How to Cope When Things Don't Go as Planned

Contemplating businessman in the restaurant feeling stressed


Sometimes, despite how much time and effort we put into planning something, things go awry and everything falls apart. Whether it’s an important meeting, a dinner date, or a vacation, we’ve all been there. It can be disappointing and upsetting when things don’t go as planned.

This article discusses why we get upset when things don’t go as planned and shares some coping strategies that can be helpful in these situations. If you learn to be more flexible and focus on solutions, you may feel better the next time things go differently than you expected.

Why It’s Upsetting When Things Don't Go as Planned

Most people like to have a sense of control when it comes to planning scheduled activities, says Meghan Marcum, PsyD, chief psychologist at AMFM Healthcare. Knowing what to expect can help us feel mentally prepared for what’s to come.

Even the smallest changes in plans can make us feel like our entire day has been thrown off course, Dr. Marcum says. She explains that even a slight change in the original plan can mean that we have to adjust the rest of our plans, or in some cases, abandon them entirely. You’re not alone if this stresses you out.

When the plan is disrupted or changed suddenly, it can cause anxiety, frustration, irritation, anger, disappointment, and other negative feelings. If these changes were unanticipated, they can sometimes cause conflict and disruptions in our relationships with others.


On a broader note, you may sometimes also feel like your life is not going as planned. A major stressor such as a break-up, a divorce, the loss of a job, a serious health diagnosis, the loss of a loved one, or a general feeling of lack of control can trigger these thoughts and make you feel this way.

In these instances, it’s natural to grieve for what you have lost or for what could have been. Grief can take many forms, depending on the circumstances. For instance, you may feel scared, anxious, or sad about the future and angry at the situation you’re in.

How to Cope When Things Don't Go as Planned

Dr. Marcum shares some strategies that can help you cope when things don’t go as planned:

  • Reflect on your reactions: When things don’t go as planned, you may feel angry, irritated, upset, disappointed, anxious, scared, or frustrated. It can be helpful to pause and think about why you’re feeling this way. Understanding your emotional triggers is the first step toward accepting them and coping with them.
  • Work on flexibility: If something changes in your schedule, take a moment to assess how it affects you and whether you can realistically manage the change in plans. Rather than reacting immediately or assuming the worst, calmly and logically work out whether or not you can accommodate the change. You might find that you are in fact able to cope with it. If you can’t, that’s all right too.
  • Focus on solutions: Try to cope with changes to the plan by looking for solutions. For instance, if you’re waiting on someone who’s running late, think about what you can productively do in the meantime so you’re not sitting idly by until they arrive. Is there work or a call you might be able to catch up on while you’re waiting?
  • Recalibrate your expectations: We often try very hard to do things perfectly. However, chasing perfection can be a losing battle. It’s often more helpful to have realistic expectations and to be willing to adjust them depending on the circumstances.
  • Accept deviations from the plan: Just because something didn’t go exactly the way you planned it, doesn’t mean it didn’t go well. There’s more than one way to do something and being open to other options and opinions can help you enjoy the process and the experience more.
  • Seek support: If you feel you’re struggling with something difficult, it can be helpful to seek the support of your colleagues, friends, or family members. They may be able to offer different perspectives, help you find solutions, or simply provide moral support while you’re facing something difficult.
  • Share your concerns with a professional: If you’re having difficulty coping, it can be helpful to talk to a mental healthcare provider. They can help you explore your emotional reactions, challenge negative thought patterns, and develop more robust coping skills.

What’s Not Helpful

When things don’t go as planned, we sometimes cope in unhealthy ways. These are some habits that are best avoided:

  • Blaming others for what went wrong
  • Avoiding your feelings rather than accepting them
  • Using substances to cope with your emotions

How to Ensure Things Go as Planned

While nothing is foolproof, Dr. Marcum says these are some strategies that can help improve the chances of things going as per plan:

  • Do your research: Being prepared and doing your research can help you know what to expect and keep you from being caught off-guard. For instance, if you’re going for an event or activity, it can be helpful to find out where to park, when to arrive, and what to bring in advance.
  • Stay organized: If you’re planning something, it can be helpful to stay organized. You can start by breaking down a large task into a number of smaller tasks. You can set a timeline and reminders for each of the smaller tasks and track your progress so you know you’re on schedule.
  • Keep extra time on hand: It’s always a good idea to give yourself extra time in case something unexpected comes up, so you're not rushing or feeling additionally stressed.

A Word From Verywell

It’s natural to get upset when things don’t go as planned, because not knowing what to expect and not feeling in control can be stressful.

However, it can be helpful to keep an open mind, focus on finding solutions, and work on being more flexible. If this is difficult, you should seek support from loved ones or mental healthcare providers.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Compas BE, Jaser SS, Dunbar JP, et al. Coping and emotion regulation from childhood to early adulthood: points of convergence and divergence. Aust J Psychol. 2014;66(2):71-81. doi:10.1111/ajpy.12043

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Grief.

  3. Hamilton IJ. Understanding grief and bereavement. Br J Gen Pract. 2016;66(651):523. doi:10.3399/bjgp16X687325

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.