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Dealing with bad news


We all have at some point or the other in our lives, waited with bated breath, sweated profusely, became totally agitated and unnerved, about the possibility of hearing what we consider the worse news ever. We all hate receiving bad news, because most times it shakes the very core of our beings. Those words can catapult our bodies into a tailspin, causing the release of adrenaline in our bodies; our minds begin racing to worst case scenarios instantly.{{more}}

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…But DON’T STRESS!!! 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.

Staying grounded in the present, while becoming more conscious and mindful about how the past may be impacting present reactions is very important. Reminding yourself about previous successful coping strategies and difficult situations that you have resolved is next. Ask yourself, how did you get back on track after suffering some major setback? Was it by talking to others who may have experienced a similar difficulty? Was it gathering more information about the particular problem? Remember we have all been successful at something in our lives, even though during a bad experience, remembering these successes tends to be quite difficult. But big or little – it doesn’t matter; just recalling it can reduce 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 generalize situations is also extremely important in processing bad news. Additionally avoid sabotaging the enjoyment/possibilities of your future, by the worrying over what has not yet materialized. The bible rightly outlined:

Matthew 6:25-27: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

Luke 12:25: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

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. It is better to hold on to the promises of the creator, who holds your future in his hands.

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, show you what and who is important to you, encourage more self-reflection and introduce you to people and situations you might have never known.

Remember these tips when bad news comes:

o Breathe, calm yourself.

o Stay in the present, but reevaluate the past.

o Remember and utilize past successful strategies.

o Don’t generalize.

o Don’t be Mr or Ms Negativity.

o Identify and appreciate new opportunities.

And finally let these famous words be an encouragement to you…

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”– Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – Christopher Robin to Pooh, AA Milne.

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”– Franklin D Roosevelt.

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.