Do you ever feel like there’s something about revealing yourself to be facing a health issue or crisis that makes your family, friends and even strangers pull out medical degrees you never knew they had? It’s natural to want to help a loved one who is struggling, which means you’ve probably found that some people can’t resist offering up the latest treatment for your condition that they they heard about online or that worked for their coworker’s niece.
“People don’t understand that we’re not just lying around passively accepting our fate,” says Toni Bernhard, author of How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers and How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide. “We’re online doing research on treatments. We’re going to health care practitioners, from traditional ones to alternative ones. It’s likely there’s not a treatment others can suggest that we’re not already aware of unless it’s something truly off-the-wall. People don’t understand that we are experts on our illness.”
So what do you do when you’re tired of listening to folks offer up advice about a diet, drug or exercise routine they heard through the grapevine? Or if someone says you can cure yourself by jumping into a cold swimming pool every morning for six months, as someone once suggested to Bernhard?
7 Tactful Ways to Deal With Medical Advice
Here are some expert views on how you might handle the unsolicited medical advice you will undoubtedly receive.
Politely Shut It Down
One way to deal with advice is to thank the person for thinking of you and not addressing the substance of their advice, says Bernhard. If you engage more, it often encourages the person to keep going. “Even saying, ‘thanks, but I’m aware of that treatment and I’m sure it won’t work for me’ can encourage them to push ahead by trying harder to convince me to follow their advice.”
It may seem blunt, but simply telling someone that you’re in the hands of good doctors and that you don’t want or need their advice is a straightforward approach that can work, says Bernhard.
“If you know the person has good intentions, being honest with them can bring you closer,” she says. “You could say something like: ‘I appreciate your attempt to help, but I’d rather talk about something other than my health,’ or, ‘I appreciate your suggestion, but my doctor and I already have a treatment plan, and I want to stick to it.’”
Remember That Most People Mean Well
For Jenni Prokopy, founder of ChronicBabe.com, remembering that those close to her offer up advice because they care helps her remain calm even if their advice is wrong, misguided or insulting.
“They mean well, so it helps me remember to be kind and compassionate to them, which means I respond in a more even-keeled way,” she says. “With strangers, it’s a little harder. I still try to respond with grace, but sometimes, I just don’t have time to teach them! So I’ll create a physical boundary by moving, leaving, turning around — whatever I need to do to create some distance.”
Try To Shift Your Attitude
While it may be unwelcome, receiving advice can be less troubling depending on your attitude, according to Puja Rios, an advocate and fibrmoyalgia blogger for The Huffington Post. Rios’ suggestion is to respond with gratitude, whether or not you actually intend to follow through with the suggestions.
“I always try to remember to appreciate that the person was thinking of me to begin with,” she says. “While they might not be in tune to the best options for my individual treatment plan, I am sensitive to the fact that they had my best interests in mind when the suggestion was made. I’ve learned that it’s much easier to change yourself than someone else.”
Crack A Joke
If you’re close to someone giving you advice, and you know they have a sense of humor, making a joke can be a good way to keep things light while letting them know you’re not interested, suggests Prokopy. “You could jokingly say something like: “how about you try it out and let me know how it goes?’”
Create a Learning Moment
If humor doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to stop the person and let them know why you’re happy with your treatment program, says Prokopy.
“I always try to keep it simple. If they press, I can continue to keep it simple and direct,” she says. “If it’s someone I’m close to, who is genuinely trying to understand what I’m going through and how they can help, that’s a chance for me to explain how I manage my conditions, and what my day-to-day life is like. I don’t mind doing that kind of education at all because it builds authentic connections with people. But I’m choosy about who I share that level of information with.”
The last thing you need is the burden of extra stress in your life. So, if unsolicited advice gets upsetting, Bernhard says to remember it can be bad for your health.
“Getting pissed off about it only makes things worse for yourself. For one thing, anger and other stressful emotions are felt in the body and can exacerbate symptoms,” she says. “I recommend that you remind yourself that getting pissed isn’t good for you and that the other person, however misguided, is well-intentioned. Then let it go and move on with your day.”