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6 Ways to Remain Positive when Given Bad News

Updated: Jan 16

I have been a doctor for more than 30 years. During that time, you might imagine that I have had to deliver my share of bad news. Few things can take the wind out of your sails, challenge your faith, and slap you with so-called reality more than a negative test result. As many of you know from reading my works, all of us possess a reactive, rather primitive, brain that will cause you to fight or flee when faced with potential danger, threat, or vulnerability. I have labeled this brain the automatic brain, or AB for short. A negative report is a convincing representative of danger and your body will go into full fight or flight mode. You may feel nervous, your stomach may feel sick, you may develop a bit of brain fog, you may lash out at unsuspecting bystanders (family, friends, strangers). It’s important to understand what is happening. Another word that explains our reaction to danger is fear. Fear is the description of what the fight or flight response does to us (because realistically we have nothing to fight and nowhere to flee). Such fear has a way of sneaking into everything we do. We may briefly get distracted and forget about the bad report or diagnosis, but don’t worry your AB will soon fire to remind you that you are in danger.

To be sure, there are degrees of bad news. Some news can indicate potential future danger; while other news might mean danger right now. So how do you go on living a vibrant and happy life when faced with bad medical news? I find the following has worked for me personally as well as many patients.

1. Stay in the moment

This may sound cliché and the darling advice from many a new age proponent. But unless you are sick right now, you face no danger right now. Whatever your doctor has told you is not with you right now. Possibilities abound, but right now, they mean nothing. Focus on what you are doing right now—who are with; what activity are you doing.

2. Meditate

I know this is a hard one for many people. But with technology, several apps can help you with this. I like the app Calm. Meditation can prevent the AB from taking over your entire being. If you prefer prayer, you can still use these apps. You will define your meditation. It will be yours and it will introduce you to your higher mind the gateway to a personal power, which I view as our Divine nature. I am not saying that this will help reverse your bad news or cure you, but it will help you be less fearful.

3. Ask, “Why me”, but only once

Bad medical news has a way of making one disbelieve in anything else besides the physical world. You may be the most spiritual person and a true believer in a greater power, but get a bit of bad news, and it all goes out the window. The perspective I like to take is that we are souls with a body, not the other way around. The AB runs our body and its functions; our mind is the gateway to our soul. When medical illness strikes, it does nothing to the soul. Yet, our fear can put up an impenetrable wall, so we lose sight of our soul. It’s a natural reaction to ask, “Why me?”. Allow yourself that reaction, but only one time. When you dig your heels into this self-pity and continue asking the question, it reinforces the disbelief in your soul, your Divine nature. It does not allow for anything good to come out of it.

4. Don’t blame yourself

Although we know a lot about medicine, there is more that we don’t know. So, we don’t know precisely what created your problem. Most ailments are out of your control. Yes, a healthy diet and weight, as well as exercise, are under your control and we think can prevent many illnesses. If you were not doing these things before, it can’t hurt to start, but you cannot know for sure that your lack of doing so was behind the bad news.

5. Use Sensibility to Guide You, Not Fear

Fear can often prevent us from listening to the right voices or prevent us from listening to any at all. When Steve Jobs was originally diagnosed with a form of pancreatic cancer, his fear of doctors led him to take matters into his own hands. Since he didn’t know what caused his cancer, he would have been better off having it surgically removed first and then adopting some of the alternative approaches, which he believed would reverse what he thought caused it.

6. Look for the Good

What could be good about getting diagnosed with cancer, for instance? Is it a wake-up call? Perhaps. Or perhaps it is not. Many with faith in a supernatural power, such as God, believe that there is a reason for everything. And that may be true. However, I would caution you for trying to find that reason. Instead, realize that all your interactions from this point forward would never have occurred in quite the same way as they will now. The people you meet, the circumstances you share, the way you look at the world. Everything will be different now. I encourage you to look for the good in that and maybe by doing so, the “reason” will reveal itself.


When you are given the “danger” of bad medical news, it is normal to rely on your AB for guidance. Unfortunately, it usually overshoots and creates fear more than anything else. When we think it is protecting us, it is blocking access to our mind, the gateway to our soul and Divine nature, which is our ultimate guide and protector. Trusting in that will help you remain mindful, vibrant, and hopeful.

© Dr. Charles F. Glassman, CoachMD

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