Why Bad News Can Make You Physically Sick
Why your body reacts to bad news - A psychological explanation of the connection between the mind and physical health.
When you discover something bad has happened, it may trigger your body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. This is your body's evolved response for coping with danger. At a neurobiological level, the ‘fight or flight’ response is governed by what is known as the sympathetic nervous system, which sends commands from your spinal cord to your body’s major organs, including your heart and intestines, gearing you up to either fight or flee when faced with danger.
A key part of the fight or flight response is to shut down functions from areas not required for immediate survival (such as the digestive system for example) so that blood flow and energy can be channelled to those body parts needed to get you out of danger instead.
This sudden shutdown of the digestive system may cause nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea in some people. In short, the bad news has prompted you to feel threatened and your body has triggered your survival mode.
The sympathetic nervous system is in opposition to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is more active when we are relaxed. It sends unique messages to your body, which include those that encourage digestion. So anything you can do to boost your parasympathetic nervous system activity will help you overcome those feelings of sickness.
This is easier said than done, but a basic step that works well is to deliberately slow down your breathing. Sit or lie down and consciously follow your in and out-breath. When you are calmer make a list of those aspects of the situation that are out of your control and those that you can do something about. For those things you can control or influence, try to come up with some achievable plans to make the situation better. Over time, distraction, exercise and meditation can help you relax and cope with stress.
Do not be afraid to ask for help from friends and family - or seek professional support if you constantly remain in a fearful state.