Dealing with Diagnosis: How to Cope

By Tracy Wright
Woman sitting against wall looking sad

An unexpected physical diagnosis can cause undue stress on an individual, their families and friends. While it may seem natural to focus on physical health, the mental health of that person cannot be understated. It can cause major anxiety and depression, and it is important to learn how to cope with a diagnosis.

As noted by Dignity Health, “anger, denial, fear, and anxiety are all normal reactions to bad news. Allow yourself the chance to work through the emotions. How long this takes varies for everyone.”

Understanding coping

It’s important for people grappling with a difficult diagnosis to understand that they are not to blame or believe that their future is certain, said the American Cancer Society.


  • Get the facts about your health condition
  • Express your feelings
  • Set up a support network
  • Focus on healthy habits
  • Set realistic goals
  • Concentrate on what brings you meaning and purpose
  • Focus on your abilities, not limitations
  • Use various coping strategies

Open communication with your health care team is also important, as they can help guide you through these steps and better inform your diagnosis.

Dignity Health explained that “understanding as much as you can about your illness and treatment options allows you to have a two-way conversation with your doctor. You can discuss the pros and cons of treatment options and ensure that your care plan matches your values and lifestyle.”

Have a support system

Support systems are important before, during and after a diagnosis. While this could entail those closest to you, it may be helpful to find support groups of people who have dealt with the same conditions and can better understand what you are going through. Look for local community, place of worship or healthcare groups that may offer these resources.

While you may feel hopeless, keeping a healthy lifestyle is paramount. This means a nutritious diet, an adequate amount of sleep and activity that is within the recommendations of your health professional.

Having a focus on your daily goals can also help. This means understanding what is most important to you and what you can achieve each day.

“Find time for the people and activities that are personally rewarding and meaningful. Stay connected, or reconnect with family and friends, especially those who have a positive, optimistic outlook on life,” as noted by the Mayo Clinic.

Other ways to cope with diagnosis

Several coping strategies can help when feeling down. This may include meditation or deep breathing exercises, journaling, puzzles or reading, faith and spirituality, or other leisure activities that don’t cause undue mental or physical stress.

Even with these modifications, people may still feel adverse mental health effects.

“Feelings of depression are common when patients and family members are coping with cancer. It’s normal to feel sadness and grief. Dreams, plans and the future may seem uncertain. But if

a person has been sad for a long time or is having trouble carrying out day- to-day activities, there is reason to be concerned,” according to the American Cancer Society.

Seek professional mental health support if these tactics don’t seem to help. Look for trusted local professionals or virtual services that can help you deal with your depression or anxiety. This may mean a range of interventions from therapy to medication, if needed. Visit for a list of national and local mental health resources.

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