Understanding the 4 Stages of Post Diagnosis Stress Disorder
by Tanea Flanders, MA is a Life and Leadership Coach at Design You Coaching and the Live Well/Stay Well Program at Tournesol Wellness
When a doctor delivers news of a debilitating disease it plays out like a car coming at you head-on with no time to react. The doctor’s lips move in slow motion and your senses are on alert as you attempt to process what is happening. You lose your breath upon impact at which time you feel nothing. It’s not until your oxygen-deprived brain becomes flooded with images of the past and questions the future that you are once again present and now you feel everything, panic sets in. The perplexed and anxiety-filled phase following your prognosis is a defining moment of choice and opportunity. That diagnosis named cancer, heart disease, or blindness in one eye, as I once received, is an alarm to wake up, live up, and be here now.
The Four Stages of PDSD
News of a debilitating disease creates a “psychological emergency” that gives rise to the primal reactions of freeze, flight, fight, and figure it out. Here are four phases you may experience before you can begin the process of physical, emotional, and mindful healing:
Freeze: You are in the frozen stage until you can feel or notice your reaction to the news. It’s not uncommon feel frozen immediately after you hear the doctor’s diagnosis. As you start to thaw you may be overwhelmed with feelings of defeat, sadness, anger, and more.
Flight: You can recognize when you’re in the flight phase because you refuse to talk about your disease. With your senses on overload you literally want to fly away and return to life before diagnosis – all the moments you could have chosen different. You could have had more green veggies, earlier screening, fewer parties, and an alternative lifestyle. You desperately yearn to turn back the hands of time.
Fight: You rebuke the doctor’s diagnosis or recommended remedy; you blame yourself and curse those around you. At the tipping point you realize fighting others and denying your medical condition is wasted energy that should be leveraged for changing your circumstance. In that instant you come out of your psychological shell shock and choose your way back to you.
Figure it out: The path to wellness and healing begins here. This is point of integration where you can be you and experience the disease as a lesson in life. An opportunity on your life path because even with this diagnosis you still have a choice to make as to how you show up now and fully live your life moving forward.
Emerging from the “psychological emergency” that takes over your mind upon hearing news that you have some debilitating disease or unexpected trauma can serve as reminder that the pursuit of freedom and happiness actually begins within your mind.