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Doctor Anxiety -- How to Handle It

January 24, 2021 Natasha Tracy

I suffer from doctor anxiety. Well, I suppose I suffer from generalized anxiety, but, certainly, some of it belongs to doctors specifically. And this week, I have a great (mis)fortune of meeting two new doctors. Meeting doctors is part of healthcare and part of trying to keep yourself as healthy as possible, so, in that sense, it's a positive thing. On the other hand, the anxiety I feel around doctors is looming large.

What Is Doctor Anxiety?

For me, doctor anxiety is the anxiety I feel any time I have to deal with a doctor. This anxiety is worse when I don't know the doctor, of course, but the truth of the matter is, any time I have to deal with someone with an MD after their name, I get anxious. This manifests as fear, apprehension, dread, shortness of breath, me wanting to hold my breath and other things that I would consider par for the anxiety course.

Why Do I Have Doctor Anxiety?

There are so many reasons I have doctor anxiety.

One of the main reasons that comes to mind is that previously, psychiatrists have actually given up on me. In one case, this almost cost me my life. When someone has a major hand in your almost dying, it's a good reason to be afraid. 

But there are many other reasons too. There is the anxiety around doctors judging me for my bipolar disorder, my bipolar medications and my lifestyle choices. There's anxiety around doctors refusing to treat me because of all those things. There's anxiety around doctors refusing to listen to my very reasonable concerns or answer my questions. There's also the anxiety I have around doctors messing up. You have to trust that a doctor knows what he or she is doing, and that's very hard when you know that a mistake on their part is going to cost you and not them.

I guess what a lot of the doctor anxiety comes down to is this: doctors have the power and control in the relationship, and I don't. While I have said and I believe that doctors work for patients, and not the other way around, it can be hard to assert this with some doctors.

Acknowledge Doctor Anxiety

The first step in dealing with doctor anxiety is like dealing with any other kind of anxiety -- it's to recognize that it's there. As I've laid out, I have many reasons for my doctor-related anxiety, and most of them are quite reasonable. I need to recognize that and remind myself that it's okay to have this anxiety. Anxiety is there to protect us, and mine is just trying to suss out the perceived danger. I also need to realize that any anxiety I have is being exacerbated by my mental illness. This means that anxiety is okay and reasonable but likely out of proportion with the situation. 

But just as anxiety is designed to protect us, our own brains, awareness and insight can tell that anxiety to back down when it's not at an appropriate level or when we understand that the dangers perceived by the anxiety are reasonable given the circumstance.

When I was skydiving, I would say, "If you're not scared when you jump out of a plane, you don't fully comprehend the situation."

In other words, the fear is completely reasonable, but that doesn't mean it has to stop you. My anxiety around doctors is reasonable, but I can't let it make the decisions for me. Sometimes doctors are necessary, and my anxiety is just doing to have to deal with that.

How to Deal with Doctor Anxiety

Once I've ascertained that the anxiety is there and it's reasonable, but I need to see a doctor anyway, it's time to use these tips:

  • Use calming techniques long before and just before appointments. I use breathing techniques frequently when dealing with doctors.
  • Acknowledge your anxiety with the doctor. Some doctors are horrible and won't empathize with your anxiety, it's true, but a good doctor will. Doctors know people experience anxiety around doctor's appointments, surgeries and the like, so just admit you're feeling it -- it's okay.
  • Write down what you need from the doctor. One of the most frustrating things is to leave a doctor's appointment and realize that you didn't get what you needed out of it. A way to avoid this is to write down everything you need from the doctor, including every question you have, ahead of time. Anxiety will likely make you forget in the moment, and that's okay.
  • Assert your needs. Take your notes in and make sure you get each item addressed. If there are too many items for one appointment, make sure you make another. Your needs are important. Once you start getting your needs, fears, concerns, etc. addressed, you'll find that the doctor anxiety will subside to some degree.
  • Take notes during the appointment. Similarly, anxiety can make it difficult to remember what happened at an appointment. Take notes or make a recording so you can check back later when you're feeling calmer.
  • Be nice. I know it's ridiculous to have to take into account the doctor's feelings here when you're the one dealing with all the anxiety, but if you want a positive working relationship with a doctor, you need to do your part. Be nice, be respectful, do your best to foster positivity. They're human too.
  • Thank your doctor. Try to thank your doctor for listening to you and answering your questions. Again, they're human, and they should appreciate this.
  • If you have to, get a new doctor. If you're trying to do all these things and you're trying to foster a positive working relationship with a doctor, but he or she is just refusing to listen and give you what you need, find someone else. You deserve better. (Yes, I'm aware, particularly with the US insurance system, this isn't always possible.)

I guess, in short, when I feel doctor anxiety, I try to take control over as much as I can. True, doctors have the prescription pads. True, they're the ones with the scalpels. Nonetheless, when I take control over as much as I can, I start to feel empowered, and that fights the doctor anxiety to which I am prone. 

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, January 24). Doctor Anxiety -- How to Handle It, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, February 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2021/1/doctor-anxiety-how-to-handle-it



Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook and YouTube.

Lizanne Corbit
January, 26 2021 at 1:22 pm

I love this, "In other words, the fear is completely reasonable, but that doesn't mean it has to stop you." It doesn't have to stop you, it also doesn't help to try and ignore it or pretend it isn't valid. Excellent point. Wonderful suggestions for working with this! Thank you for sharing your experience and guidance so that others may benefit.

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