Four Tips for Dealing With Bad News

Last updated: March 2023

Being chronically ill is hard. The things we deal with on a daily basis are more than anyone ever should. Many of us have been there and done that when it comes to getting bad news. We have been in the doctor’s office awaiting test results when the doctor comes in stone-faced, saying "we need to talk." Or you have gotten a message that is straight to the point saying we need to call the doctor’s office as soon as possible.

Getting bad news

Bound to be nerves

Just because we have been there before does not mean that getting bad news or a new tough diagnosis is ever easy. No matter how long you have been ill, there are bound to be nerves. We have all wasted many hours wondering leading up to that appointment.

All different people

What most of us have found, though, are ways to make that bad news sting a little less. There is not – and never will be – 1 set way to cope or deal with getting bad news from the doctor. We are all different people and we all cope differently. That said, here are some tips that might help you the next time you are facing bad news or a new diagnosis.

Be prepared


Be prepared for your appointment and ask someone to attend your appointment with you, or be available via phone. It never fails when you have a big appointment: You have all these questions or concerns you want to address during your appointment. But once the doctor comes in and lays everything out on the table, all those questions and concerns are gone. You can’t think of anything except trying to remember exactly what the doctor said.

List of questions

This is where being prepared comes in. You should always make a list of questions or concerns you want to address at your appointment. Make sure you either jot them down on paper or put them on your phone so you know you will have them. This helps to prevent you from missing the things you felt needed to be addressed.

Someone with you

Having someone in the room with you (or on FaceTime on your phone) increases the chances that you won’t miss something important. It also takes all the pressure off of you to try and remember what was said and make sure your concerns/comments are addressed. That said, please check with your provider's office policy on video/calls during an appointment.

Take time

Phases of grief

Give yourself, as well as your family, some time to absorb or take in the news. It is completely normal for you to feel a wide array of things as you start to process the news. You very well may cycle through the phases of grief. Feeling angry, anxious, fearful of what’s ahead, or maybe even in total denial of anything being wrong is normal.

Others too

It is important for you to remember that your family/friends may also go through those same stages. We all need to remember that everyone processes things in a different way and at different times. So try to be mindful of this as you work toward some level of acceptance of the condition at hand.

Find a support system

Mental and physical health

Having a good support system can really make a big impact on your mental and physical health. Sadly, many people tend to keep things too close to the chest in order to try to prevent anyone else from having to deal with any unnecessary pain. But keeping things from those closest to you can cause major turmoil, for you and for others. It also may leave you feeling completely isolated.

Reach out

Reach out to your friends and family about what is going on. Once they know what is going on inside your body, they will be in a better place to provide you the support you need. There are also really great support groups online. If that is your thing, join a couple until you find one that just feels right.

Do your own research

Reputable sources

Truly, the best thing we can ever do for ourselves as chronic patients is to do the research. If you are looking for specific research, you can always ask your doctor for recommendations. If you don’t want to ask – don’t. There is plenty of research out there. However, you need to stay with very reputable websites, like:

  • National Institutes of Health
  • National Library of Medicine
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Any national organizations related to your illness

Just remember that not every blog or website you find on your condition will be a good resource.

Your own plan

Once you take the time to research your condition, you will hopefully have a better understanding of all the things that come with it. The time you spend learning about the condition and its treatments will allow you to more freely talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each option. This is also a good way to make the treatment or care plan set by the doctor meet your requirements for you and your lifestyle.

Figuring it out

I do not think that anyone is ever truly prepared to get bad news. The learning curve of living with a new condition is steep. But as you learn more about the condition and how it affects you, you will slowly figure out a way to adapt to whatever life may throw at you next!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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