A diagnosis is a label or name that’s given to explain certain medical symptoms. While this label can be helpful in making sure patients get the right type of treatment, coping with a new diagnosis is a challenging event for many people.
If you find yourself struggling to cope with a new diagnosis, you’re not alone. Below, we go through some of the most helpful tips on coping with a new diagnosis so that you can get through this difficult time with confidence.
Know It’s Okay To Feel Conflicted
Getting a new diagnosis can come with a variety of emotions. On the one hand, you might feel relieved to finally have answers or an explanation for the symptoms you’ve been having. For some people living with unexplained chronic pain, for example, getting a diagnosis is often a dream come true—not because they want the medical condition, but rather because their experiences have been validated and recognized by medical professionals. They can now move forward with a treatment plan.
On the other hand, receiving a new diagnosis can be completely life-altering. A new diagnosis means a new type of “normal” for you. Depending on the type of diagnosis, it could indicate a lifelong need for physical therapy, or a short-term stint of taking medications with undesirable side effects. It could mean more appointments with specialists in the future. All of these factors can influence the course your life takes.
On top of this, being diagnosed with something can be extremely overwhelming and frightening. Receiving a cancer diagnosis, for instance, can feel like having your feet knocked out from under you. Though many cancer treatments are now successful in helping people achieve remission, there is always the chance that the symptoms could return or become more severe.
Ultimately, coping with a new diagnosis starts with accepting that any type of change—good or bad—takes time to process. Feeling overwhelmed or conflicted about your diagnosis is completely normal and will pass with time.
Allow Yourself To Grieve
Along the same lines, the uncertainty about how a diagnosis will impact you in the short- and long-term can feel paralyzing. Getting a new diagnosis can actually lead to mental health issues like depression or anxiety. After all, there is a lot of fear attached to getting a new diagnosis simply because there’s a lot that’s left unknown—and, as mentioned above, there is a lot that can change.
This is why getting a new diagnosis can actually put you in a cycle of grief. You might feel a sense of loss at receiving a diagnosis because it marks, in a sense, the passing of your “old” life.
This grief cycle includes:
- Denial—This could include thoughts such as, “There must be another explanation,” or “I need a second opinion.”
- Anger—A powerful emotion, anger is a necessary and normal part of the grieving process. You might find yourself wanting to lash out at doctors, close friends or family, or even at yourself. You could also feel angry with a higher being or the universe in general. Be mindful of your words and actions in this stage and work to let out the anger in healthy ways, such as journaling, creating art, or giving back to others.
- Negotiation or bargaining—Many times, this means trying to control the outcome of your diagnosis. While there’s not always a lot that you can control about your health, it can be helpful to remind yourself of what you are able to do.
- Depression—As the name suggests, this stage of grief leads you to feelings of sorrow or helplessness. Just as with anger, it’s helpful to acknowledge these feelings rather than pushing them away and to express them in healthy ways.
- Acceptance—Luckily, the cycle of grief does not last forever. Rather, it’s normal to experience a lot of these different feelings several times before reaching the acceptance stage of grief. Here is where you will find your new sense of “normal.” You might feel at peace with your diagnosis and all that comes with it, even if just for a moment.
To help deal with this rollercoaster of emotions, consider getting mental health help. Additionally, leaning on support systems like family and friends or even others who have gone through similar trials of being diagnosed with something new can help you to feel less alone during this difficult time.
Lean on Family and Friends for Support
Receiving a new diagnosis might impact others who care about you as well. Just as you need time to process, ask questions, and attempt to understand what the next steps are after receiving a diagnosis, your friends and family members will probably go through something similar. Telling your loved ones after receiving a chronic pain, autoimmune, mental health, life-threatening illness, or cancer diagnosis (and many, many others) can also leave you overwhelmed—especially if they have questions you aren’t sure how to answer.
Sometimes, telling family, friends, and coworkers about a diagnosis can feel like you’re delivering bad news. To best prepare for this, gather as much information as you can on the new diagnosis ahead of time. This might include pamphlets from your doctor, web articles, or even anecdotes from others who have been diagnosed with the same thing.
Telling them what the diagnosis is, the anticipated outlook of the diagnosis, and any treatment options there are can help to inform your loved ones of what they need to know. Of course, many times after receiving a diagnosis, you might not be in the right state of mind to answer their questions or give them reassurance. In these moments, be sure to tell your loved ones when you’re in need of support. This could mean getting help with:
- Household chores
- Getting work accommodations
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Going to appointments
- Socializing in different ways
- And pain management
Join Support Groups
Finally, one of the most helpful things when coping with a new diagnosis is to join support groups. Not only does this help you to better understand your diagnosis, but it reinforces the fact that you are not alone with this. People in support groups for life-threatening illnesses, chronic pain, mental health, and many others are out there to lend a helping hand or reassuring words.
The stress of coping with a new diagnosis might be overwhelming at times, but being a part of a community that truly understands your struggles can make all the difference as you move forward toward a sense of acceptance for this new path in life.
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