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Categories > Mental and Emotional Health > Anxiety and panic attacks

Scared sick?

You’re in a cold exam room, wearing a flimsy paper gown, staring at the strange-looking medical equipment. No wonder you get frightened or nervous about medical tests. Some people fear these exams because they’re not sure what to expect. Some may be a little embarrassed about the procedure because it involves a particularly sensitive or private part of the body, while others fear any pain that may be associated with the test.

These are all legitimate worries. If you’re feeling nervous, tell your healthcare provider so he or she is aware of your concerns and can address them. Other helpful strategies:

  • Take other people’s experiences with a grain of salt. There’s always that friend of a friend who had a bad experience with the procedure. Remember, everyone responds differently. And with technology constantly changing, your test could very well involve less invasive techniques, require a less harrowing preparation and offer more gentle anesthesia than the same procedure did just a few years ago.
  • Understand why you’re having the test. Did a prior screening reveal something unusual? Is this a routine screening for someone your age? What might the results show? Knowing exactly why you’re having a test can help you feel well prepared, more relaxed and in control of the situation.
  • Know what to expect. Surprises aren’t a good thing when you’re talking about testing. Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare provider about how he or she performs the procedure, how uncomfortable it might be and how long it will take.
  • Follow orders. Some tests have pretty specific preparation instructions. For example, colonoscopies require that you fast for several hours and take a laxative preparation to clean out your bowels. Not following your healthcare provider’s instructions precisely can mean the procedure has to be rescheduled, causing you more stress.
  • Just relax. Take your mind off your worries in the waiting room by reading or listening to your favorite music on your iPod or portable CD player. Some people find relaxation techniques to be helpful. You can pretend to be somewhere else—picture yourself on a desert island. Or try breathing techniques: Take slow breaths, concentrating on the sound of your breathing.
  • Ask about comfort measures. If a procedure is becoming unbearable, let the healthcare professional performing it know. Ask whether the procedure can be modified or whether another technique may be less painful for you. For example, if you just can’t stand the compression of a mammogram, the technician may be able to ease up a little or use a special pad that cushions the breast. Are you a woman who’s uncomfortable having a male perform the procedure? Inquire about having a female healthcare professional perform or observe your test.