Handling the Unexpected

By Alexa Ashworth – MFT, Intern

verified by Psychology Today

Life happens no matter how much we plan ahead…

Do you ever feel personally defeated or frazzled due to plans not unfolding as they should?  Have you been promised something and last minute had it fall through? or had something spectacular planned for someone else and the day of the event had to cancel due to a life emergency?

Whatever the scenario may be when life naturally takes unexpected turns it is extremely difficult to acknowledge a new course of action must be made.  As humans, we prefer the comfort and security of what we already know.  When an unavoidable event takes place making our world crumble, it is easy to react without consciously thinking through our options for handling a situation in the moment.

Emotional Regulation

When asking several respected colleagues underlying emotions that take over when personal plans fall apart these were some of the responses: anger, hopelessness, fear, confusion, or becoming anxious and hateful.  I know we all can relate to one or several of these emotions. emotions

The most challenging piece in decision making when experiencing the intensity of a current emotion is how that emotion can affect our own self or someone we are in close connection to.  If we are not careful with our words and actions, the impulsivity of our emotions will do the talking for us which may do more harm than good.  Here are a few helpful reminders for how we can ground ourselves in the midst of uncontrollable circumstances.

Radical Acceptance

One of the best ways to collect your thoughts after an unexpected event is to radically accept the experience on life’s terms.  Naturally, we tend to ignore feelings at play and not accept what is happening because there is a belief that if we do not accept reality then something will change.

This belief only delays the healing process so we must allow reality to be as it is.  Then, notice the presenting concern as being a part of life and that you cannot change or fix what has already happened.  For example, you planned an outdoor birthday party for your child and the day of the birthday it is pouring rain.  There is nothing you can do to control the rain.  However, you can control changing the environment of where the birthday will take place.rain

Accepting the situation for what it is and focusing your thoughts on something you can control in the moment will reduce the stronger underlying emotions of personal upset.  According to Dr. Hall (2012), radical acceptance is a skill that requires daily practice.  By accepting the smaller areas of life, we have no control over, it builds resilience and helps prepare us for more challenging life circumstances.

Notice Your Environment

Ask yourself, “what is really happening?” here.  Recognize all the moving parts around you in the present and not where you wish to be instead.  Then, notice what you can do to take action in the circumstance that unfolded in front of you.  This is extremely helpful for individuals that have a difficult time controlling emotional behaviors first before acting.Woman looking at lake

It may be helpful to first see how you can be an asset to those around you. Help organize any perceived chaos to gain back a sense of control.  As you start to calm down and your surroundings are in order again, take a moment to notice the thoughts and emotions driving your actions.   Accept the inner truth of your emotions first then take action.  Decisions, not conditions, determine your path.

Gratitude for What You Already Have

To make the best of your day after going through an unexpected change of plans, notice what you have in your life that has not changed.  Being grateful for connections and that which we already obtain in our life draws us closer to our well-being. grateful woman

Research shows that gratitude is the willingness to recognize undeserved gains of rich value in one’s experience of life.  Gratitude links us to positive emotions which further assists how we will continue to process a life-altering event.

Personal Perception is Key

You have the power to control how you will live out your emotional experience in relation to an event.  Further referencing Dr. Hall (2012), we cannot avoid pain, but we can control how much we suffer over the experience.  Suffering is what you do with pain and it is suffering that we can control.

That is an extremely powerful statement.  Often it is our beliefs about life that make us suffer more than the reality of how we are currently living.  You may not be able to solve a problem in the unexpected.  YOU CAN change your perception of it.key

Studies show it is healthy to have positive life stressors because we know they will lead to great outcomes, further fueling our passions.  Meeting timelines and accomplishing what we have set out to do also makes us feel whole.  When things do not go as planned and life brings surprises it is easy and natural for our inner-being to shatter.

May we all find a new inner peace knowing life will happen on its own terms and allow room for grace to enter our hearts in times of unpredictable matters.




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