Health & Wellness

Dealing with the Diagnosis

How to Cope with the Unexpected News

By Matt Scillitani

Being diagnosed with any condition or illness can be difficult, especially if that diagnosis pertains to your mental health. One of the many challenges of facing a diagnosis is not knowing exactly how it will affect you or your loved ones, and for some, that uncertainty is the worst part. When you find yourself struggling to accept the hard news, it’s important to find ways to cope with the lifestyle changes or difficulties that might come your way. Here are a few helpful tidbits to keep in mind if you or a loved one has recently received a troublesome diagnosis.

Expect a Wide Variety of Emotions

It’s not abnormal to go through a whirlwind of powerful and often unpleasant feelings after receiving a diagnosis. Some people may feel embarrassed, ashamed or hurt. Many others also feel anger at a new diagnosis. And although it’s not logical, you or your loved ones may even feel blame or guilt. Grief is also possible. It’s important to know that there’s no wrong way to feel and these feelings are only temporary.

Consider Counseling

You may feel reluctant to admit you need counseling or that it will help, but most people at some point in their life face an issue where counseling can be of great benefit. Therapy can identify what’s troubling you, and reduce pent-up emotions or thoughts that interfere with your life. It can also offer you the tools to help find constructive ways to cope with stress. Many therapists and counselors specialize in assisting people in dealing with a diagnosis. Finding a therapist that’s right for you can help you in more ways than you may realize.

Educate Yourself

Educating yourself about living with an illness and the health struggles it comes with is one of the best ways you can help yourself. Preparing yourself for the struggles you’re going to face can be an invaluable asset. The more you know about your diagnosis, the better equipped you’ll be to understand what’s happening and how to deal with it.  Avoid blind internet searches that may lead to false or damaging information. Instead, ask a professional for trusted sources. Also making a list of all the questions you have before your first therapy session can be beneficial.

Beware of Toxic Stigmas

A stigma refers to a negative perspective of a person because of a distinguishing characteristic that’s thought to be a disadvantage. Unfortunately, negative attitudes towards mental health conditions are all too common. You can’t control how others will view you, but you can manage how you let it affect you. Learning to accept your condition and helping to educate yourself and others can make a big difference. Consider speaking out against stigmas as a way to improve your outlook and help others who may be facing similar challenges.

Embrace Support and Ditch the Negativity

Once diagnosed, there will likely be people in your life who have all sorts of things to say to you, both good and bad. Some people’s behaviors towards you may even change. This can be devastating, especially when it happens to someone dear to you. It can also be a blessing in disguise by removing negative people from your life and strengthening relationships with the ones that really matter. Although it might be difficult, it’s important you don’t waste your time, energy, and feelings on toxic people. Instead, surround yourself with those that make you feel loved and supported.

Find Your Limits

Whether we like it or not, a diagnosis means we’re dissimilar from the average person in some way. This can make certain aspects of life more difficult. Learning by observing yourself can help identify your boundaries and help avoid triggers that may lead to negative consequences. Keeping a journal of your activities, behaviors, and feelings can help you find correlations and allow you to better predict how daily life will affect you.

Focus on Your Strengths

It’s easy to let a negative perception of yourself arise when given less than stellar news about your health, but it’s important to remember that you are bigger than the diagnosis. Diagnosis or not, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Focusing on areas you’re confident in can offset negative thoughts and have a powerful cascading effect of positivity in less pleasant aspects of your life. Take some time to sit down and discover them.

Hold Yourself Accountable for Your Actions

Blaming irresponsible actions on your diagnosis can happen without you even realizing, but it can also be a slippery slope of destruction. While certain diagnoses definitely affect behavior, you’re ultimately in charge of yourself. Using your diagnosis to justify your actions can not only hurt your progress and relationships, it can also have a devastating effect on how you perceive yourself. Recognize when you’re in the wrong and take responsibility. This promotes respect from both others and yourself.

Join a Support Group

Getting out and speaking with others dealing with similar circumstances as you can be incredibly liberating. Support groups let you know you’re not alone and are a great way to make connections with people who will accept and support you. There are many support groups out there, both local and national. You can find one that deals with your specific diagnosis or illnesses in general. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource for finding local groups. Many organizations offer online resources such as communities, discussion boards and blogs that can also help.

Learn from Setbacks

There may be times where you feel as though you’re missing the “two steps forward” part after taking “one step back”. You have two choices when this happens. Either try and forget every setback, or begin identifying which lessons are to be learned from them. Learning from setbacks is one of the most powerful developmental opportunities. It allows you to avoid similar mistakes and increases your chances of succeeding next time. Taking a minute to evaluate what went wrong is also a great way to build resilience and confidence.

Being diagnosed with a mental illness can turn your life upside down but it doesn’t need to. It’s crucial to remember that there is hope for recovery and that with treatment, many people with mental illness can live happy, productive and fulfilling lives.

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