Filling and Expanding Your “Dealing With It” Cup

In the wake of COVID-19 and with the looming 2020 Presidential Election results, many students—ourselves included—are facing immense uncertainty and disappointment. As we navigate these unprecedented times, it becomes more critical than ever we share our best strategies for coping.

The good news is that research-supported best practices for managing disappointment and uncertainty are very accessible. Essentially, we’re talking about learning how to manage 1) our expectations in general (uncertainty) and 2) when our expectations are not met (disappointment). We can sum up how to best tackle both of those issues with a simple, four-point checklist.


When we face uncertainty or disappointment, the root cause is what we expected in the first place. Do we not know what to expect? Do we expect more certainty? Did what we expect not happen, and we’re left disappointed? The first thing to ask yourself when facing uncertainty or disappointment is what am I expecting/what did I expect?

You might have unreasonable expectations for the future. There is always uncertainty looming—if you’ve convinced yourself there shouldn’t be, sit down and think about what you can reasonably expect from the world around you. The fact is, you need to be ready for a variety of potential outcomes—you should have flexible expectations. That applies to disappointment, too—did you convince yourself there was only one possible good outcome?

Admittedly, it’s hard to be flexible. However, there are strategies you can practice for revising your expectations:

  • Think back on history. What are some examples that apply to the current situation you can learn from? What led to one situation going differently from another?
  • When facing a new situation, set up reasonable expectations. Be prepared for the good, the bad, and the neutral
    • If you’re having trouble imaging realistic outcomes, try talking it over with a trusted confidant!
    • When imagining a “bad” outcome, focus on the realistic consequences—not end of the world doomsdaying—and how you could move forward in that situation


In the context of COVID-19 induced isolation, a lot of people are left feeling like their “energy to deal with stuff” cup is running on empty. It’s more pertinent than ever that we learn how to not just refill that cup, but how to make it bigger. When uncertainty and disappointment sneak up on you, you want to have a lot of tolerance to draw on so it takes longer and longer to drain that cup.

To increase your tolerance:

  • Practice mindfulness meditation—try the Koru Meditation Classes offered by KSU or any meditation app
  • Make sure you’re sleeping regularly and long enough. Your tolerance cup becomes ever-smaller and ever-emptier when you’re not rested.
    • Similarly, make sure you’re drinking enough water and eating regular, healthy meals!
  • When you experience a negative emotion, don’t immediately distract yourself. Take at least 5 minutes to process what happened and how you’re feeling before running away from it.


Sam still vividly remembers the first rejection letter she got from a graduate program. She was immediately upset and rushed to her brother’s apartment for comfort. As they talked, they realized that not only was this not the end of the world (she had a fantastic offer from this very university she already planned on accepting), but she could learn a lot from this rejection. What went wrong? What should she do differently in the future? By the time Sam left his apartment, her resume was dressed up better than ever and she had a plan of action for how to make future applications seem more appealing.

What matters in the example above is the reframing of perception and the re-evaluation of behavior. When disappointments are viewed as the end of your world, you miss the learning opportunities that negative situations offer. You can still be upset—don’t get us wrong—but after you’ve felt those feelings, try to come back to the situation. Reframe and re-evaluate what to do now. You’ll feel better with a reasonable, specific plan of action! Don’t set nebulous goals like “get better at drawing;” instead, plan to practice sketching for 10 minutes a day after you eat dinner.

To practice re-evaluating perceptions and behavior:

  • Think back on some disappointments you’ve experienced that panned out relatively okay, in retrospect. Practice reframing your perceptions and make a retro-active (or current!) plan of action for how you could improve from that situation.
  • Talk through experiences with your friends, following the above steps.
  • Come back to disappointing/uncertain situations after taking a break (see below!).


At the end of the day, sometimes you just need to step away from a situation to clear your head. When you’re in the depths of your feelings, tolerance-cup empty, you need to find a way to refill that cup. Make sure you come back to the situation—leaving it unattended to will only make it worse in the end—but it’s okay to take a step back, recharge, and try again later.

Hassan used this technique when he was disappointed when a paid workshop this summer didn’t pan out. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to gain experience, skills, and tools to support his dissertation. Knowing he needed time to process what happened, he called his best friend and took a breather. Then, he turned off his social media, listened to some feel-good music, and took a walk. After a hot shower and trying out a new recipe, he felt refreshed and ready to problem solve. The next morning, he started applying to different workshops that covered his dissertation topic and got selected at the APSA Pedagogy Workshop! That first disappointing experience equipped him with tools and resources to navigate to an even better future, and taking a break let him approach the situation with a clear head.

While you probably already know your favorite way to take a break, here’s a few recommendations from us:

  • Take a hot shower
  • Chat with a friend/loved one
  • Go for a walk (do this outside when you can!)
    • If you can’t take a walk, try some simple stretches
  • Drink some water and get some sleep

Times are hard, but we all have access to effective strategies for increasing and filling our “dealing with it” cup. Try enacting just one of these strategies today—future you will thank you for it!

POSTED: Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 9:29am
UPDATED: Monday, November 2, 2020 - 12:24pm
Samantha Nousak & Muhammad Hassan Bin Afzal, Graduate Students & Kent State of Wellness Student Ambassadors