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Coping with bad events

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Continued from February 7th

6. Avoid numbing behaviours.

You may be tempted to manage your pain by drinking, using drugs, or binge eating. Keep in mind that these behaviours only temporarily dull your feelings and do nothing to help you work through your bad news. These behaviours only create a cycle of feeling the pain and numbing the pain. They do not help you process the pain.

If you feel compelled to drink to excess, use drugs, or binge, talk to a friend to help distract yourself, or consider attending a support group meeting, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

7. Improve your ability to deal with disappointment.

Bad news can also take the form of something less serious, such as a disappointment. For example, you might feel disappointed when you hear the news that you got a lower grade than you expected in a class, or that someone you like is not interested in you. Try to develop your ability to handle disappointment, such as by identifying something positive in the situation or putting the situation into perspective.

8. Know that you maybe in shock.

It is extremely common to not feel much of anything when you first hear the news. You may feel numb, like you are going through the motions. While other people around you may be crying upon hearing the bad news, for example, you may be sitting there in stony silence. Understand that this is normal and does not usually last very long.

That feeling of numbness is the brain’s self-protection mechanism to not let too much trauma flow in at once. Slowly you will begin to process the feelings associated with the bad news.

9. Feel the emotions that come to the surface.

Don’t bottle them up. You are processing this news and your brain needs to work through it. You work through it by letting your feelings flow through and out of you without judgment. Fear, sadness, anger… whatever you feel is appropriate and normal.

It is okay to cry if you hear someone else’s bad news (for example, if your friend tells you he is seriously ill), but do not make the person in crisis comfort you. You could say, “Don’t worry about me; I’m just so sad to hear this bad news.”

Your brain will probably be replaying the news over and over again. It’s your mind’s way of getting used to the new information. It’s tiring and annoying, but normal.

10. Distract yourself. Processing bad news can be exhausting.

Take a break from it if possible and do something you find enjoyable. The problem may be at the back of your mind, but busying yourself for a while will give you a sense of normality. You may even find yourself feeling a bit better.

11. Reach out to your support network.

Find people you trust who can be a shoulder to cry on as you process your bad news. Look for friends, family, clergy, or others who can listen supportively without offering advice or judgment.

Make sure you are talking to people who can support you in the bad news, not the people who are currently experiencing the bad news. If you found out that your mother has cancer, for example, you may be devastated and need support of your own. However, you need to seek support from someone other than your mother, who is dealing with the biggest crisis.

12. Look for professional support.

You may find it beneficial to seek out more structured, professional help for a number of reasons. Perhaps you just moved to a new city and have no one local to talk to. Or maybe you are tired of relying on your friends to be ready to talk to you. Talking to a counsellor or joining a support group will help you feel like you are not alone, and give you strategies to help you cope.

Find a support group whose members deal with the problem you are facing. You can contact local hospitals, community service agencies, or look online for local groups near you. Seek counselling if you are struggling to cope with your bad news, and/or do not have a support network available.

Continued next week

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

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