How to deal with bad news?

person holding a news paper during daytime

We are exposed to a lot of news (especially bad news) every day, and each of us develops a strategy to deal with that. Some consume so much news in hopes to get a grip on what’s really going on that they feel tense, overwhelmed and empty. Many stopped consuming news altogether because they feel very vulnerable when exposed to so much negativity. Others take it to heart so much they get depressed, bitter and spread fear and frustration to those around them. None of these strategies are particularly helpful.

I would like to suggest another way to deal with bad news. A way that puts you in the center, a way that empowers you and supports your growth, while allowing you to feel safe, to keep exposing yourself to the world (bad news) and at the same time allows you to find your own way to respond effectively to what’s going on.

If you just watched a piece of news, that coloured your future in black, and you feel like you have no air to breathe, you feel tightness in your belly and less energy to live, you are triggered! Being triggered means that your emotional buttons were pressed, and you are now reacting from an unaware place and without control. This is dangerous. Triggered people make  unconscious decisions, based on emotions that someone else wanted to trigger in them.

When something has such a strong grip on us, we want to question it to make sure we are responding effectively in a way that support us and the others. The most important steps to deal with the information are:

  1. Notice you’ve been triggered
  2. Process your emotions
  3. Question your preconceptions

Notice you’ve been triggered

There are two primary ways to notice you’ve been triggered:

  1. You notice a distinct difference in your experience before and after reading or watching a piece of news. Before, you felt relaxed and happy. After, you became stressed and anxious. That is a warning signal that you’ve been triggered. It is sometimes hard to notice because we tend to forget how we felt just moments ago, the same way we forget our dreams when we wake up.
  1. You notice circular thoughts – your mind coming back again and again to the same image or idea you read or watched somewhere. You also notice there’s a tension in your body as a response to those thoughts.

Processe your emotions

Processing emotions is not the same as getting them under control or repressing them. Our emotions have a lot to tell us and we can find a lot of wisdom in them by listening deeply.

There are three steps to processing your emotions:

  1. To identify the emotion you first need to separate the story which I call “the trigger” from your feelings. Write down the new information that triggered you. What did you read or hear? Let’s say you read news article about a white bear dying because of icebergs that are melting at an accelerated rate. 
  1. Now find the emotion you experience about this story. We’re looking for one-word names of emotions: hopeless, scared, angry, devastated, guilty. Those are the emotions. Beware of phrases that begin with “I feel that” such as “I feel that we’re not doing enough” isn’t an emotion, it’s a thought.
  1. Now, put aside the story for a few minutes. Just be with your emotions as fully as you can. Take a deep breath and focus on the feeling the way it shows up in your body: the sensations, the temperature, the texture. You want to do that until your feelings don’t feel as strong and overwhelming. It can take a while if you’ve never done that before. The more you practice the easier it gets.

Becoming aware of your emotions and learning how to listen to them, will help you transform and dissipate them. You’ll be able to find your true self and connect with the wisdom that is beyond your intellect. You’ll be abel feel centred and safe, even if the news is really bad. You’ll be sure no one can trigger you or pull your strings.

Question your preconceptions

We all have our biases. When we hear something it either fits our current belief system or it doesn’t. If it does, most of us won’t question the new information. You’ll can notice that happening when hear yourself think “I knew it,” and “Oh, of course!” It might happen even as you are reading this article (which doesn’t make it true, only conforming to what you already believe about your mind).

To get a broader perspective, you only need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Why do I believe this information to be true or false?
  2. What would it take to change my mind on this topic?

Try it on the following list of (completely made up) headlines. Which do you automatically believe and which do you discount? Why?

  1. Trump and Putin are planning a coup d’état in China
  2. Science confirms: Climate change is a hoax
  3. Meningitis vaccine officially proven to be harmful
  4. New study shows: Eating meat is essential for male mental well being

Questioning your preconceptions and beliefs is the real freedom. We all afraid of being manipulated and controlled. We all want to know the truth. However, in a post-truth world, the forces attempting to manipulate our opinions  on both sides of every major issue are very powerful. We don’t need to research every topic to death. But we do need to become aware of our automatic responses to be able to judge information clearly.

The more we question our beliefs and listen to our emotions, the more we’ll develop flexible thinking and deep awareness. We will then wake up from having fixed minds, from being sold on ideas, from being triggered and activated, from hating people that we don’t really know and have never met!

We will then wake up to the reality that each of us is part of the polarized mess we’re in, and stop reinforcing it.


If you liked this, follow me on Twitter. I teach people how to talk about hot topics without exploding or shutting down.

@yaelfiner