Receiving a difficult diagnosis from your doctor can be scary and life-changing. It’s normal to go through a wide range of emotions when you get news that you don’t want to hear. Your diagnosis affects you, but also your family and your future. Here are six ways to conquer a scary diagnosis and help you cope.

Let yourself feel

The first step in coping with your diagnosis is to let yourself feel and express your emotions. When faced with a difficult diagnosis, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions, including:

Don’t try to hold in your feelings. While people express themselves in different ways, research shows that people who share their feelings and emotions when dealing with a bad diagnosis have a better adjustment psychologically than those who try to hold everything in. Even if you aren’t normally an emotional person, letting yourself feel and letting others know how you are can help you better cope with your diagnosis.

Part of letting yourself feel your emotions is giving yourself time to process your diagnosis. Just as you express your emotions, there is no set timeline for this and it varies from person to person. It may take a few days, weeks, months, or more. At some point, you will feel acceptance with your diagnosis and can start to move forward. If you continue to deny the reality of your diagnosis, it can set you back when it comes to treatment and care.

Get support

As you deal with a scary diagnosis, don’t isolate yourself. You may feel alone or that your friends and family can’t understand what you’re going through. However, it’s important to reach out for support. Having support through a difficult diagnosis can have a big impact on your mental health and overall outlook as you process and cope.

Your support network can also help you with tasks that you may need help with later on. Your supporters can:

  • Give you transportation, such as to medical appointments
  • Help you run errands
  • Help you out around the house and do chores
  • Prepare meals

Beyond your friends and family, you might consider joining a support group. Dealing with a scary diagnosis might not feel so difficult when you are surrounded by others who are going through the same thing.

Learn as much as you can

When you receive scary news from your doctor, learning about it could help you. Sometimes, having all the facts helps to calm your fears as questions are answered and you learn what to expect.

Make a list of your questions and talk to your doctor about them. Your doctor should be able to provide you with specific information to help you cope with your diagnosis. This includes steps toward maintaining a good level of health. You can also continue doing research on your own.


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Manage stress and stay positive

It’s easy to feel stressed and overwhelmed when dealing with a bad diagnosis. Stress can have an impact on your health, so try to keep it in check. To help your overall health, make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and finding ways to let off some steam.

To help you manage your stress and stay positive, you can:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Practice  breathing exercises and techniques
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation
  • Connect with nature

All of these things can help you focus and the here and now.

Think about the future

As you face your diagnosis, take some time to think about your goals and priorities in life. Facing a scary diagnosis can actually help you decide what’s important to you. This can include spending more time with family and friends or doing something that you’ve always wanted to try.

As you think about what you really want out of life, try pursuing things that will make you happy and keep you positive:

  • Pick up a new hobby you’ve always wanted to try
  • Get involved in your community or volunteering
  • Learn something new or further studies you've already begun
  • Enjoy activities with people that make you happy

Maintain a normal routine

One thing that can help you take things one day at a time is to maintain your everyday routine. You might find that it needs to be modified, depending on your diagnosis. But living your life as normally as possible can help you reduce stress and be present in the here and now.

As mentioned before, this includes leading a healthy lifestyle and finding ways to relax. If you find it hard to cope or maintain your daily life, seek out help from a mental health professional who can listen and talk things out.

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Medically Reviewed on 11/10/2021

American Psychological Association: “Coping with a diagnosis of chronic illness.”

Dignity Health: “4 Tips to Help You Cope With a Difficult Diagnosis.”

HelpGuide: “Coping with a Life-Threatening Illness or Serious Health Event.”

Mayo Clinic: “Cancer diagnosis: 11 tips for coping.”

Stanford Medicine: “Coping with Cancer.”

Tufts Medical Center: “How to handle bad news from your doctor.”