thinking patterns towards positive thinking and motivation towards moving through the setbacks. Another useful tactic is to combat the negative associations and what you are saying to yourself with stating where you felt the reactivity of the setback versus relying on self-control to be more responsive to the situation. Setbacks happen and keeping focus on moving forward with self-talk and mantras can hold yourself accountable and stay hopeful towards handling them effectively. 

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