By Maria Baratta, PhD, MA, MSW, ACSW, LCSW, BCD
|Get Information About the Test or Procedure|
|Go With the Odds|
It’s not pleasant to endure a medical test or procedure for a serious condition. Almost all of us will undergo a test or procedure for a serious health condition at some point in our life. And with that usually comes worry. Worry is a state of anxiety that dwells excessively on bad “what ifs” and worst case scenarios. There are always better ways of doing things, and that includes worrying. As a therapist and worrying expert, I have some helpful strategies for coping with the worry associated with medical procedures and tests. Worrying can be managed.
Schedule a specific time for worrying, as close to the procedure as possible. This is a skill worth learning. Suppose you need to have, for example, a mammogram, a biopsy or an MRI: you would plan ahead to compartmentalize the time when you allow yourself to worry. What that means is that you schedule a time for worrying, a “free to worry time.” Until the prescribed time, you tell yourself “it’s not time to worry yet.” “I cannot worry until I’m allowed to.” Then, at the time you’ve decided, (the morning of the procedure would be a good time) you allow yourself to worry and fret. Until then, keep postponing it. You will have managed to earn yourself a period of reprieve that would have otherwise been filled with hours of worry.
Find out how much of what you are facing, if anything, is truly awful. Then you will have something specific to be obsessed with and worry about. With that information, you can figure out the exact time you will be faced with the worst part. Usually, the worst part of any medical procedure does not last more than minutes. That’s usually manageable, and, if you think about past experiences, is something that we have all endured. So ask yourself, “have I ever endured something awful? “Can I deal with that?” Have faith in your own ability to endure less than pleasant things.
When anticipating stress, prepare with scheduled indulgence. Think about the things you love to do–nice things that you do for yourself. Plan to do something that is fun both before and after your procedure. You need to have things to look forward to. You can also look forward to knowing that the procedure is over. You can look forward to that great feeling of relief, knowing that something you dreaded is behind you.
Even the worst news is not final. As an expert on worrying, I can assure you that most worrying is unfounded. Tests can be wrong. For those of us who do not have the luxury of denial, hope helps. There is an old Italian saying “where there is life, there is hope.” Science is always finding new cures and new avenues for treatment. Even when things seem hopeless, that feeling usually passes. Things never stay the same. It will feel great to be wrong.