Waiting for medical tests – or test results – can be an extremely anxious time, particularly if there’s a chance you could have something serious.
One in 10 Brits over the age of 60 have waited almost half a year for a diagnostic test or an operation on the NHS, according to new research, with one in three saying the wait impacted on their mental health and emotions.
The Nuffield Health survey found patients said waiting made them less fun to be around (19%), left them feeling anxious and short-tempered (14%), while 31% also said the waiting meant they ‘didn’t feel like themselves’, and 20% felt ‘unable to focus on the here and now’.
Elsewhere, a study by Harvard University found the limbo period of waiting for test results can elevate stress levels as much as finding out you have a life-threatening illness. And, of course, too much stress doesn’t do your health any favours either.
Are you facing an anxious wait for tests or test results? Here are 10 tips that could help make the experience a little more manageable…
1. Get things into perspective
It’s easy to blow fears out of proportion, so try to put worries back into perspective, perhaps by trying visualisation. Picture the worst-case scenario as if you’re watching it on a cinema screen, then shrink the picture in your head until it’s tiny. Then focus on something positive in your life, and enlarge that image to make it the biggest in your mind, until it’s all you see.
2. Use past coping mechanisms
Think about the way you’ve coped with stressful situations in the past – whether it’s baking cakes, meditation, yoga or breathing exercises – and try these techniques again.
3. Change your focus
If you find it hard to stop thinking about your test results, find ways to think about other things. Focus on other aspects of your life – exercise, go out with friends, and do things that occupy your mind with other things.
4. Eat healthily
Stress can lead to comfort eating, as adrenaline causes blood sugar surges that make us crave sweet treats. Of course, it can be tempting to comfort eat, but remember a healthy diet can actually help lower anxiety levels. Foods rich in vitamin B, such as avocados and almonds, are known to help reduce stress, while depression has been linked to low levels of folic acid, so eat vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli as well as citrus fruits.
5. Reduce caffeine & alcohol
Caffeine overstimulates the nervous system which can increase feelings of panic, so reduce the amount of coffee you drink, or try decaf. Alcohol can be a depressant, so lay off it if you can.
6. Don’t consult ‘Dr Google’
Don’t Google your symptoms. Very often, it’s hard to tell what information on the internet is from real experts and reliable sources, and what’s from people with no medical expertise. It’s also much easier to find the more rare serious examples when trawling the web – as most of the people who had the same symptoms, but it turned out to be nothing serious, don’t bother to share their experiences online.
7. Share your concerns
Tell family and/or friends about your worries, and explain why you might be a bit short-tempered or nervous. A problem shared is a problem halved.
8. Help someone else
Stave off feeling helplessness by doing something helpful for someone else, whether this is through a local volunteering scheme, or simple acts of kindness for loved ones or strangers. It’ll take your mind of your own worries, and may help put them in perspective a little.
9. Worry window
Have a daily 10-minute ‘worry window’, when you let your mind focus on the bad stuff. Outside of this, the worries are a problem for ‘future you’, not ‘present you’.
Just before you’re due to get the results, spend a little time planning what you’ll do if you get bad news – this can help you regain a sense of control. Don’t do this too early though.