Robin Zarel, LCSW

Robin Zarel LCSW

Mind Over Matter

When Bad News Strikes...It's Not The End Of The World

When Bad News Strikes..Strike Back!

Posted Aug 23, 2011

"Your 401K just lost $50,000."

"You have cancer."

"I don't love you anymore."

Those words can cause your adrenaline to start pumping and your mind to start racing to worst case scenarios in a matter of seconds. That fight or flight response can kick in pretty quickly. Maybe you've never heard these particular words said to you, but no one is immune to receiving a piece of bad news at some point in their life.

So how do we process whatever it is we need to, and then move on to deal with the issue at hand? How can we make sure not to let the pieces of bad news we receive define our life, who we are, or what we are afraid we will become?

First and foremost, it's important to stay present in the moment. Breathe.  Easier said than done, but it is essential to try to quiet the mind and body. When our bodies are under stress, the adrenal gland secretes the hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol can put someone at greater risk for heart disease. The limbic area part of the brain, which includes the hippocampus and amygdala, hold different forms of memory - the facts and emotions that are part of our history. Earlier traumas can be revived on a physical and emotional level.

Try to calm yourself, as hard as it might be. Sometimes closing your eyes for a few minutes, focusing on your breath, conjuring up a pleasant, non-emotionally charged image, even just repeating the word calm over and over can be helpful. Research dating back to the 1960's from Herbert Benson, MD, and his book The Relaxation Response, along with present day studies, laude the benefits of meditation and exercise as stress reducers which can lower blood pressure, relax your muscles and slow your heart beat.

Staying in the present, but becoming more conscious and mindful about how the past may be impacting present reactions is a good first step. Reminding yourself about previous successful coping strategies and difficult situations that you have resolved is next. How did you get back on track after suffering some major setback? Was it talking to others who may have experienced a similar difficulty? Was it gathering more information about the particular problem? Remember we've all been successful at something in our lives, even though recalling it might escape us at the moment. Big or little - it doesn't matter; just recalling it can temper the immediate panic or despair and provide some relief. The trick is to allow yourself to see it and not belittle it when you do.

Learning not to globalize situations is also extremely important in processing bad news. Don't future trip. While it is important to acknowledge the potential negative ways this "news" may impact you, and plan accordingly, don't create scenarios that may never happen. Conversely, sticking your head in the sand, and denying the realities the bad news may present can make a bad situation even worse. Being able to have a balanced perspective, accepting all the feelings, both good and bad that the news elicits is what will help you get through it.

Wondering what could be "good" about "bad" news? It may present the opportunity to reevaluate priorities, what and who is important to you, encourage more self-reflection and introduce you to people and situations you might have never known.

Take away:

Breathe, calm yourself.

Stay in the present, but reevaluate the past.

Remember and utilize past successful strategies.

Don't globalize.

Don't be Mr. or Ms. Negativity or Pollyanna.

Identify and appreciate new opportunities.