Sometimes, a single message can flip your world upside down. Whether it's your grandma who's learning how to use an iPhone or your partner who wants out of the relationship, pretty much everyone can send you something surprising.
The fact that we can't always decipher the sender's tone of voice, level of sarcasm, and severity of the topic also doesn't help.
To remind everyone that we should always expect the unexpected, Bored Panda has put together a number of texts that completely caught their recipients off-guard. And us too!
According to psychologist Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D., negative emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration can actually cause your brain's executive network, which is responsible for problem-solving, to constrict and work less effectively. So it's not that easy to maintain your confidence and find a positive outcome when you get into an unexpected situation.
But positive emotions help your brain generate more creative solutions to problems. And even though you can't control the occurrence of unexpected situations, you can control how you respond, Vilhauer said. Ultimately, that can make all the difference in how you feel and how you deal with unforeseen issues.
First, pause before you act. "There is a huge difference between a reaction and a response," Vilhauer highlighted. "A reaction comes from an automatic part of the brain. It is almost like a reflex. Reactions are very quick, especially when we feel threatened in some way. On the other hand, a response is something you consciously choose to do based on a more thoughtful assessment of a situation."
Consider this example. Someone cuts you off in traffic. An automatic reaction might be to get angry and assume the driver is being rude or thoughtless on purpose. This anger can cause you to want to retaliate in some way.
But by pausing and taking time to think, you give yourself a window of opportunity to pick a better option. "You might decide that retaliating is not in your best interest or you may realize that the driver wasn’t deliberately trying to be disrespectful, but was simply not paying attention. For most people, practicing deep breathing and counting to 10 can help restrain a reaction long enough to choose a better response," the psychologist explained.
If you are a very visual person you may even imagine yourself aiming a remote control at the situation and pushing the pause button. Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can also be a great way to increase your ability to pause before acting.
Also, don't assume that the things you don't want are bad. "Most people automatically assume that if something they don’t want happens to them, it's a bad thing that will likely lead to an even worse outcome down the road. If you break up with your partner, you may think it is awful because you will never find anyone better and you will always be alone. If you don’t get a job you sought, you may think no one will ever hire you and you will be stuck living with your parents forever. Thinking this way inevitably makes you feel terrible," Vilhauer said.
The psychologist explained that for most of the things that happen to you, there's no way of knowing whether they will be a bad thing or a good thing—and which one an event turns out to be often has a lot to do with how you respond.
"If you end a relationship, blame yourself, become despondent, and never leave the house, you increase the likelihood of not finding another relationship. However, if you accept that, for whatever reason, it was not the right relationship for you, maintain a positive attitude, believe that a better relationship is coming your way, and then get involved in fun activities, you significantly increase the likelihood of finding another great partner, possibly one who is an even better match."
Plus, unexpected situations can open the door to new events in our lives that we do want. "If you miss your plane, you may end up meeting the love of your life on a different flight. If you lose your job and are forced to move to a new city, you may meet a great new set of friends, or find your dream home. You never know what will come of a situation, so rather than assuming a situation is bad, which only generates lots of unhelpful, negative emotions, practice saying to yourself, 'We shall see.' Then make an effort to look ahead with hope."
Plan for everything to turn out well. Many people hope for the best, but plan for the worst, and the problem with this strategy is that we act on our expectations, yet our actions create our experiences.
"If you want a good outcome, you have to plan for one because that is what leads to the actions that create good experiences," Vilhauer explained. "An unexpected event is one you didn’t plan for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan to create the best possible outcome from the situation. We all have the ability to shift our attention from an unexpected event that seems like a big problem and focus instead on finding the solution."
The moment you ask yourself what you can do to make something better, you have taken the first step in planning for events to go well. When you see a plan laid out in front of you for how to make something turn out well, your assessment of the situation starts to change. "You regain your sense of control and as a result, you start to feel better."
Lastly, trust in your ability to be OK. "Most people have been through more than one difficult thing in their life. You've probably already been through several significant challenges and quite a few smaller bumps in the road. No one likes them, but most of us survive them," Vilhauer added.
When you are in the middle of a difficult situation, try not to assume it won't work out. Instead, think about the things you have already been through and ask yourself, 'What did I do to get through those events?'
"Knowing your own strength is important for self-confidence. If focusing on your strong qualities doesn’t come naturally, ask someone who knows you well to give you a boost. When you redirect your attention from a problem to the knowledge that you're able to handle it, you will start to feel better," the psychologist concluded.