How to deal with bad news

art by Eben A. King

Bad news can leave us with a deep feeling of despair. From news about the death of a loved one, financial troubles, loss of a job, medical report about terminal illness to the end of a relationship or knowledge of a partner’s infidelity; receiving terrible news can make the world around us seem like it is falling apart and we are sinking into the ground. We go through feelings of anger, guilt, helplessness, shame, fear, love and disappointment, sometimes all at once and other times, in different phases. While we all differ in how we react to bad news, there are steps we can take to help us process our pain in a healthy fashion.

After you have received bad news, you are likely to feel tightness in your chest, out of breath or a sinking feeling in your stomach; it is important to breathe deeply. This will help you regain control of our emotions. Breathe in deeply through your nose, hold in it for several seconds, and then gradually let the air out through pursed lips. Keep doing this until you feel relaxed.

2. DRINK WATER
If reacting to the bad news causes you to cry a lot, it is best to have a bottle of water with to remind you to drink water as crying can cause you to be dehydrated.

3. AVOID NUMBING BEHAVIOR
Pain that accompanies bad news can sometimes be overwhelming, driving you to acts that numb the feeling: drinking excessively, binge eating, having frequent risky sexual encounters, or using drugs. These behaviors only reduce the pain temporarily and make it difficult for you to process the pain. They create a cycle of feeling the pain and numbing the pain and feeling the pain and numbing the pain. It is important to exercise self-control when these urges arise. Take a step back to think and prioritize what is healthy and good for you and those around you that have been affected, directly or indirectly, by the bad news.

4. FEEL THE EMOTIONS THAT ARISE
Apart from engaging in numbing behaviors, some of us tend to consciously block the flow of emotions that result from hearing bad news. We bottle up feelings of anger, guilt, shame, sadness; making it difficult for our brains to work through these feelings. Let your feelings flow out of you without judgement or restraint. Whatever feelings you have at that moment are appropriate. Processing your feelings will bring you clarity and help you cope with the after-math of receiving bad news. Cry if you want to, yell if you desire; express your emotions in whatever fashion you feel inclined to as long as it is not hurting you, anyone else and your environment.

5. ASK FOR SUPPORT
During emotionally challenging times that leave us feeling vulnerable, it is natural for us to seek the advice, and reassurance of people around us. We need a shoulder to cry on, a hand to squeeze, a friend to listen to us rant; someone to share our suffering with. Reach out to friends, family members, spiritual teachers, and counselors or therapists who will listen without judgement and criticism; people who will not dismiss your pain by telling you “get over it”, “stop crying” or “be strong”.
It is important to be cautious about who we share these vulnerable parts of ourselves with when we suffer. Sometimes even good and well-meaning friends who are not good at handling these situations might dismiss our pain and make us feel worse. It is good to keep them at a polite distance until you feel strong enough to resume the friendship.

6. TAKE CARE OF YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH
Dealing with bad news can be physical draining especially coping with the events following the bad news. It is good at this time to engage in intentional self-care. Sleep well, eat well and healthily, get some exercise to increase our endorphin levels. Read a book or watch a movie to give you a break from thinking about the bad news. Simple activities like taking a walk, singing, taking a warm bath, laughing, singing, and enjoying a delicious meal can help increase your endorphin levels. Endorphins help your brain reduce its perception of pain and triggers positive feeling in the body.

I do hope that these help you or someone else in need. If you have learnt any other ways to deal with bad news, do share with me.

musings of a 29 year old woman living and working in Lagos, Nigeria.