Health anxiety: How to cope if you’re feeling anxious about seeing your GP
Do you know the feeling? Maybe it’s a niggle, a sign of infection, a symptom, an ache, a pain, or an understanding that something isn’t quite right. Maybe you’re waiting for test results or a diagnosis. I was asked for some comments on this by the people at Happiful. In this article, I offer some tips on how to cope with health anxiety, and how to cope if you’re feeling anxious about seeing your GP.
If you’re feeling anxious about seeing your GP, remember this: it's a signal from your body and your mind that something is going on underneath. Perhaps you’re feeling:
Worried that you won’t know what to say when you are attending the appointment. Or that you'll feel stressed or intimidated by the surroundings.
Scared about being in a busy, medical environment. These fears are sometimes known as ‘white coat syndrome’. For some people this has been heightened since the pandemic, and might be linked to a fear of sickness or germs. Or if you're feeling anxious, it might be linked to previous experiences in a healthcare setting.
Helpless or vulnerable. It's a possibility that there is something medically wrong. And this can be frightening, and leave us feeling vulnerable.
Ashamed about taking up the doctor’s time. Maybe you’re worried that you’ll be judged or labelled a hypochondriac or timewaster.
Embarrassed about your symptoms. Perhaps you need to tell the GP about something that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Low self-esteem. Perhaps it’s something more ingrained inside you, and you feel ashamed about needing medical attention, or you find it hard to feel deserving of a doctor’s time.
Looking at the root cause of your feelings of health anxiety. What's really making you feel anxious about seeing your GP? In truth, this is an essay in itself, and it's something that you can delve into in counselling. Above, I’ve highlighted some of the feelings that might be swirling around in your anxiety: fear, helplessness, embarrassment, low self-esteem, and so on.
Fear of judgement. If you’re worried about being judged by other people, be curious about these judgements and where they might come from. Or maybe you’re judging yourself, and it’s linked to your self-esteem and how you feel about yourself.
Previous experiences. Sometimes these feelings of health anxiety are caused by a traumatic experience that you have been through. Or it might be that you supported a friend or loved-one through a traumatic health-related experience.
Stories that we have heard. Perhaps you don't even know where these feelings have come from. Often we absorb scary news stories that we see and hear, and these fuel into our own worries. Or maybe it's family stories about negative experiences with healthcare. Or more generally, maybe you were always told 'don't make a fuss'.
Impact of the pandemic. The pandemic has left its mark on society, leading to a heightened sense of anxiety around healthcare settings and germs.
What can you do to ease health anxiety before a GP appointment?
Make a plan. Give yourself plenty of time for your journey. You could include a rest stop nearby, to take a breath and ground yourself. Think about whether you want someone to accompany you, to help you to cope. Consider writing down what you want to say when the appointment begins. There are some really useful tips here: Patients Association - Make the most of your GP appointment MIND - Seeking help for a mental health problem
Remember that you can be honest about how you're feeling, and that it's ok to tell the doctor, nurse, paramedic, receptionist - anyone who you need to deal with - that you're feeling anxious, and that you might need help to cope.
Resist the temptation to google your symptoms. It's become second nature for many of us to seek information and support online. Knowledge can be empowering. But more often than not, we find ourselves falling down a rabbit hole of doom and misinformation. This can feed a spiral of obsessive behaviour and health anxiety.
Identify coping strategies that work for you. There are some tips here in my previous article on anxiety, including 'five finger breathing'. If you focus on staying present, it can help you to 'catch the catastrophe' before it spirals. Often our health anxiety is tied up in ‘old’ fears and memories that are triggered.
Consider how would you advise someone else. It's a short-term fix, but it can often be helpful to ask ourselves how we might advise a friend or loved-one in a similar situation.
Remember why you are there. Remind yourself that if you delay seeking support, a small issue could escalate, and require greater medical intervention and resources.
Can you consider it as an opportunity? If you've identified the cause of the feelings of health anxiety, could this appointment be an opportunity for a positive experience. Perhaps a chance for you to claim some control and challenge your negative thoughts.
Keen to explore more?
I love working with people to help them to understand themselves. In counselling we build a relationship where we can look at what might be causing your health anxiety and how you can work to overcome it, so that you can feel more comfortable and confident in everyday life. If you’d like to learn more, please get in touch. Click here to contact me, or click here to book a free 30-minute introductory chat.