No one is immune from bad news or disappointment in life. So, when you do get it, how do you process the information, deal with it, and move on with your life unscathed?
During your lifetime, you may encounter many forms of bad news at separate times or even simultaneously.
For example, you may experience job loss, a relationship breakup, miscarriage, a shocking diagnosis from a doctor, the death of a loved one, or any other upheaval that life throws at you.
No matter what the bad news is that you have received, it can be devastating, jarring, and sometimes turn your world upside down.
Receiving bad news of any form can have an instant effect on your body and cause your flight-or-fight response to kick in quickly. Your adrenaline may start pumping and your mind may begin to race to several worst-case scenarios in seconds.
Furthermore, you may need to manage all the consequences that come with the bad news — such as looking for a new job, paying bills, doctors appointments, or informing friends and family, as well as coping with the way the news affects you both physically and mentally.
Everyone responds to tension and trauma differently, but know that steps can be taken to tackle the mountain ahead, deal with the bad news, adopt coping mechanisms, and make the situation less traumatic.
Medical News Today have put together some tips for how to cope when faced with bad news.
Receiving concerning news can trigger a seemingly endless spiral of negative emotion. And, when confronted with negative emotion, it can be very tempting to try to resist acknowledging the dark emotions to protect yourself.
The researchers led three separate studies online and in the laboratory and found that embracing darker moods, instead of resisting them, can help you to feel better in the long run.
The participants who habitually accepted their negative emotions actually experienced fewer negative emotions and, therefore, improved psychological health compared with those who avoided negative emotion.
The scientists explained that our approach to emotional reactions is essential for our well-being. Individuals who accept negative emotions without trying to change them are better equipped to deal with stress.
In a very similar way to avoiding negative emotions, many people who encounter bad news enter an “avoidance mode.” Avoidance mode involves attempting to shut out everything in your mind that is associated with the unwelcome news.
Most of the time, avoiding the situation at hand is counterintuitive and, ultimately, leads to you thinking about it more.
Fighting the urge to think about your bad news can lead to tension in your stomach, shoulders, and chest, a distraction from completing tasks, and chronic stress, digestive problems, and lethargy.
Your brain is more able to deal with negative news than you might realize. It is by processing and digesting experiences that you can let them go and move on.
Tel Aviv University in Israel revealed that repeat exposure to a negative event could neutralize its effects on your thoughts and mood.
The researchers say that if, for example, you read a newspaper article about a tragedy before you go to work, it is better to read the article thoroughly and repeatedly expose yourself to that information than read the headline and attempt to not think about the event.
By having repeat exposure to the bad news, you will feel freer to continue to go about your day without any adverse effects and be in a better mood.
Other research by the University of Arizona in Tucson agrees with the concept of repeat exposure. The team found that in situations that cause significant distress — such as a romantic breakup or divorce — repeatedly reflecting on the situation could speed up emotional recovery.
You’ve accepted your negative emotion and repeatedly reflected on the stressful news, so what now? Sometimes, reframing the way you think about the bad news can help you to view the situation in a new light and improve your overall perspective.
While you can’t always be in control of all of the situations that happen to you in life, you can use a technique called cognitive reframing to alter your reaction to the things that happen to you and the way you view the situations, which, as a consequence, will change the way you experience them.
The idea of cognitive framing is to find a more positive interpretation of an expected adverse event. Cognitive reframing challenges you to highlight the positive sides of a challenging situation and identify a brighter side to the event rather than just seeing the negative.
For example, if you just lost your job, instead of focusing on the mistakes that were made in your role that lead to your current unemployment, look at the situation as an opportunity to try new things and creatively explore different work alternatives that might be more fulfilling.
Research by the University of Notre Dame in Indiana uncovered that hitting rock bottom after losing a job could actually be beneficial and enable people to start a new chapter, create a new positive work identity, and free them from negative emotion.
In addition to cognitively reframing a negative situation, researchers from the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reported that it could be helpful to focus on contextual elements of a bad memory rather than the emotional experience.
Florin Dolcos, from the Cognitive Neuroscience Group at the University of Illinois, explained that dwelling on how hurt, sad, or embarrassed you felt during an adverse event can result in you feeling worse.
If you look away from the negative emotions and think about the context of the situation — such as a friend who was there or what the weather was like that day or any other non-emotional aspect of the memory — your mind will be taken away from the unwanted emotions that are linked with that memory.
Failing a college exam, being rejected for a job that you had your heart set on, or being belittled by a superior are just a few situations that may cause disappointment or a sense of failure.
While almost everyone will experience these setbacks at one time or another, some people are better at dealing with adversity throughout life than others. Some individuals crumble at the first hurdle, while others have the resilience that enables them to stay calm when under pressure.
The good news is that acquiring resilience and overcoming adversity can be learned, and it involves working on your thoughts and behaviors, as well as actions.
One study, for example, focused on students who had failed academically and would find access to the job market restricted with their lack of qualifications.
The study showed that by helping the students to bounce back from adversity by teaching them self-regulation skills — including goal-setting and how to adjust their path after a mishap — they were better equipped to do well in life and positively deal with any adverse situations they encountered.
Other research has also shown that blogging about social distress can help people deal with adversity.
Writing a journal or other forms of expressive writing are known to help release emotional stress. A study published by the American Psychological Association demonstrated that blogging might be an effective solution for teenagers who are facing distress.
Compared with teenagers who did nothing or wrote personal diaries, those who blogged about their social problems had improved self-esteem, social anxiety, and emotional distress.
Finally, when you are facing bad news of any kind, it is vital to be kind to yourself and look after your physical and mental health. It can be easy to neglect your well-being in times of trauma.
Eat healthfully. Focus on eating three balanced meals each day that are all rich in fruits and vegetables. Unhealthful eating behaviors significantly boost negative mood.
Try mindfulness meditation. When bracing for bad news, rather than distracting yourself or trying to stay positive, give mindfulness meditation a go.
Mindfulness meditation enables you to focus on the present and offset the worry of waiting for news.
Research has found that even if you do not consider yourself to be a mindful person, meditation can help to tame negative emotion.
Book a massage. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing illustrated that receiving hand and feet massages for 8 weeks after the death of a loved one provided some consolation and was reported to be a “worthy, early, grieving-process support option for bereaved family members.”
When faced with bad news, as hard as might be, it is important to remain calm, stay focused on the present moment, and breathe.