Managing Anxiety When Medical Tests Are Pending
I am a relatively healthy person, apart from having anxiety and the physical symptoms associated with it. I'm lucky. Like a lot of people, I take my physical health for granted. Sure, I try to eat right and exercise almost daily, but on the whole, I go about my days assuming my health will continue to serve me as it has. Very recently, however, I heard from my doctor that I need a special test because cancer is suspected. Managing my anxiety while waiting to undergo medical tests has become my latest challenge.
Waiting on Medical Tests, Worrying, and Anxiety
My grandparents lived long lives, and my dad is still alive and living independently at 92. My sweet mom, who died in 2016, having survived many happy years after beating both skin and kidney cancer, died of a brain tumor one month shy of her 90th birthday. My brother, too, is a cancer survivor.
I wouldn't say that cancer runs in my family, but given my mom's history and my brother's recent challenge, I'm worried that this may be my first (of many?) run-ins with cancer. For the most part, I've successfully plopped my pending appointment into a compartment in my mind where it floats atop a sauce of simmering anxiety. I'm diligent about practicing positive affirmations and have added a new one to my regulars:
"I am innocent. I am strong. I am brave. I am worthy. I am healthy."
Still, it doesn't take much heat for the sauce to boil over. One worry turns into another, then another. Before long, I've worried myself into an anxious mess where the diagnosis is certain, and I'm facing months of failed treatment and certain death. Preventing this cascade of anxiety into doomsday scenarios is crucial, but it's so hard, and exhausting.
Intrusive Thoughts or Doomsday Thinking Feeds My Anxiety About Medical Tests
I've suffered various extremes of generalized anxiety (GAD) in my life, where it feels like the world and everything in and about it is ever-shifting. Happily, my GAD is well-managed. These days my anxiety is more associated with past trauma, dealing with the memory of it, why it happened, asking if it will happen again, that sort of thing. Even going through what I've been through in the last year, I never adopted what I call doomsday thinking. I've had intrusive thoughts before, during the worst of my mental illness battles. They're serious and not to be taken lightly. But doomsday thinking is different in my mind.
Doomsday thinking has never been a part of my character. I worry about the planet, wars, global financial collapse, etc., like everyone, I suppose. But for the most part, I'm a positive, curious person who doesn't dwell. Perhaps that's why it so surprised me how quickly my anxiety took me to that doomsday scenario: cancer, failed treatment, death. I realized in short order that preemptive angst isn't doing me a lick of good. I knew I'd better get a handle on this, be proactive about managing the anxiety I was feeling about my upcoming medical test, and realize that the dominos will fall where they may.
Proactive Anxiety Management to Assuage Doomsday Thinking
Every day I intentionally give myself a few minutes to think about my upcoming appointment. I give myself permission to consider my thoughts rather than ignore them as they percolate in my mind. As I think, I breathe slowly; in through the nose and out through the mouth, and remind myself of the following:
- No amount of worry will change what is to come,
- The future is not set.
- I can handle whatever the future has in store.
If my thoughts do take a turn and I find myself dwelling, I imagine myself gently putting them (my thoughts) back into their compartment where they belong. Then I repeat those three phrases.
Like all therapy, it's hard. So far, my approach is working. Although the appointment looms in the very near future, I'm successfully managing my anxiety and doomsday thinking. For this and so much more, I'm grateful.
Scott, L. (2022, June 29). Managing Anxiety When Medical Tests Are Pending, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2022/6/managing-anxiety-when-medical-tests-are-pending
Author: Liana M. Scott
Love your writing. This is a very helpful perspective on cancer worries.
Thanks, Janet. While the appointment has passed, I now await the results appointment. Then, we'll see.