The Cardiologist's Wife: How to Cope with Negative News About Your Health

Brittney Osborn


The Cardiologist's Wife: How to Cope with Negative News About Your Health

by Lisa Tedder 

Sooner or later, most of us will receive bad news about our health. A negative health diagnosis will bring disruption to your life, as you must find time for treatment, deal with pain, pay unexpected bills and cope with emotions like sadness, fear, frustration and/or anger. A major illness or surgery may lead to a loss of independence and privacy, changes in your relationships, financial hardships and the inability to participate in activities you enjoy. This certainly presents a challenge, but there are ways to bolster your resilience. The following coping strategies can give you back a sense of control over your life.

Instead of burying your head in the sand and hoping things will work out or just go away, learn as much as you can about your problem. You can’t make informed health care decisions if you don’t understand what is wrong and the options you have. Your medical team can provide you with plenty of pamphlets or direct you to other sources of information. Write down your questions as they arise and bring them to your next appointment. You may want to have someone accompany you to each visit to take notes for you so you are not distracted when talking to the doctor.

Misinformation abounds on the internet, so be careful where you get medical information. Remember that anyone can post anything online, so resist the temptation to “research” your condition and go down rabbit holes. There is no need to confuse or scare yourself because of the inaccurate articles and doomsday posts you might uncover. Avoid people who try to give advice, especially the unsolicited kind. Unless they are a medical professional with direct training in the field of medicine related to your problem, it is best to stick to your doctor’s recommendations. There is no harm in seeking a second opinion if you feel uncertain or confused about your diagnosis, treatment options or outcome.

Allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise and take time to process them. We all experience things differently, and there is a wide range of normal reactions to bad news. Denial, fear, anxiety, anger, sadness and feeling overwhelmed are common emotions when faced with serious illness. Sharing your feelings with loved ones, friends, a support group or a professional counselor can help you through this difficult time. Recognize that you may be overcome with sadness or tears at unexpected moments and that it’s okay to be vulnerable.

Come up with a plan of action and find out what resources are available to you. There is never a convenient time to be ill, but having a plan or schedule will give you a sense of control. Remember, however, that the best of plans often go awry, so be prepared to pivot and make a new plan if necessary. Get a date for surgery, schedule treatments and arrange time off work. Ask a relative, friend or hire a sitter to help with your children. Let friends and family who want to bring meals know when they will be most needed. Arrange for pet care if you won’t be able to care for them.

Allow others to help you. Friends, family, church members and even co-workers are often more than willing to assist in any way, from preparing meals, running errands and doing household chores to providing transportation to medical treatments. Everyone needs help sometime in their life, so don’t be too proud to accept any offers or reach out for help by directly asking. Conversely, be careful who you tell. Nervous Aunt Edna who will call you every day wanting an update or your gossipy friend who tells everyone everything will be unlikely to serve your best interests at this time.  

Now is not the time to give up on a healthy lifestyle. Though you may be tempted to stop exercising and eating healthy foods because it didn’t prevent you from getting sick, remember that these are the things that can help you feel better and even contribute to your recovery. Give your body the healthy food it needs to repair itself or fight off whatever disease you have. Those who eat a diet filled with sugary, highly processed foods tend to have decreased energy levels, experience depression, have trouble with memory and concentration and have reduced immunity. So, get enough sleep, exercise and eat healthy to fuel an optimal recovery.

Be realistic about what you can and can’t do as you go through your medical journey, and try not to fixate on your limitations. Learn to prioritize what must be done and what you really want to do. The rest can be done later or by someone else; this includes focusing on the people and activities that are most important to you and bring you happiness and a sense of fulfillment. Find something positive to do every day, if possible. Laugh at a sitcom, buy flowers, have a cuddle with a grandchild, buy a coffee for a stranger or get your hair cut and styled.

There are additional coping strategies that others have found useful. Prayer, meditation, taking up a new hobby or learning a new skill can bring a sense of purpose and enjoyment. Many find journaling provides a place to vent emotions and de-stress. Art, even just doodling, can be extremely calming and meditative. Lastly, remember that research has shown that those with a positive outlook tend to be healthier and recover faster.