Disappointment is something we all have to face. It can be one of life’s most uncomfortable feelings and tricky to deal with. I wrote a post about dealing with the disappointment of cancelled plans — it’s one of my most popular posts.
That post was about the disappointment of a grandchild getting sick and having to cancel her birthday party. But how do you deal with disappointment when you get sick and have to miss a special event? I had that experience recently and it set in motion all of the feelings that accompany disappointment.
I was all packed and ready to fly to Portland, Oregon for my cousin’s wedding with an extended trip to Seattle, Washington. On the morning of my departure, I awoke at 2 am with a fever of 104 degrees, chills and a miserable ache in the right side of my chest. I could hardly get out of bed but I knew I needed to cancel all my flights and let my host know I wouldn’t be coming. I also needed to get myself to the doctor.
My husband drove me to the ER in the morning and it was a good thing I went. I had pneumonia in my right lung and needed IV antibiotics. Despite my pain and misery, I was overcome with disappointment as I imagined all the parties and celebrations I would miss. I’m usually the life of the party. Instead, I was experiencing major FOMO as I lay on my hospital guerney.
Responding to Disappointment
I went through the usual responses: I got angry at my body for failing me; I pouted and felt sorry for myself; I pretended I didn’t care; I felt envious of all the family members who would be there having a wonderful time while I sat home recovering. It was turning into a real pity party.
The next day I woke up feeling like a different person. I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. I was pleased at how quickly my body had fought off the infection. As I felt better, my perspective changed. I started to appreciate how lucky I was to have such good health coverage, given the current state of healthcare in America. I also appreciated my husband who sat beside me in the ER for six hours.
I decided to stop wallowing in self-pity and went outside to sit in my garden. As I soaked up the sunshine and watched the hummingbird sipping at the feeder, I felt my mood shift. Yes, I still felt a twinge of disappointment about missing the wedding but there was nothing I could do about it. I knew it was better to try and let it go so that my body could heal with more positive energy.
Later that night, my husband and I watched the movie, “Passengers” about two passengers who are awakened 90 years too early when their spaceship malfunctions. They face living the rest of their lives on board with their future uncertain. There’s a wonderful quote at the end of the movie that really resonated with me:
You can’t get so hung up on where you’d rather be that you forget to make the most of where you are.
I had definitely gotten hung up on wishing I could be at the wedding but it was futile to wish for the impossible. By appreciating what I had at home, I was able to shift my perspective and accept reality. Here are some tips I found for overcoming disappointment.
Tips for Overcoming Disappointment
- Take a moment to wallow. You may find your sense of calm more easily if you allow yourself not be calm for the initial shock of disappointment. When you get bad news, take a moment to let it sink in. Find a word for how you feel, such as disappointed, resentful, or afraid. Labeling feelings helps us make sense of our experience. Let the waves of disappointment wash over you, speak out loud (if only to yourself), and honor your emotions.
- Do a reality check—is it really that bad? After feeling the first blows of disappointment, step back and assess. It can seem like the biggest, most horrible thing that could possibly happen—but we tend to dramatize, too. Feelings are real and are important to recognize, but thoughts are not always the truth. Try to look objectively at your problems to help separate fact from fiction and reduce negative self-talk.
- Make a choice about how you’re going to respond. Though we don’t get to choose the situations about which we feel disappointed, we have a lot of choice regarding how we respond to disappointment. We can choose what we do, say, and think about any given situation. It’s important to head off disappointment before it turns into into irritation, anger, resentment, jealousy, or bitterness.
- Don’t stew in negativity. Like any other emotion, disappointment has a spectrum. The secret to dealing with disappointment is to not let it grow into stronger emotions like discouragement and depression. The longer you’re discouraged, the greater the chances of getting depressed.
- Avoid anxious reactions by lowering stress. Find a sweet spot for fast anxiety relief, such as meditating, walking, listening to music, taking a long baths or watching a comedy. Your general state of stress and anxiety can add an extra layer of sensitivity and make you more prone to agitation.
- Put things in perspective. The more we can learn to frame our concern in a way that’s constructive and positive while still being honest, the better we are able to process disappointment.
- Write down your distress. Journaling is a good way to start because it can help you express concerns and emotions about your disappointment in a non-threatening way. The journal is non-judgmental and will listen. It can be a great way to grow, learn and transform from your disappointment.
- Develop positive thinking muscles. When we get stuck focusing on bad news we lose sight of what is right in our lives and the world around us. Our brains are fundamentally wired to focus on the negatives in our lives. It is part of our self-preservation to look for potential threats in the world around us. That wiring is old and in today’s world doesn’t always serve us when we are pummeled with negativity at every turn. Our brains are also neoplastic, meaning we can rewire them to look for what is right in the world.
- Breathe your way to a clear mind. The emotional center in our brain can take over our ability to think straight in stressful situations. It can send stress hormones through the system, increasing your heart rate and blood flow so that you can ‘fight or run,’ as well as narrowing your thought process. The simple act of taking a few deep breaths will dissipate the cortisol (stress hormone) through oxygenating your blood and will get you back into thinking mode instead of reaction mode. Breathing can literally help you increase feelings of wellbeing and peace.
I meditated, I journaled and I texted my cousins to ask for photos of the event. Everyone sent wishes for a speedy recovery and said how much they would miss me. All of their good wishes helped and now I look forward to seeing photos and hearing stories of the wedding celebration.
Note: Thanks to Woman’s Day for these tips on how to overcome disappointment.