What Is Scanxiety? Tips for Reducing Your Fears and Worries
Anyone who has had a cancer diagnosis will be monitored regularly, even after we finish treatment, it is common to be classed as NED (No evidence of Disease) rather than ‘cured’ or ‘in remission’. It is completely normal to be apprehensive about tests, and find yourself being moody or preoccupied, or simply feeling out of control. Increased heart rate, irritability, sweaty palms, and nausea are all common symptoms that people can experience before a scan. And any symptoms a person experiences before a scan, even if they are minor, can quickly cause fear about cancer recurrence. Other people find the scans themselves very difficult and may experience heightened feelings of claustrophobia during the scan or sensitivity to drinking contrast or having a needle placed into a vein.
Any scanning or testing appointments can cause emotional unease. The term “scanxiety” refers to the anxiety that occurs in the days surrounding these events. It is common to feel stress or worry, and although it is easier said then done, try not to worry about things that have not happened yet.
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.”
– Winston Churchill
There are many reasons you may feel anxiety due to scans or tests. You may:
- be prone to focusing on the worst-case outcome or worry about the unknown
- have unpleasant memories or flashbacks to the original diagnosis, and your understandable distress
- be unable to think about anything but the calendar date of your next scan
- find the actual test or scan uncomfortable
- feel anxious waiting for your doctor to share your results, which may take a few days
While you can’t avoid the tests and scans needed to measure your condition or the uncertainty that may surround your results, there are ways you can help ease your anxiety.
Remember that results help you to monitor health
You may find it useful to reframe the reason that you need to undergo anxiety-inducing tests and scans. While they may be unpleasant, their results will help you to monitor your health and feel empowered that you are being active in your plan for recovery.
Practice relaxation techniques
There are many practices that can help you relax and ease your anxiety. Meditation, breathing exercises, and listening to calming music may help your emotional state.
Meditation is the practice of slowing down and focusing on the present moment, your body, a single thought, or a mantra. Meditation may take practice.
You can learn how to meditate from:
- a professional
- written resources
- online resources
- an application on your smartphone
Meditating may help you:
- eliminate your stress
- manage your overall mood
Yoga and tai chi combine breathing practices with slow movements to calm your emotional state and get some exercise in.
You may want to take a yoga or tai chi class taught by a professional instructor as you begin your practice. There are many apps and videos available online, too, if you’d prefer to practice at home.
Listening to music can also calm you. Make a playlist, play an album, or flip on a radio station that features music that you like.
You can rely on this for comfort when you’re:
- traveling to a medical facility for the test or scan
- sitting in a medical office
- waiting for results
Write in a journal
Journaling may help you touch base with your emotions. It can also help you keep track of your journey with cancer.
You can focus your journal entries on positive feelings and make it a gratitude journal, or you can document your worries.
You can even keep the format open and use bullet points or drawings to illustrate your feelings.
Your journal can be a physical book that you write in. Another option is to write in an online blog, notes on your smartphone or on a computer word processing application.
Schedule friend or family time before or after the appointment
Connect with friends and family as your appointments for your tests and scans approach. Talk through your emotions or schedule something fun. This can distract you from your worries and help combat anxiety. My experience is that some well meaning people make scanxiety worse, so avoid them! Take a trusted and calm companion if you can.
You may find a few phone check-ins or a meal out with someone makes you feel better. Keep in touch with several people to stay connected and share your thoughts.
Come prepared to your appointment
There are a few ways to make your appointments less worrisome. Distract yourself while you wait for the test or scan with:
- a good book
- a favourite game on your smartphone
- pleasurable music
- My choice, a notebook to write down everything the medical team tell me. Some doctors don’t like it, but especially if using terms I don’t understand, I like to write down what they say, so I can reflect and research later if I need to.
Also, consider bringing a close friend or family member to sit with you during the scan. They can listen to and write down any instructions you receive on the day of your appointment.
Find a support group
You may find it beneficial to connect with others with cancer to share your feelings. Support groups can be helpful to talk about emotions like anxiety in an open and caring environment. My only caveat would be to find a group of like minded people, some people like to share their scary stories which can be frightening, and put scenarios into your mind that you had not even considered. A support group should inspire and support you, not make you feel negative or scared.
You may find people with similar experiences to yours who can share helpful advice about particular tests, scans, and treatments, but of course we know every person is different, and we all have our own individual journeys.
You can participate with in-person support groups that are local to you. Another way to connect is through an online support group. Trust your gut, if the group feels wrong, or is not helping you to feel better, then find another one.
Talk to a professional
You may be unable to calm your anxiety on your own. If so, seek out a professional to help you through these emotions.
These professionals include:
- social workers
It may be useful to find someone who works with cancer to make the experience truly beneficial.
You may find that your “scanxiety” is just one aspect of anxiety or other elevated emotions you experience as you navigate your cancer journey.
A mental health professional can recommend treatments that help with conditions like anxiety or depression.
There are several ways to calm anxiety that surrounds tests or scans. You can try methods like meditation and yoga on your own. Or, you can seek various forms of support to ease your mind. Acknowledge that this is sometimes difficult and treat yourself with compassion.
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