When you’re about to undergo a medical test, you suddenly feel a wave of nervousness come over you that’s hard to ignore. Despite your best efforts, you still can’t shake off this intense feeling of fear and anxiety. Do you recognize this feeling? If so, you’re experiencing what’s known as ‘scanxiety.’
What is Scanxiety?
Scanxiety is a term introduced in 2011 by Bruce Feiler, derived from his own battle with cancer. It involves the anxiety and worry that often accompanies medical tests or even waiting for their results. In his article published in TIME, Feiler explains how all scans have one thing in common. “Scanxiety is one of those uniquely modern maladies, like carpal tunnel syndrome and BlackBerry thumb, that arise because we’re experiencing something entirely new to human beings. For millennia, doctors and patients would have given almost anything to be able to look inside the human body. Now we have an ailment for the fear of what we might find when we do.”
The Causes of Scanxiety
Scanxiety often emerges from the fear of an impending diagnosis or the prospect of a disease relapse—events that are inherently beyond our control. Anxious feeling before imaging is normal, so be kind to yourself during these difficult situations.
How To Spot the Signs of Scanxiety?
Scanxiety manifests itself in a variety of ways, both physically and psychologically. You might find it harder to sleep, your appetite may dwindle, or your thoughts may wander aimlessly. It could lead to an increased heart rate, irritability, or even nausea.
How Scanxiety Affects the Mind
According to recent research, 55% of cancer patients reported having Scanxiety. Researchers emphasized the necessity for preventive and mitigation methods by describing Scanxiety as a frequent and possibly serious occurrence. There are two ways Scanxiety exhibits itself:
- Anxiety: Characterized by a great deal of worry over a scan. It is frequently brought on by the vulnerability and separation during the procedure.
- Distress: Characterized by emotions of melancholy, anxiety, or worry brought on by mental, spiritual, emotional, or bodily suffering. Examples of situations that might be upsetting include being inside a CT scanner, anticipating a cancer diagnosis, and worrying during follow-up visits.
How to Beat Scanxiety
The good news is that there are numerous ways to manage scanxiety. Here are some activities that can help clear your mind and anchor you in the present moment:
- Listening to music to soothe your nerves and put your mind at ease.
- Meditation is to calm the churning waters of your mind.
- Breathing exercises to reconnect with your body and slow your racing heart.
- Journaling or drawing to channel your thoughts into something tangible.
- Engaging in light physical activities, like walking, to get the endorphins flowing.
- Sharing your feelings with a loved one or a professional counsellor to lift the weight off your chest.
- Joining a support group to connect with others on the same journey.
Some experts recommend grounding techniques,’ which are useful right before a medical test. Grounding techniques are your mind’s GPS, guiding your thoughts away from past or future worries and bringing you back to the here and now.
One good grounding technique is the “5-4-3-2-1” exercise for anxiety. In this mindfulness drill, you acknowledge five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
There are countless ways to refocus on the present. Counting backward by odd numbers, spelling words or names backward, rubbing your palms together, or even a good old-fashioned game of naming items in a category can all serve to ground you in the now. These simple techniques prevent patients from falling into the trap of anticipating the future.
Discuss The Medical Test with Your Physician
Before the medical test, discussing the process with your physician can help clear any doubts and provide a better understanding of what to expect, which can, in turn, alleviate some anxiety.
Communicate with Your Healthcare Team
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, communicate your fears and concerns with your healthcare team. They can provide reassurance, answer questions, and offer guidance on managing Scanxiety.
During the procedure, bring headphones and listen to soothing music, an audiobook, or a podcast. Focusing on something enjoyable can divert your attention away from the anxiety-inducing environment.
Visualize Positive Outcomes
Mental imagery can be a powerful tool. Picture a positive result or a future where you’ve successfully overcome your health challenges. This positive visualization can reduce anxiety and boost your confidence.
Don’t face Scanxiety alone. Bring a friend or family member with you to the appointment. Their presence can offer emotional support and a distraction from anxious thoughts.
While scans often form an essential part of medical care, scanxiety can be tackled. You can gradually learn to manage and control these feelings with the right tools and support. In the battle against scanxiety, remember that you are not alone. It may be a steep climb, but with the right strategies, it’s one you are fully equipped to conquer.