How to ease anxiety while awaiting medical test results

Managing anxiety while awaiting results from a medical scan or exam can be very difficult. Waiting for the unknown can be highly stressful and it’s not unusual for our worst fears to grab control.  Sometimes you assume the worst as a way of mentally preparing yourself for bad news…a false sense of security that you might somehow feel more in control if you’ve ‘planned for’ worst case scenarios. The reality is you have inadequate information until you have facts. There are a number of strategies that can more productively help ease your discomfort and redirect your worries until you have the facts. See just a few below, and refer to this article for more on this. 

See the test/exam/scan/procedure as problem-solving

Commend yourself on controlling what’s within your control by seeing the scan/exam as your effort to problem-solve and seek facts. Seeking facts means you’re arming yourself with data so you can make the most informed, responsible decision for you and your family. Remind yourself that testing is the first step to addressing issues. I find peace in the mantra, “Resolve, don’t react.”


Ask professionals for advice

Undergoing exams and following providers’ advice is a wise step in consulting experts. Don’t hesitate to request second or third opinions if that will give you peace of mind. Avoid blanket internet searches as they can spike anxiety with often worst-case scenarios. Look under resources for mood-management and coping under the Emotional Confidence tab of this website for tips on managing the waiting period. If you have a diagnosis already and are awaiting treatment and next step options, consider researching in-person of virtual/online support group options (online search or going to the website of the national association for the condition named) to help inform questions/options you may want to consider. It often helps to hear from others who can validate your experience and further along in their journey. You may try several groups before you find a good fit.


Speak with friends and family

Talking to loved ones can help diffuse your anxiety and keep you from bottling up feelings that could get worse repressed. That said, be careful who you talk to. Seek out support with friends and family who can hold safe space for you and who are willing to listen without changing/correcting or giving unwanted advice. Perhaps consider letting them know how best they can help. If you want advice, ask for it before you communicate. If you want to simply be heard or held, ask for that in advance. It is powerful to be heard without any demand to change. A helpful statement others may offer in supporting you might simply be, “I’m not sure what to say, but I’m so glad you told me.” This is so important in letting loved ones know that their feelings and fears are ok.

Remind yourself that the goal is progress, not perfection. Any strategy you use to manage anxiety may not completely resolve your worries, but if they help reduce tension at all, that’s helpful. Consider writing out a worry period to identify the frequency and nature of thoughts that arise. Stay tuned for a brief video I’ll post on how to do a worry period and why which will be posted under the Emotional Confidence tab.


Stick to your routine and keep busy

Having a regular routine to look forward to each day helps manage stress and anxiety. Get dressed as if you have somewhere to go each morning (even if you don’t). Schedule fun activities (in-person or virtual through meetup or other online forum) to look forward to each day/week. Incorporate meditation exercises specific to what you’re going through, eg YouTube search for “meditation for awaiting test results;” “mindfulness for medical anxiety,” or “hypnosis for managing pain.” Find more under the Emotional Confidence tab of this page.


Exercise and eat well

Exercise can be a natural anti-depressant, releasing mood-improving endorphins. Proper nutrition, like self-care, can also positively impact our mood and overall health. Not only will you feel better about yourself, but your body will thank you as well. Many physical ailments are helped by healthy diet. Even a short walk a day is better than no exercise. If walking or outdoor temperatures or unsafe, perhaps consider a YouTube search for dance or aerobic options at home (include search terms for “safe exercises” for the condition/stage of life, eg “safe exercises for seniors/elderly,” “safe exercises for Parkinson’s patients,” “safe exercises with [name condition of concern].” You might even consider a hand or foot pedller for cycling at home while watching TV.


Mindfulness

Pay close attention to what’s happening inside your body, and what’s going on around you. That sounds simple, but it’s amazingly easy to get distracted. Google grounding techniques
to help reinforce this skill. Pay attention to how you feel, your thoughts and to the world around you to help get your mind of your worries. Increasing awareness of what’s going on inside of you can also help you more quickly notice signs of stress and anxiety
so you can deal with them better before they get out of hand. Check the Emotional Confidence tab of this page for links to YouTube videos that can help you develop skills for mindful breathing, progressing muscle relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness. Learn to control your breathing to slow down the more rapid rates of breathing that can make us feel sick or dizzy when anxious. Often you’ll find that when you feel dysregulated, the actions you take to regulate end up aggravating an already aggravated system,
so our goal is to instead slow down, breathe, and visualize a safe space. Counting backward slowly from 5-1 can help. You might also consider thinking a mantra: “I am aware I am breathing in right now…I am aware I am breathing out right now” while placing
a hand gently on your chest.


Humor

Sometimes trying to think away your worries with positive distraction or meditation still isn’t enough, especially when our worries feel very heavy. At these times, comedic distraction,
turning to stand-up comedians, funny sitcoms, videos off playful animals or talk-overs can be incredibly helpful. I once had a patient watch a 7-minute video of a comedian in session with me. After watching, I reassessed his pain level as he was laughing: “Gosh, I forgot about it!” Another mantra I love, “pain forgotten, pain gone…” at least for a moment.

 
 

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