How to Recover When Life Sets You Back

Every day, setbacks happen to millions of people all over the world. From minor career obstacles to serious life-or-death situations, life is full of difficult moments and challenging circumstances. But for all the pain and tough times, there is joy, love, and life to be lived, if only you can wade through the hurdles and hardships that come your way. Resilience isn't measured by how many setbacks you're dealt; it's how you cope with them that counts.
Setbacks come in many forms - but humans can handle and adapt to so much. With the right tools to hand, you can build your resilience and learn to handle any setback life throws at you. Here are 15 actions you can take to help you recover when life sets you back.

1. Breathe deeply 

It might sound obvious, but sometimes, when the truly terrifying happens, it literally takes our breath away and it's easy to forget to breathe. Still, there are evidence-based reasons why breathing exercises and meditations are lauded by therapists, healthcare professionals and yoga instructors alike. It's well-documented that deep, relaxed breathing can help with stress, anxiety and other mental health symptoms. Breathing keeps you grounded. It brings you into the present moment, so there's no space for worrying about the future or the past.

2. Exercise more 

Moving your body and getting in shape isn't just good for your physical health. It's also known for helping diminish mental health issues, and for releasing feel-good endorphins. Exercising obviously won't fix your setback, but it can help you see the problem in a new light. If your setback affects your physical mobility or tolerances, you may feel as though you can't exercise the way you'd like to - but there are many options and modifications you can explore. An Occupational Therapist can help you modify the way you’re doing the activity, adapt the environment or order adaptive equipment.  More and more gyms have accessible functions, and sports such as angling, golf, and walking football all offer lots of physical and mental health benefits.

3. See a therapist 

Sometimes talking is the best way to move through your setback. With the right therapist as a guide, many people find they can face and tackle their obstacles head-on. In many places, counselling or psychotherapy services are expensive and difficult to access, but there are also some free services available. If you have the means and you feel therapy could help you move past your setback into contentment, don't wait to book a meet and greet.

4. Be kind to others - and to yourself 

"We rise by lifting others." So said Robert Ingersoll, an orator who championed free-thinking. And it's true - charitable acts can make you feel good about yourself. You may see yourself in a new light; as a giver, a selfless person who helps others. But helping others isn't enough - you have to be kind to yourself, too. That means no more berating yourself for not getting over the setback quickly enough, or for finding it difficult to deal with. You're allowed to take whatever time you need to get through this.

5. Connect with people who have been through it before 

If you're going through grief, addiction, illness, depression, anxiety, divorce, or pretty much any kind of life obstacle, chances are someone else has been through what you're going through. And guess what? They've made it through to the other side. Sometimes hearing that you're not going through this alone really does help. There are hundreds of support groups all over the world that can connect you with other people who've been where you are.

6. Connect with people who make you happy 

For some people, talking about the problem can be difficult. But being around people who care for you and make you happy can make the issue seem that bit more bearable. Seek out the people in your life who fulfil you - those you can talk to openly if you feel like talking. Avoid or limit talking to or spending time with those who deplete you, zap your energy or bring you down.

7. Eat well 

When you don't feel quite yourself, it's all too easy to order takeout, or throw a pizza in the oven and eat it in front of the TV. Chances are, you're not even watching TV, or properly tasting your pizza - your mind is still focused on the setback. Taking the time to cook for yourself is an act of self-care. It focuses your attention on something other than the problem, and you'll get a delicious meal when you're done. You don't have to make something super-healthy - just something you know you'll enjoy is enough.

8. Distract yourself 

Cooking for yourself works because it distracts you from whatever is bothering you. While some distractions are to be avoided - namely, alcohol, drugs, and other potentially harmful substances - some can be genuinely helpful. Learning a new skill is always a great distraction. Plus, when you pick up a hobby, you can meet new people and form new friendships - both of which are sure to give you a new lease on life.

9. Try, try and try again 

If your setback is career-related, this one is key. Just because you didn't get that promotion or pay rise, it doesn't mean you never will. It doesn't mean you're bad at your job. Do not let your mind allow this situation to make you question your worth as a human being. Too many people base their worth and value on work and productivity, which is very risky. And it definitely doesn't mean you should quit. When it comes to career goals, perseverance is vital. Keep trying - eventually, you'll know if you're on the right track, or if there's another objective you should pursue.

10. Make a plan 

If your setback is a big, life-changing deal, now is the time to make a plan. We all know making a plan isn't the same as sticking to it - to paraphrase Scottish poet Robbie Burns: the best-laid plans of mice and men can always go awry. But making a plan can help you feel as though you're taking back control of your life. And even if things do go off track, at least you'll have a roadmap to help you get back on track without any judgment.

11. Make a change 

Maybe your setback isn't so huge that you want to overhaul your whole life - but that doesn't mean you want things to stay the same forever. Making a simple change, big or small, can totally alter the way you live. Whether it's a shift in your career, your relationship, or the way you parent your kids, a change can make a world of difference.

12. Ask for help

Don't suffer in silence. If you're finding it hard to cope with the hand life has dealt you, you're not alone. Speak to a family member or friend that you trust, and make sure they know how you're feeling. Don't lie or make light of the situation to protect them - it won't help you or them. Alternatively, use an anonymous helpline such as a Distress Line to reach out for help – that’s what they’re there for. When your setback feels too difficult to deal with or talk to your closest loved ones, it can be comforting to talk to a friendly stranger.

13. Look back at a time when you overcame something 

When you feel low, it can help to consider times you've felt this way in the past. You'll know you have the resolve to get through it, and you'll know there are better times ahead. Often, this realization is comforting enough to get you doing something - anything - to help you feel better.

14. Look to the future 

If you can't find comfort in the past, perhaps the future is where it's brightest. The nature of life is such that everyone experiences peaks and troughs in their achievements. If you're in a trough right now, it's only logical that a peak isn't too far away. Try not to worry about the future, but to see it as a world of opportunities.

15. Take responsibility 

Perhaps it's time to level with yourself about this setback, and ask yourself a few searching questions. Was there anything you could - or would - have done differently? Is there anything you can do right now to improve this situation? Or is it entirely out of your control? Depending on your answers to these questions, there may be something you can do to address your setback. Keep your self-talk fair and kind. If it's out of your hands, ride the wave without guilt or responsibility. Sometimes relinquishing control is the right thing to do.

Keep learning

Resilience is something you build up throughout your life. Every day, you learn how to deal with another problem life throws your way. And every so often, a problem comes along that feels more overwhelming than the other situations you've dealt with. When this happens, it's natural to wonder how you'll cope. But by trying out the relevant actions in this list, you're sure to feel even a little better equipped to recover from some of life's more difficult setbacks.