Dealing with Bad News

March 29, 2023

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I had to deal with some potentially awful news a couple of days ago, and I’d like to share with you how I deal with events that knock me off balance. Maybe it’ll help you too.

  1. Give yourself time. Time to grieve, to regret, or to simply understand what happened. This may take a day or a week, but expect yourself to be out of commission until you come out the other side. Take personal time off work if you can.

  2. Take care of your body first. Stress makes you hunch over with fight-or-flight reflexes, so do what you can to undo it. Drink plenty of water. Eat regular meals. Lower your shoulders. Take a walk. Mind the coffee and alcohol; they can make it more difficult to regain balance. Sleep plenty, if you can.

  3. Do mindless activities to take a break from catastrophizing. When you decide you’ve had enough with your internal doomsday scenarios, go play a video game, go to social media, watch a movie, whatever. Let your brain take a rest. Don’t count on having enough energy to do serious mental work.

  4. Reach out to trusted friends. You don’t have to tell them everything; even vaguely mentioning that you’re going through a hard time can help. Humans are social creatures that thrive on connections with others who care.

  5. At some point, the primary fight-or-flight response will subside (we only have so much stress chemicals we can pump into our bodies before we deplete the reserves). At this point, work on bringing your attention to the present. Not the past (in regret) or the future (in fear), but right now. Meditation helps. This naturally brings your attention to chores that you’ve recently neglected. It’s a good time to do them. It brings back a sense of regularity and familiarity.

  6. When you’re back to doing daily chores, that’s a good sign that you now have a bit of your mental capacity back. Consider easing back into your usual routine. Pick up your study, or do a bit of work. The familiarity of the everyday and the joy of accomplishing tasks and checking off important to-dos will return.

Last but not least, consider taking anxiety-management medicine, but be careful not to turn your sorrow into substance dependency. Ask your doctors if beta blockers, melatonin, ashwaganda, or other medicines are safe to take to manage your body’s stress response.

Though the reality of what happened will never change, the shock of the event will eventually wear off into a dull ache.

Never think that your life is over because of one bad news. Humans are incredibly resilient; we eventually learn a new gait even when we lose a limb.

Realize that the horrific feeling of fear or doom is temporary, a byproduct of our primal chemistry. Understand that this storm can pass if you know how to navigate your way back to calmer waters.

Some of us have more of the luxury of time, space, and support than others, and some of us may take years to regain our footing. But the process is sound, and recovery is possible.