Coping when life doesn’t go as planned

Coping when life doesn’t go as planned

When you are suddenly hit with difficult news, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or a cancer diagnosis, your world may feel like it’s spinning out of control. Here’s what Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, recommends doing to cope when life doesn’t go as planned.

Wait before taking action

When you first get difficult news, Buttimer recommends not taking action right away, unless it’s an emergency. 

“When bad news hits, our brains get scrambled and we don’t think clearly,” she explains. “I encourage people when they get bad news to wait before making any final decisions.” 

Honor your emotions

When you get unexpected news, it is normal to feel shocked and confused. If you have any emotional tendencies already – such as becoming easily saddened or agitated – those emotions will become amplified in distressing situations, says Buttimer.

Simply recognizing your emotions and not putting pressure on yourself to feel a certain way can be helpful.

Seek support

Buttimer recommends finding a counselor, coach or an online community group to support you through a challenging season. Many therapists now offer online or virtual sessions, so you can get the support you need while social distancing. 

“Don’t try to tough it out,” she advises. “You don’t have to go it alone.”

Seeking support from others is just as good for your body as it is for your emotions.

“Some people choose the route of the silent sufferer, and we know that is not good for the immune system,” she says. “Community boosts the immune system, so having friendship and a support system is helpful in terms of recovery.”

Expand your circle

Speaking of community, the latest research in positive psychology indicates it may be more helpful to have both deep friendships and a wide variety of friends, says Buttimer. Stay connected with loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic through traditional or video calls, texts, or emails.  

“Researchers used to think people needed just a few close friends, but it’s actually good to have a broad community beyond your usual go-to people,” she explains. In some cases, your closest friends or relatives may not be able to be there for you in the way you need.

“They could be going through a tough season themselves or they may not be able to help you cope with what you’re facing,” says Buttimer. “It’s good to understand that it’s not always about someone’s willingness to care for you; sometimes, it’s simply about their capacity and they don’t have it within themselves to give.”

Be discerning about your relationships

Buttimer advises setting healthy boundaries in your relationships.

“Be careful about being around people who catastrophize bad news or, on the other end of the spectrum, invalidate or minimize bad news,” she says. “Some people tend to be maximizers or minimizers. It can feel terrible when sharing something that’s concerning to you to get either type of reaction. Be mindful of who you are sharing news with and who you’re leaning into.”

Practice mind-body techniques

Mind-body practices – such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong and journal writing – are also helpful in coping with difficult news. Mind-body techniques have been shown to:

  • Decrease stress

  • Improve sleep

  • Boost your mood

  • Reduce feelings of anxiety and depression

  • Support immune system wellness

Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.


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