You would think that when dealing with a medical crisis that good news about your health would alleviate stress and anxiety. Personally, I was very surprised that after the initial elation of good news, a “down” feeling set in. It was almost like the good news was too much. It seemed like an odd response and in thinking about it I was inspired to write this article. Who would have thought that good news could produce anything but good feelings?
Let’s explore the dynamics of bad news and good news. (I addressed what to do when you get bad news in a prior article.)
Anticipation is the enemy because it produces anxiety and stress. When diagnosed with a serious or life-threatening illness the focus is on treatment. The anticipation is that the treatment will be successful or at least there is hope that it will be. But this is only the beginning of the journey. Eventually the doctors will check to see if the treatment is working or not. The anticipation and waiting for that first test is hard and emotional. After all, your family and friends are doing the same thing… waiting. This shared experience might feel like support or perhaps it will feel like you are responsible for their feelings too or something in between. Anticipation builds nervous energy inside coupled with negative projections and a sense of responsibility for how others will feel.
You get good news! The treatment is working. A wave of relief can be felt by everyone. There is happiness, celebration, and expectations of being well. The truth is that the waiting game just begins again for the next test and marker of your health. The next test and results follow. Perhaps it is good news again or perhaps you’ll get bad news. The anticipation rises again. You and your loved ones find yourselves nervous, on edge, and maybe a bit burned out with the process that you now know will continue unless the health crisis ends. The cycle starts again and anticipation gets worse especially if you have been yo-yoing between good and bad news.
Now I understand the “down” feelings after good news. The flame of expectation is lit again for yourself and those close to you. The expectation leads to anticipation, which leads to anxiety, stress and other feelings.
Feeling down upon hearing good news is also self-protection from the yo-yo effect of the cycle of positive and negative news. If you don’t get too excited then it won’t hurt so much if the news is negative or neutral (more waiting). If you are one of those who feel responsible for others’ feelings you may not even have the celebratory experience. Feeling down or neutral after good news protects you from disappointment, protects you from upset, and protects you from future projections about your health outcome.
Now you know the mechanism and the cycle that creates anticipation and the cause of low or neutral feelings upon hearing good news. Is it OK to handle news about your health status in this manner? Of course it is! There is no right or wrong with feelings. Each person manages them in their own unique way. Someone told me that staying neutral with the good and bad news is healthy. No big ups and downs allows the body to stay calm and in healing mode. The cycle and process of handling a health crisis is just what it is: a cycle, a process, life… your life.
Staying present will also help manage anticipation. That means paying attention to what is happening now instead of thinking about what has happened in the past and creating projections about what could happen or should happen in the future. These projections don’t help unless you are using positive imagery to work with your subconscious mind via hypnosis, for example, which is very effective to calm the mind, body and emotions and keep you present in the now. After all, the NOW is all you, your family, and friends can really handle and staying focused in the present moment makes things easier.
Exercise: If you find yourself in anticipatory anxiety, either from past experiences or projections about the future, you can do something about it!
Get into a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Take 3 or 4 slow breaths. If your mind is still running or you feel negative feelings, just notice them. No “fixing” is necessary. As you breathe slowly, let your body begin to relax. Your limbs might feel a little heavy, your back will let go of tension, and your neck will release along with your hands and feet. Your heart rate may slow as you relax. Just keep noticing your body, your thoughts, and your feelings. There is nothing to do at all but notice. Simply breathe and pay attention to either your right or left foot. Notice your toes, heal, arch, and ankle. Draw your attention up your calf and shin, behind your knee, and in front of your knee to your thigh and buttocks. Notice your hip. Keep breathing slowly. Draw your attention up your hip to your thigh, into the small of your back, up your spine, and to the side of your back. Notice your abdomen and belly. Become aware of your chest and the movement of your chest as you breathe.
Notice your shoulder, drawing your attention down through your arm to your hand and notice each finger. Shift back to your shoulder and become aware of your neck and throat. Then move your awareness to that side of your face, including your mouth, jaw, eye, forehead and ear and your forehead. Pay attention to the back of your head, moving up to the top of your scalp. Then shift your attention to the other side of your body and let your attention travel down from your head and scalp to your toes.