You would think that receiving good health news during a medical emergency would reduce stress and anxiety. I was surprised that, after the initial elation of good news, a feeling of “down” set in. It was almost as if the good news was overwhelming. It struck me as an odd response, and pondering it inspired me to write this article. Who would have thought that good news could result in anything other than positive emotions?
Let’s examine the relationship between bad and good news. (In a previous article, I addressed what to do when bad news is received.)
Anticipation is the enemy because it causes stress and anxiety. When a serious or life-threatening illness is diagnosed, the focus is on treatment. The treatment is anticipated to be successful, or at least there is hope that it will be. However, this is only the start of the journey. Eventually, the doctors will determine whether or not the treatment is effective. The anticipation and waiting for the first exam are emotionally taxing. Ultimately, your family and friends are doing the same thing as you… they are waiting. This shared experience may feel like support, or it may feel like you share responsibility for their emotions, or it may feel like something else. Anticipation generates nervous energy, negative projections, and a sense of responsibility for the emotions of others.
You get good news! The therapy is effective. Everybody is experiencing a wave of relief. There is joy, celebration, and the anticipation of health. The truth is that the game of waiting for the next test and health indicator begins once more. The subsequent test and results will follow. Perhaps you will receive good news, or perhaps you will receive bad news. The anticipation builds once more. You and your loved ones are anxious, on edge, and perhaps a little weary of the process you now realize will continue until the health crisis ends. The cycle begins again, and anticipation worsens, particularly if you have been receiving alternating good and bad news.
Now I comprehend the “down” feelings that can accompany good news. The flame of anticipation is reignited for you and your loved ones. Expectation generates anticipation, which in turn generates anxiety, stress, and other emotions.
Self-protection against the yo-yo effect of the cycle of positive and negative news is exemplified by an adverse reaction to good news. If you don’t get too excited, then negative or neutral news won’t hurt as much (more waiting). If you are one of those who feel responsible for the emotions of others, you may not even participate in the celebration. Feeling down or neutral after receiving good news protects you from disappointment, upset, and future projections regarding your health outcome.
You are now aware of the mechanism and cycle that creates anticipation and the reason for low or neutral emotions upon hearing good news. Is it acceptable to communicate your health status in this manner? Certainly it is! There are no right or wrong emotions. Each individual manages them in a distinct manner. Someone told me that maintaining a neutral stance toward both positive and negative news is healthy. The absence of extreme fluctuations allows the body to remain calm and in healing mode. The cycle and process of managing a health crisis are precisely what they appear to be: a cycle, a process, life… your life.
Being in the present will also aid in managing anticipation. This entails focusing on the present rather than dwelling on the past and speculating about what might or should occur in the future. These projections are ineffective unless you are using positive imagery to communicate with your subconscious mind, such as through hypnosis, which is highly effective at calming the mind, body, and emotions and keeping you in the present moment. In the end, the PRESENT is all you, your family, and your friends can truly handle, and staying in the moment makes things easier.
Exercise: If you experience anticipatory anxiety due to past experiences or future expectations, you can do something about it!
Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes. Take three or four slow breaths. If your mind is still racing or you are experiencing negative emotions, simply observe them. No “repair” is required. As you breathe slowly, begin to relax your body. Your limbs may feel a little heavy, your back will release tension, and your neck, hands, and feet will also relax. Your heart rate may decrease as you unwind. Simply continue to observe your body, your thoughts, and your emotions. There is nothing to do but observe. Simply focus on your breathing and your right or left foot. Pay attention to your toes, heal, arch, and ankle. Focus on your calf and shin, behind your knee, and your thigh and buttocks in front of your knee. Observe your hip. Continue to breathe slowly. Concentrate on your hip, thigh, small of your back, spine, and the side of your back. Observe your abdomen and stomach. Become conscious of your chest and its movement as you breathe.
Notice your shoulder, then draw your focus down your arm to your hand and observe each finger. Return your attention to your shoulder and become conscious of your neck and throat. Then, shift your focus to that side of your face, which includes your mouth, jaw, eye, forehead, ear, and forehead. Focus on the back of your head and work your way up to the top of your scalp. Then, shift your focus to the opposite side of your body and allow it to descend from your head and scalp to your toes.
That’s all. You will experience being present with your body, your mind will calm down, and you will feel relaxed. You may move your awareness around your body two or three times to enhance your experience. This process promotes relaxation, emotional equilibrium, and presence, the optimal vantage point from which to manage a health crisis.