If medical tests cause you anxiety, you’re not alone. It’s common to feel stress or worry in anticipation of medical tests, during these tests and even while waiting for the results.
These feelings have a name: scanxiety.
When it comes to cancer screening, diagnostic tests and follow-up scans, scanxiety may be particularly intense. And undergoing these tests or seeing your doctor during the coroanvirus COVID-19 pandemic may bring an extra layer of stress.
But there are things you can do to cope with scanxiety even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Maintain a routine
So much about cancer is beyond our control. And when life feels out of control, we often feel anxious and overwhelmed.
“One way to take back control is through your routine,” says Traci Newsom, a social work counselor. Stick to a sleep schedule, eat regularly, make time for physical activity, and reach out to friends and family.
Prepare for your medical tests
The most difficult part of scanxiety is the unknown. Do some research on what to expect during your scan or test. Learning how to prepare can make the process go more smoothly.
Learn about COVID-19 safety precautions in advance
You also can prepare for the unknown surrounding COVID-19 by finding out what your doctor or hospital is doing to keep you safe during your visit.
In addition to wearing a mask, you may have to answer health questions ahead of time, have your temperature taken upon arrival and answer screening questions again when you arrive. Plan to arrive a few minutes early, so you don’t run late or feel rushed, which can cause more anxiety.
There may also be restrictions on taking visitors to your appointment. If you can’t take a loved one, you can make a plan for how to include them in your appointment via Facetime or Zoom.
Asking everyone to wear medical face masks on our campuses at all times.
Not allowing visitors, with limited exceptions.
Limiting seating and spacing out appointments to allow for social distancing , including in waiting and dressing rooms.
Scheduling more patients for virtual visits to limit the number of people on our campuses.
“Don’t let your fear of COVID-19 keep you from getting the medical tests and cancer screening exams you need,” says Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. “With the precautions that hospitals like MD Anderson are taking, you should feel completely safe. It’s important that you don’t put off these important tests.”
Take small steps to stay healthy and distract yourself
Rather than focusing on your upcoming tests or the unknown results, set small, achievable goals that you can accomplish in an hour or a day.
“Large goals take a lot of energy and focus, and when you’re feeling stressed out, you don’t have that kind of energy,” says Newsom. “But small goals that are doable can be a nice distraction from anxiety and worry, and give you a sense that you still have some control.”
Maybe you can set a goal to walk for 15 minutes each day around your neighborhood, or start a gratitude journal and write for 20 minutes each day.
“If you try to do too much, it can make you feel defeated and frustrated,” says Newsom. “But small projects like cleaning out a junk drawer, or even simply calling a friend, can give you a boost.”
Find ways to connect during the COVID-19 pandemic
Feeling alone and isolated can fuel scanxiety, so it is important to remain in touch with others.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic makes connecting in person a challenge. But there are many ways to stay connected virtually. For instance, you can video chat with a friend or join a virtual exercise class.
Cancer patients and caregivers also can take advantage of the online support groups offered at MD Anderson. There are several groups for patients and caregivers, and some groups focus on more general topics like eating healthy and exercising.
You can also find someone to talk to through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s cancer support community.
Try a relaxation technique
It is important to find ways of relaxing that work for you.
Try meditation or some low impact exercise. This can help you to stay in the present and feel more in control.
You may even be able to use breathing exercises during the test.
The possibility of a cancer diagnosis or recurrence can be overwhelming. You may not feel like you have the ability to cope.
But consider challenges you have faced in the past and what helped you through it.
Remind yourself of your strengths and how you have faced adversity at other times in your life. Assure yourself that you can handle what is ahead and educate yourself about the resources available for support.
“Uncertainty can keep you up at night and push you to your limits,” says Newsom. “Or it can motivate you to practice acceptance, live in the moment and embrace what life has to offer. Do your best to make a conscious choice to choose to be motivated by it.”