What could be harder to hear from your doctor than that you have a serious medical condition? Not only is it a head-spinning diagnosis, but hearing about a serious medical condition transforms the way you look at your future.
Will you be able to keep your job? See your children or grandchildren get married? How will you spend your savings trying to stay fit for as long as you can?
It’s understandable to experience a litany of emotions from fear to sadness when you’re faced with a health scare. But, as Laura Howe-Martin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, explains, “all that worrying won’t make you worse. Therefore, it’s okay to feel a little overwhelmed at first.”
However, you don’t want to give in to all the negative thoughts swirling through your head forever.
How to Navigate a Tough Diagnosis
How can you gain a sense of control and balance after you’ve heard tough news from your healthcare provider? Try some of the following methods to feel more empowered and less overloaded.
1. Get medical information from trusted sources.
What’s your first move after you’ve been told you have cardiovascular disease or hepatitis C? Jump on Google, of course.
Here’s the problem with that decision: You may not get the correct information you seek and deserve. If you are in the midst of treatment, find a patient portal to stay informed on your care and connect with support.
For instance, if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, think about investing in a solution like Navigating Care to have open access to documented research and insights about oncology as well as up-to-date information about your health records.
Above all else, keep your generalized searching to a minimum. You’ll only get confusing answers to complex questions that experts, not dabblers, best answer.
2. Recognize (but don’t reward) catastrophic thinking.
Many people immediately envision the worst when they hear they’re very sick. Call it human nature — I call it “awfulizing.”
Yet catastrophizing can get in the way of being able to think clearly and realistically.
If all you can picture is defeat, remind yourself that you haven’t reached that point, far from it. You may never reach that point. The most important thing to focus on is what you can do immediately.
For example, your doctor may have recommended that you eat more nutritious meals or stop smoking. Following those recommendations could help you regain control, push back catastrophic thoughts, and keep you from panicking.
Still having trouble not letting your mind “go there?” PsychCentral touched upon the subject in one of its many physician-reviewed articles. The piece suggested journaling, meditation, and exercise as effective ways to reduce the tendency to dwell on worst-case scenarios.
3. Build a solid “Go you!” team.
Cheerleaders aren’t only beneficial for sports teams. They’re also advantageous for people like you who’ve been diagnosed with life-changing illnesses. In other words, now is the perfect time to surround yourself with all the individuals who will buoy you and keep you smiling—no matter what.
Who belongs in your cheering section? Anyone and everyone who has touched your life in a wonderfully memorable way. Don’t be afraid to ask neighbors, coworkers, distant relatives, or even Facebook friends to be supportive buddies. Some may share that they’ve gone through a similar diagnosis experience as well.
At the same time you’re building out your support system, you may need to release some toxic folks from your inner circle.
Being around individuals who only see the negative will indulge your darker side. No, you may not be able to remove all the pessimistic people from your life. Nevertheless, do your best to limit their roles moving forward.
4. Anticipate physical and mental changes.
A big challenge of hearing you’re unwell is understanding how managing or treating your condition may affect you physically.
Take diabetes, for example, According to Healthline, many people with diabetes have trouble keeping weight off and develop problems in their feet.
Does this mean you will have weight fluctuations or foot issues, too? Maybe or maybe not. But knowing what to expect potentially will keep you from being surprised. Additionally, you can be on the lookout for anticipated or unusual changes so you can alert your doctor right away.
Depending upon your diagnosis and treatment — you may be at risk for mental or mood alterations, too. But, again, the more you know, the easier it will be to recognize changes as normal rather than as something else to stress about.
Life has a way of throwing curveballs from time to time. And sometimes those curveballs come in the form of daunting medical diagnoses. Just never forget that you have the final say when it comes to deciding how you’re going to navigate your life.
Image Credit: Provided by the author; Thank you!