Today, I was absolutely terrified of visiting my doctor. I had seen my blood tests a few weeks before my appointment and could feel within my own body that something wasn’t quite right. My heart and chest clenched as I drew closer to his office door. What was he going to say? Was he going to have bad news for me? For a brief moment, I thought about turning around and skipping my appointment. Sometimes ignorance is bliss … or is it? If I don’t know what’s going on, how can I continue to heal? How will I know what the next steps are? Armed with my notebook, I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and faced my fear.
Being afraid of the doctor is a normal and all too common feeling. Given the usual environment of a doctor’s office, the cumbersome paperwork, long waits, rushed appointments, high costs, unpleasant exams, fear of needles, it’s easy to dread going in. But what happens when we’re actually afraid to see the doctor? Here, I’ll deconstruct the top reasons people fear a visit to the doctor and how to handle them.
1. You’re afraid of needles
This one can be difficult to overcome. I’m no fan of needles myself. What I do is look away and begin breathing deeply. If you’re truly focused on your breath, you’ll not only begin to relax, but you won’t be paying attention to the needle and usually you don’t realize they’ve even put it in. Sometimes, nurses choose to chat with you to get you relaxed enough for the needle. If that works for you, go for it! But, if you need more help, start with deep breaths. If your fear of needles is overwhelming, consider working with a psychologist or ahypnotherapist.
2. You’re afraid of having to take an exam you’re uncomfortable with
This fear is extremely common. We’re often taught not to question the doctor (see below) or that if the doctor recommends something, we must do it. In my younger years, I was too intimidated to discuss my feelings about what my doctors were suggesting. If you don’t understand an exam they want to give you or you are uncomfortable with what the doctor is suggesting, TELL THEM. As I began to speak up, I learned that my doctors were open to my concerns and often they found other ways of doing exams that I was more comfortable with. You are in charge of your body, not the doctor. Don’t forget that. If you’re afraid to speak up, take a deep breath, and just try to ask one question each visit about an exam. With time, you’ll learn to feel comfortable discussing your concerns at length with your doctor.
3. You’re afraid to question the doctor
This may be one of the greatest fears. For some reason, people hold doctors in such high esteem that they forget that doctors are just people too. Usually, they are really smart people who have lots of information to share. The best way to get over this fear is to be prepared. Educate yourself! If you are having specific symptoms or have a family history of a certain disease you’re concerned about, do some research online. Find out about those symptoms or diseases and write out a list of questions. Your doctor will respect you for coming in prepared and for asking about their expertise. They will also remember you! By asking educated questions, you are breaking down the barrier between doctor and patient. Doctors always seem to remember the patients who ask questions and are truly involved in their own healthcare. Once you start asking questions, the doctor knows that you expect the best information he/she has to offer … you’re not just going to blindly accept their suggestions. They often respect the patients who take an active interest in their health.
If you ever get pushed back from your doctor for asking a question, then you know that doctor is not for you. There are plenty of great doctors out there – find a good one! The ones who check their egos at the door are the keepers.
4. You’re afraid of a bad diagnosis
This is the number one fear and the main reason people don’t actually go to the doctor (especially men). No one wants to hear bad news and often when you’re not feeling so hot, you fear a bad diagnosis. Sometimes putting off a visit to the doctor is the difference between catching a disease when it’s possible to heal yourself or being at the point of no return. Remember, knowledge is power. If you know what’s not clicking with your body and catch an illness early enough, you are in control of changing the outcome. Early detection helps your doctor help you more effectively too. That’s what I kept in mind as I walked into the doctor’s office the other day. If your body doesn’t feel right to you, don’t ignore it. Empower yourself by making an appointment with the doctor, arm yourself with questions, take a deep breath and go through that door. Most often you’ll save yourself from a bad diagnosis, catching symptoms before they turn into illness or disease.
5. You’re afraid of what the doctor might recommend
This fear is sort of the culmination of all of the rest. If you are diagnosed with an illness or the doctor wants to take some preventative measures, people fear how the recommendations will change their lives. Oftentimes they are only dietary and lifestyle changes, but sometimes they are intense medical treatments. My advice: take control! When you start to fear the doctor’s recommendations, remember that the suggestions are made to inform and help you. Putting yourself back in control is the best way to get over the fear. Go into the doctor ready to learn about your treatment options and then take some time to research his/her suggestions yourself.
Write out a list of questions and prior to starting any treatment program, discuss your questions or concerns with your doctor. If you feel overwhelmed by the dietary or lifestyle suggestions or by the medical treatments being suggested, or you just want help creating a list of questions for your doctor, enlist a health coach to support you. Our job is to wade through the current research and help you navigate the waters of all the various medical and healing optionsavailable to you.
Most of these fears listed above have to do with feeling that you’re not in control of the situation. And that is really the key to getting over all of these fears. If you take control of your healthcare, educate yourself, find support and work together with the doctor and his/her staff, you’ll take the fear out of doctors’ visits and be on a more enjoyable road to recovery.