Managing Healthcare Anxiety With Self-Compassion
June 29th, 2021 by Candis Hall
Extreme and debilitating anxiety relating to one’s health can present itself in two different ways. Some people struggle with obsessive and usually irrational thoughts and worries about their own health, constantly worrying that they may have some underlying illness and potentially spending far too much time visiting their doctor. Small, common symptoms like headaches may feel like indicators of something far worse. In other people, there may be an irrational fear of visiting the doctor or any other healthcare practitioner for a number of reasons. In both cases, this can cause problems and even interfere with daily life, but both instances can be managed and coped with.
How to Handle Your Fears
Many people are apprehensive of visiting the doctor or the dentist or facing any important procedures, which is entirely normal. It’s not usually an exciting experience. However, allowing this fear to interfere with your annual check-ups and necessary surgeries or other procedures could present a few problems. Neglecting your health and dental care can eventually lead to serious complications, and so it is important that these fears are managed and overcome.
In terms of visiting the dentist or perhaps having an important dental procedure, one might simply need to speak to their dental practitioner and explain their fears and worries. Dentists will usually explain that there is nothing to be worried about and that in the case of surgeries and procedures, patients will usually be sedated in order to ease nerves and prevent any pain. You could discuss different anaesthetic options and ask some questions such as, what’s the difference between oral and IV sedation dentistry? Which is recommended and what could the after effects be? Having an open discussion with your practitioner will help ease your worries and calm your nerves about the experience.
Fearing doctor’s appointments is also common and should be managed similarly: by talking openly and honestly with your doctor. It could also be a good idea to take a close friend or family member along with you to help keep your mind off things and talk you through your nerves.
Worrying About Your Own Health
On the other hand, you might find yourself frequenting your doctor’s office unnecessarily, due to the other kind of fear: anxiety about underlying health conditions. In these cases, it’s very important to rationalise with yourself. Ask yourself why you suspect a particular illness, what the likelihood is that you actually have it, and what the consequences would be if it were really true. Redirecting the focus of your attention in another direction is an important step to take. Take notice if you feel symptoms more strongly when you’re focusing on your suspected illness and whether they seem to subside when you’re distracted or busy with work or family. These could all be signs that your illness is a result of anxiety instead of an actual health issue.
Practising mindfulness is a good strategy to handle mental struggles such as these. It’s important to be present in the moment and focus on what is important and right in front of you in each given moment, to avoid your mind drifting to your health. This can be achieved through breathing exercises and meditation each day, and when you feel your mind start to wander. If you’re aware of the problem and trying to manage it on your own but not quite handling it, it’s a good idea to seek help from a professional. Cognitive behavioural therapy is known for being effective in managing health anxiety.
Nip it in the Bud
If this article alerted you to some worrying behaviour you’ve noticed in yourself, do not feel ashamed or worried. Instead, take it as a sign that you’re capable of managing these issues early on before they become debilitating and impact the way you live your life. Avoiding healthcare practitioners and ignoring issues could lead to serious consequences down the line. Similarly, being overly concerned that each small symptom you experience is indicative of something bigger can lead to long-term mental health issues that can be difficult to deal with, although never impossible.
Handling these types of problems early on ensures that both your physical and mental health will be taken care of. This is why it is important to be able to recognise these behaviours in yourself, as well as in your loved ones. Having support from someone close to you is a crucial element in handling any healthcare problem, whether it’s related to physical or mental health.