When life gives you lemons, it's easy to focus on the sour taste in your mouth. But instead of dwelling on the negative and letting anxiety get the better of you, there are things you can do (and not do) to heal from the pain.
1. Do something fun
It's only normal to want to hide from the world, curling up in a ball of self-pity when things don't go the way you had hoped. That's the denial part of the grieving process, says stress management expert Genella Macintyre, author of "Five Steps to Reducing Stress." "In most cases, it's not a good thing to do," Macintyre says. She suggests having a little self-talk, admitting that the disappointment happened and then changing the conversation by getting up and doing something you like instead. Walk the dog. Do something crafty. Make some soup.
2. Reconsider venting
It's often our natural reaction to rant and rave when we're disappointed or angry. We don't like the ways things turned out, and we want the world to know. Though that may seem cathartic in theory, research shows that might not be the case. Anger researcher Brad Bushman writes, "venting to reduce anger is like using gasoline to put out a fire — it only feeds the flame." Instead, find a less damaging way to deal with your emotions.
3. Talk to someone
OK, this goes against the "don't vent" recommendation, but explaining your sadness or anxiety in a calm, controlled way isn't venting. The key is to find a friend or family member who will listen without judgment. "We are wired to connect with others and to comfort each other through emotional and physical connection," says licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist Julie Hanks, Ph.D., at PsychCentral. If you do this, set a time limit to your discussion. You don't want to go on for hours. That will just up your anxiety (and probably do nothing for your relationship).
4. Help others
It's easy to get mired in your disappointment and feel sorry for yourself. But instead of wallowing in sadness, do something good. Find an organization or cause and volunteer. Not only will assisting others help them, but it will also help you. Research has found that volunteering offers many health and social benefits. In addition to easing stress, the act of helping others can improve your overall health and lower your chances of being depressed. So find a cause — a food bank, an animal shelter, a nursing home — and channel your energy and time into something that benefits everyone.
5. Go out in nature
Study after study has found that being outside in nature reduces feeling of stress, anger and anxiety and replaces them with more pleasant feelings. It's hard to have your fists clenched and your head pounding when you're crunching through wooded paths, listening to birds sing. Research has found that exposure to the great outdoors can lower blood pressure and your heart rate, while easing tense muscles and increasing overall health. When all seems overwhelming and stressful in your world, head outside for a burst of fresh air and landscapes.
6. Find community
If you're an introvert, plan coffee with a close friend. If you're extroverted, organize a get-together with the neighbors. "We have an overriding need for support," Macintyre says. "It's a case of distracting the mind. Having something positive to look forward to is so important when you are dealing with disappointment."
7. Take a shower
This one may sound silly, but hear us out. In a literature review, researchers found that the act of cleansing has a psychological effect. "Cleansing is about the removal of residues," wrote researcher Spike W.S. Lee of the University of Michigan. "People can rid themselves of a sense of immorality, lucky or unlucky feelings, or doubt about a decision. The bodily experience of removing physical residues can provide the basis of removing more abstract mental residues."
8. Be mindful
"Disappointment comes from a loss in the past and generally an unknown future," says Macintyre. "Mindfulness will keep you right here in the present." Practice mindfulness exercises that are as simple as going for a walk and using your five senses to notice the smells and colors and sounds you hear. You can do the same just sitting on the floor in your room. "If you stay in the present long enough, your body settles down a little and it counteracts the stress response and allows you think more clearly."
9. Find something to smile about
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy says if you smile for two minutes — even if you don't mean it — you'll change your brain chemistry and feel better. You can force yourself to paste on a grin, or Macintyre suggests looking for something humorous in your day. "If you notice that your dog or cat is doing something funny or you can find something on the internet, you can switch your emotions and feel gratitude or humor," she says. "You provide a little reprieve for your body to experience another emotion. When you do those little things throughout the day, you'll keep feeling a little bit better."