You would think that when faced with a medical crisis, the good news about your health would relieve stress and anxiety. Personally, I was very surprised that after the initial euphoria of the good news, a feeling of “depression” set in. It was almost as if the good news was too much. It seemed like a strange answer and thinking about it inspired me to write this article. Who would have thought that good news could produce anything but good feelings?
Let’s explore the dynamics of the bad news and the good news. (I addressed what to do when you receive bad news in a previous article.)
Anticipation is the enemy because it produces anxiety and stress. When you are 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. Over time, doctors will check whether 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 … waiting. This shared experience may feel supportive or you may feel that you are also responsible for your feelings or something in between. Anticipation generates nervous energy within along with negative projections and a sense of responsibility for how others will feel.
You have good news! The treatment is working. Everyone can feel a wave of relief. There is joy, celebration and expectations of being well. The truth is that the waiting game is just beginning again for the next test and marker of your health. The following test and results follow. Maybe it’s good news again or maybe you’ll get bad news. Anticipation rises again. You and your loved ones are nervous, on edge, and perhaps a little exhausted with the process that you now know will continue unless the health crisis is over. The cycle starts over and the anticipation gets worse, especially if you’ve been fluctuating between the good news and the bad news.
Now I understand the feelings of “depression” after the good news. The flame of expectation is reignited for you and your loved ones. Expectation leads to anticipation, which leads to anxiety, stress, and other feelings.
Feeling depressed when hearing good news is also self-protection from the yo-yo effect of the positive and negative news cycle. If you don’t get too excited, it won’t hurt as much if the news is negative or neutral (more waiting). If you are one of those who feel responsible for the feelings of others, you may not even have the experience of celebration. Feeling depressed or neutral after good news protects you from disappointment, protects you from annoyance, and protects you from future projections on your health.
Now you know the mechanism and cycle that creates anticipation and the cause of low or neutral feelings when hearing good news. Is it okay to handle the news about your health in this way? Of course it is! There is nothing right or wrong about feelings. Each person manages them in their own way. Someone told me that staying neutral with good news and bad news is healthy. Without great ups and downs, the body remains calm and in healing mode. The cycle and process of managing a health crisis is exactly 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 rather than thinking about what happened in the past and creating projections about what could or should happen in the future. These projections do not help unless you are using positive imagery to work with your subconscious mind through hypnosis, for example, which is very effective at calming the mind, body, and emotions and keeping you present in the now. After all, NOW is all that you, your family, and your friends can really handle and staying focused on the present moment makes things easier.
Exercise: If you are in anticipatory anxiety, either from past experiences or from projections into 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 working or you have negative feelings, just notice them. No need to “fix”. As you breathe slowly, let your body begin to relax. Your limbs may feel a bit heavy, your back will release tension, and your neck will relax along with your hands and feet. Your heart rate may decrease as you relax. Just keep noticing your body, your thoughts, and your feelings. There is nothing to do but realize. Just breathe in and pay attention to your right or left foot. Look at the toes, scarring, arch, and ankle. Direct your attention to the calf and shin, behind the knee, and in front of the knee to the thigh and buttocks. Look at your hip. Keep breathing slowly. Direct your attention toward the hips, toward the thigh, toward the lower back, toward the spine, and toward the side of the back. Look at your abdomen and belly. Become aware of your chest and the movement of your chest as you breathe.
Watch your shoulder, draw your attention through your arm to your hand, and look at each finger. Get back on your shoulder and become aware of your neck and throat. Then move your awareness to that side of your face, including your mouth, jaw, eyes, forehead, ear, and forehead. Pay attention to the back of your head, moving towards the top of your scalp. Then turn your attention to the other side of your body and let your attention travel down from your head and scalp to your toes.
That’s it. You will have the experience of being present with your body, your mind will become still, and you will relax. If you wish, you can move your consciousness around your body 2 or 3 times, which will deepen your experience. This process promotes relaxation, the balance of emotions and the present, the space from which the experience of managing a health crisis can best be managed.
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