Denial is a common response to a stressful situation. It can be an important coping and defense mechanism. But it also can delay the appropriate response to circumstances that require action and change. The April issue of Mayo Clinic Womens HealthSource discusses how denial can help and how it can be a roadblock to good health.

Denial in its broadest sense means refusing to acknowledge painful or overwhelming external circumstances, avoiding the facts or minimizing the consequences.

Denial , or even healthy skepticism, can help patients withhold judgment until all the facts are in. It prevents obsession with minor aches and pains. A cough does not mean pneumonia until it's properly diagnosed by a doctor.

When patients hear bad health news, denying or suppressing it can offer needed time to come to grips with challenges ahead. Gradually adjusting to major changes can lead to better decisions in the long run. This gradual adjustment is referred to as an adaptive response.

But denial that prevents patients from seeking treatment or leads to misuse of alcohol or drugs becomes a maladaptive or harmful response. A woman who finds a lump in her breast and ignores it misses the benefit of an early diagnosis and best chance for a cure. Denying the consequences of smoking or staying in an abusive relationship can jeopardize long-term health.

It all comes down to finding a healthy balance. When faced with an overwhelming turn of events, people can benefit from taking some time to adjust. But that doesnt change the facts of the situation. A mental health professional can help those stuck in denial find healthy ways of coping that will sustain overall health and well-being.

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Mayo Clinic, Newswise