Five Healthy Coping Skills For Facing Setbacks

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Setbacks are often a part of living in today’s world, but the way you respond to setbacks can make a huge difference in your mental health. Healthy coping skills to employ when facing a setback can include looking for learning opportunities, considering alternative paths forward, refusing to succumb to negative thoughts, taking a break, and spending time with loved ones. It can also be helpful to work with a licensed therapist online or in-person to develop additional coping skills and address any challenging thoughts and emotions you may be experiencing due to setbacks.

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The way you respond to setbacks can make a difference

Why setbacks can pose a challenge to your mental health

It’s usually not the setback itself, but instead, your reaction to it, that can negatively impact your mental health. Some people may employ drastic and extreme measures when confronted with setbacks. Often, these reactions to setbacks are not healthy, which may be why knowing and using the right coping strategies can make such a notable difference.

The emotional factor

The emotional factor of setbacks can be one reason why these challenges may greatly impact mental health. Many people become emotionally attached to the goals they set, even if they don’t consciously realize this. Being emotionally attached to goals can be fine, but employing healthy coping strategies when you're thrown off course is often imperative. With the right knowledge and mindset, setbacks can easily be turned into positives that may only sweeten the eventual victory of accomplishing the desired endgame.

Fear of what others might believe

Constructive coping skills for facing setbacks can be important. Of equal importance may be not allowing the fear of what others might think to keep you from moving forward. In many cases, people tend to be vocal about their plans, goals, and other intentions with the people they spend time with.

When setbacks arise, apprehension of what other people might think if they knew about these setbacks is often an additional roadblock. It can be helpful to recognize when this is happening and remember that a person cannot control what other people think. 

The best coping skills for facing setbacks

In life, setbacks can arise suddenly, unexpectedly, and during the most inopportune times. Healthy coping mechanisms, such as those listed below, may benefit you and preserve the quality of your mental health. 

Find the learning opportunity

When faced with setbacks in life, finding a learning opportunity can be one of the healthiest coping strategies. You might choose to conduct a situational analysis when faced with setbacks. Such an analysis can help you turn a seemingly negative situation into a positive one.


What better way to do this than to determine the ways in which you can learn from the setback you have faced? In the long run, coming to this realization may benefit your mental health and ensure that you are better prepared for any setbacks that present themselves later.

Consider an alternative path forward

Similar to finding the learning opportunity in setbacks, considering an alternative path forward may also be on the list of great coping strategies. Looking at a different path forward doesn’t necessarily mean that you should switch or give up on a goal. Instead, it can mean that there is almost always more than one way of getting somewhere. When experiencing a setback in your personal life, one of the best things to do for your mental health may be to figure out a way to keep moving forward.

Finding an alternative path doesn’t always happen overnight, and that can be perfectly fine. Sometimes, determining another route can take time, thought, and reflection. Each of these things can also benefit your mental health and allow you to learn from setbacks.

Don’t succumb to negative thinking

There may be a plethora of ways in which negative thinking can impact your mental health or exacerbate existing problems. In many cases, it may be fair to say that facing setbacks in life can (at least temporarily) increase the vulnerability of a person’s emotional and mental health. For this reason, not succumbing to negative thinking and remaining positive can be easier said than done, yet it may remain critical.

Remaining positive as a coping skill does not always mean denying that you’re faced with a setback. However, positive thinking generally involves remembering that despite the present setback, you are still capable. Not succumbing to negative thinking can increase the likelihood of a temporary setback not becoming permanent. Frequently, it’s not the setback itself that leaves a negative impact, but the way people react; this can be why healthy coping strategies are so imperative.

Take a break

Due to the impact that setbacks can have on emotional and mental health, taking a break can be one of the best coping skills at times. The willingness to take a break doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on a goal you’ve been working to achieve. It may simply mean clearing your head, regrouping, and later returning to the situation with a fresh mindset and potentially new ideas.

The temptation to try bulldozing through setbacks is often a factor. Sometimes, this can work, but in other cases, you may be much better off pausing and coming back at a later date and time. Many great goals in life take time, effort, and persistence to achieve.

Surround yourself with loved ones

Keeping good company and spending time with people who have your best interests at heart may be a fantastic addition to this list of coping skills. Being around other people can ease the process of coping in the face of setbacks.

Surrounding yourself with loved ones may not only be good for your mental health, but it can also provide an outlet for you to vent and express your thoughts with others. In turn, you can release pent-up emotions and possibly learn something from the feedback you get in return. Knowing the right coping strategies can be great, but being around people who can help you as you cope can also make a positive difference.

Final thoughts on healthy coping skills

Just about everyone has their own methods of coping in the face of setbacks. Whichever path you take, you should generally make sure that your chosen coping strategies are good for your mental health.

Some important information to remember may be that not all setbacks are negative. There may be times when setbacks can be blessings in disguise. Sometimes, you may be getting ready to make a mistake. A setback could prevent you from going down the wrong path or making a decision that you might regret later.

The way you respond to setbacks can make a difference

Regardless of what setbacks you may be facing, you may benefit from developing healthy coping skills. In the long run, the right coping mechanisms can become habits for future times when you are faced with setbacks. Even if you have not always responded to past setbacks in the best way, it may never be too late to turn over a new leaf or make a change.

Many of the greatest and most inspirational success stories are of individuals who faced, coped with, and subsequently overcame setbacks. You can do the same.

Seeking professional support for coping with setbacks

The five coping skills listed above can come in handy when you find yourself facing setbacks in life. However, professional support while using your own coping mechanisms can also be highly recommended. A professional may be able to provide personalized coping skills that are uniquely applicable to you and your situation.

In general, there is nothing wrong with asking for mental health support or guidance. Doing so does not make you less of a person or detract from who you are. When you work with a mental health professional, you may be increasing the likelihood of growing as a person and becoming a better version of yourself.

Benefits of online therapy

If you determine that professional support is something you’re interested in, you can sign up for online therapy with BetterHelp. You will generally be able to connect with your therapist at any time through a variety of convenient methods: live video sessions, phone sessions, live chat, and messaging. Whether you are working on developing healthy coping skills, facing setbacks, or experiencing another challenge altogether, working with an online therapist may change your life for the better.

Effectiveness of online therapy

More research may be needed regarding the efficacy of online therapy specifically for developing coping skills in the face of setbacks. However, a growing body of evidence generally suggests that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for addressing a wide variety of mental health disorders and concerns. 


Setbacks don’t always have to be negative experiences, and employing healthy coping skills can ensure setbacks bring you forward rather than push you back. You might take a break from the project at hand, spend time with people you care about, and choose not to fall into negative thought patterns. Looking for learning opportunities in the situation and exploring alternative paths forward can also be healthy, beneficial ways to approach setbacks. A licensed therapist can offer further insight and guidance regarding setbacks and coping skills, and you can connect with a mental health professional in your local area or through an online therapy platform.
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