From Diagnosis to Acceptance: Coping with Medical Conditions

Written by: Abigail Saneholtz, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist

Cancer, heart attacks, diabetes and many other medical conditions are words we all hear about, but never fully grasp until you or a loved one are diagnosed. The moment you were diagnosed with medical conditions your world inevitably changed.  Often during the appointment when you first learned of the news you felt overwhelmed, shocked, scared and anxious.

Such core emotions often make it difficult for a person to understand the full scope of their medical conditions and to be able to recognize important questions to ask their physicians during that appointment.  Additional testing is likely to be needed and the waiting period to receive results can be agonizing.  Men and women experience multiple emotions including the following: Shock, sadness, anger, loneliness, anxiety, guilt, fright, relief, hope and acceptance. Depending on the diagnosis, treatment course and prognosis, many individuals are going through the grief process.  Many people contend with the loss of the life they had prior to the diagnosis and learning to adjust to the new path their lives must undergo.

Appraisal and Coping Styles

How individuals appraise their circumstance can play a significant role in how they cope with their medical conditions.  Here are a few factors to consider:

  • An individual’s overall ability to cope with stress, be resilient and find meaning during such a difficult time is key to the best medical and mental health outcomes.
  • Some women and men will cope through:
  • A problem focused style that seeks to gain information and take action.
  • An emotion focused style that serves to regulate the emotions linked to the medical conditions.
  • Using approach or avoidant coping styles.

Recognizing Coping Problems

  • Denying or pretending that the problems don’t exist
  • High levels of anxiety or anger
  • Not adhering to medications prescribed
  • Excessively cancelling or missing appointments
  • Isolating from friends and family

Who Am I Now?

Before you received your diagnosis, your identity was comprised of many different aspects that make up who you are including:  Being a parent, spouse, friend, family member, professional and colleague.  After being diagnosed, you can become focused on a new identity as a patient or the opposite which is to deny that your condition is impacting who you are.  It is important not to lose your sense of self and to remember to focus on all aspects of who you are, as well as continuing to be present in relationships with family and friends.

Taking Care of Your Health

When your circumstances feel out of our control – It is crucial to remember that we have areas in our life that we can focus on to help us get through the difficult times even if we can’t change our medical conditions.  These are a few key factors that can positively impact an individuals’ mental health that include the following:

  • Obtain a thorough education about your medical condition from your medical provider
  • Regulate healthy eating habits
  • Maintain healthy sleep patterns
  • Exercise frequently with pacing depending on your condition
  • Engage in positive and enjoyable activities
  • Receive support from trusted family and friends
  • Cope through use of practicing mindfulness skills that focus on the present to reduce getting to far ahead with anticipatory anxiety about the future
  • Write in a journal about your thoughts and feelings
  • Practice relaxation skills to calm anxiety and stress-related symptoms

Consistency in these areas can help newly diagnosed individuals remember that they have positive aspects to their lives that need their attention and care, which can help someone cope more adaptively.  As always, consult your physician prior to undergoing any changes in your typical routine.

Finding Support

Building a strong support system is crucial for dealing with many life stressors, but is especially important when coping with medical conditions. Isolation increases depression and places us at risk for the worsening of mental and medical health issues. Having family and friends to help you through the dark times when you are coping with symptoms, attending appointments and facing the future with a health condition is so important! Social support reduces stress and helps us remember that we are not alone and all in this life together! If you don’t have a support system established consider joining a support group or activity that can help you receive some of the same benefits.

Family Psychology Associates Can Help

If you are having difficulties coping with health conditions and are in need of guidance and support Family Psychology Associates have several therapists that specialize in Health Psychology and can help you and your family members. We have two offices in Trinity (727) 203-3770 and Safety Harbor (727) 725-8820 that can provide assistance in your area.

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