Scanxiety, or scan anxiety, is the apprehension and fear a person with cancer feels prior to, during, and after undergoing their medical tests. It is a serious emotional issue among cancer patients and survivors, and can trigger symptoms similar to those associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.
If you’ve gone through chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, and hormone treatments, you may assume it should be simple to take a few follow-up tests, but that’s not necessarily the case. While the anxiety you feel is real, worrying about impending test results simply does not help, and yet staying calm, cool, and collected is much easier said than done.
When you need to maintain your sanity and your sense of peace, here are some coping strategies you can try that may help you ease your scanxiety.
10. Distract Yourself With Hobbies
Hobbies can serve as superb distractions from your worries and anxiety. Knitters knit, crocheters crochet, and if you have another hobby, go for it. Plying your thoughts and skills to create a work of art or hit a bullseye with an arrow can reroute your emotions; you can’t problem-solve and fret about your appointments at the same time. So, pick up those paintbrushes and paint, or do whatever it is you do — even if you don’t feel like it at first.
Exercise helps your body release endorphins, those warm, fuzzy chemicals that help boost your mood and alleviate anxiety. You don’t need to overtax yourself with a routine beyond your capabilities; just move your body and get your heart rate up. Try stretches, take a yoga class, or just walk around your neighborhood. Exercise sends oxygen and nutrients throughout your body, and as your energy levels rise, so does your state of mind.
8. Listen to Music
Listening to your favorite music is a great distraction, particularly if you can combine it with a leisurely walk in a comforting place. Sitting in your favorite park, listening to your favorite tunes, and watching the kids at play can make a nice mood-lifting combination. If you’re a musician, play your instrument with abandon, and take out all of your frustration by putting passion into your music. Whether listening or playing, it can be quite cathartic.
7. Talk About It
You probably already know that bottling up negative feelings produces unpleasant results, physically and emotionally. When you acknowledge your scanxiety and talk about your fears to a trusted friend, there is a double benefit. First, venting helps you feel better. Second, your friend can reflect back to you positive ideas that you might have overlooked. If you’d rather not talk to friends or family, ask your health-care team about a support group.
Meditating is one of several effective strategies that’s often used to calm the mind, with others being prayer, deep breathing, and other types of physical relaxation. Basically, these strategies aim to help you focus on being in the moment while putting aside the past and the future. A simple meditation technique is to focus on your breathing. If you think to yourself, “Breathing in, breathing out,” negative thoughts cannot invade your consciousness. Over time, as you learn to calm your mind, you find that you can do it almost anywhere if you find scanxiety creeping up on you.
5. Help Someone Else With a Problem
Getting your mind off of your worries is a good way to reduce your levels of anxiety. Take the focus off of yourself and see if you can help someone else in need. Talk to friends or loved ones about what’s going on in their lives; maybe they have something going on that they need help with and could use your assistance. Helping others is a good way to use your energy in a positive way. It leaves you feeling better about yourself, and boosts your sense of well-being.
4. Schedule Your Test Early in the Day
By scheduling your appointments as early in the day as possible, you get your tests out of the way as soon as you can. You’re also doing your part to avoid longer wait times. You’re not sitting around, watching the clock, and dreading your appointment. After getting everything done and over with, you can go ahead and do other things to ease your mind. Go shopping, visit a friend, enjoy your hobby, or do whatever will help you most.
3. Take Someone With You
There’s no need to keep a stiff upper lip and bravely go alone. Ask someone to accompany you to your appointments so that you have someone to sit with and talk to during the trip and during the waiting. You’ll be grateful for their company — daunting situations can seem much less scary when you face them with a trusted friend or loved one.
2. Know How and When You Will Get Your Results
Speak up! Ask your doctor when you can expect to get your results and how they are typically delivered. Knowing how many days you will wait and how you will learn the results saves you from working yourself into a nervous dither. If you know your doctor gives results face-to-face, find out if you need to schedule the appointment. Assume as much control of the situation as you possibly can to combat the powerlessness scanxiety tends to incite.
1. Consider Medication
In all honesty, if depression interferes in your ability to take steps to alleviate your scanxiety, talk to your doctor about it. There is nothing wrong with considering medication to help you cope with serious issues such as depression and anxiety. As the medication begins to help you feel better, you can take charge of your life, and work on incorporating some of these other steps as well.
Even if you realize that the benefits of getting your scan likely outweigh the risks, it’s not uncommon to still feel nervous and worried when you’re scheduled for an imaging appointment or follow-up exam. Remember these coping techniques, and use them for all they are worth to ease your mind.
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