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Worry About Relapse

worried womanPeople with anxiety disorders tend to get anxious (okay, duh). They even worry about getting anxious after seeking treatment for their anxiety. Sometimes they go so far as to use this concern as an excuse for not seeking treatment in the first place. In other words they think, “Why bother getting treated if the problem is likely to make a swift return after I get treatment anyway?”

If you’ve had thoughts like these, I’d like to suggest you try rethinking your viewpoint. Treatment of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder generally has enduring, positive effects. That’s especially the case if you obtain treatment based on cognitive behavior therapy that’s been specifically tailored for the type of anxiety or OCD you struggle with.

In fact, cognitive behavioral treatment for anxiety typically holds up far better than medication over the long haul. So even if you do take medication for anxiety or OCD, you now have one more reason to add cognitive behavior therapy to your regimen—the likely prevention of relapse as well as the possibility (for many) of successfully tapering off your medication at some point.

Nonetheless, relapse does happen. What should you do if it does? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Expect to have some anxiety! Everyone feels anxious from time to time so don’t freak out when it happens. Appreciate that some anxiety helps keep you prepared and alert. Trying to eliminate anxiety completely from your life will merely make you anxious about anxiety itself and compound your problems.
  • Appreciate that anxiety and life itself has an ebb and flow. A single bout of anxiety doesn’t mean that your problems will reappear in a full blown manner.
  • See a minor relapse as a chance to figure out what caused it. Sometimes recent problems at work or at home alert you to the fact that something in your life needs to be addressed. Consider an uptick in anxiety as a signal that something important may be going on and you need to discover what it is.
  • See a doctor. Anxiety sometimes stems from physical causes such as side effects of medications or supplements, physical problems of various sorts, or even excessive caffeine intake.
  • Consider booster cognitive behavioral therapy treatment sessions. If therapy worked before, it’s very likely to do so again and probably won’t take as long as it did on the first go round. Successful treatment of problems like anxiety often requires multiple attempts to get the long term results you want.

So the bottom line is: Quit worrying about relapse. Get treatment; don’t expect total, miraculous results, and appreciate the fact that some anxiety is good for you.

Photo by Meg Wills, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Worry About Relapse

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2011). Worry About Relapse. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 25, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Aug 2011
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