Anxiety at the Doctor’s Office: Reasons for It and How To Cope
Let’s face it — nobody *loves* going to the doctor. From trying to find a suitable appointment time to boring waiting rooms to hoping there won’t be any surprise fees at the end, a trip to the doctor can be a chore even at the best of times.
But for some people, visiting the doctor isn’t just an inconvenient part of life. Their anxiety at the doctor’s office leaves them feeling extremely distressed — and may see them putting off appointments altogether.
Does this sound like an all-too-familiar scenario to you? If the mere thought of making a doctor’s appointment sends you into a cold sweat, read on — we’ll explain why you might be feeling so fearful and how to reduce anxiety at the doctor’s office.
Types of doctor anxiety
There are plenty of reasons why people might be scared about going to the doctor, including negative past experiences, concerns about being misdiagnosed, concerns about receiving substandard care, the fear of the unknown or the fear of receiving bad news. Likewise, when you experience anxiety at the doctor’s office, it can range from mild all the way up to a full blown phobia.
Let’s explore the different types of doctor anxiety below.
Iatrophobia is the medical name for the fear of doctors, medical care or the medical care system. This phobia is common among children but many adult patients experience it too. Iatrophobia leaves sufferers feeling more than just anxious about visiting the doctor — it can trigger panic attacks, elevated blood pressure, shortness of breath, nausea and gastrointestinal issues. People with this intense phobia of the doctor will usually avoid appointments completely which can put their overall health at risk.
‘White coat syndrome’ or ‘white coat hypertension’ is a phenomenon where a patient’s normally healthy blood pressure skyrockets when in the presence of a doctor or medical professional. Around 15-30% of those who have high blood pressure readings at the doctor’s office may in fact have white coat hypertension. So why does it occur? If a person is feeling increased anxiety at the doctor’s office, this can push up their blood pressure temporarily. This condition generally occurs more frequently in women, pregnant women, older adults, non-smokers and patients who have been recently diagnosed with hypertension.
Many people may feel like a trip to the doctor’s office is no big deal… But when it comes to visiting the dentist? Forget it! Dental check-ups fill them with absolute dread and they’d rather stick pins in their eyes than sit in the dentist chair. Dental anxiety is very common, with moderate to high dental anxiety found to affect 19% of the population in this study. Some people may even have dentophobia — an intense fear of the dentist. Much like iatrophobia, people with this condition may experience panic attacks, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, rapid breathing, nausea and gastrointestinal distress. We see patients with dental anxiety all the time at our Mascot dental clinic — that’s why we’re dedicated to making your trip to the dentist as comfortable and worry-free as possible! The dental industry is also now seeing many changes and innovations to help patients overcome their anxiety.
Ahh, Dr Google. We’ve all fallen into the trap of Googling our symptoms at some point, right? As harmless as it may seem, the (often gravely serious and *completely* misdiagnosed) results Dr Google spits out can do a lot more harm than good — especially when it comes to increasing your anxiety or fear about seeing the doctor. Medical professionals are also becoming concerned that turning to Google for health information or diagnoses may contribute to people’s doctor anxiety or lead them to seek emergency medical attention when it’s not appropriate.
How to reduce anxiety at the doctor’s office
Unfortunately, you can’t avoid seeing the doctor or dentist forever. Having regular check-ups is essential for maintaining your overall health and wellbeing. But the good news is that there are a few things you can do to help reduce anxiety at the doctor’s office.
Stop worrying about the ‘what ifs’ and book your appointment
If you’re feeling unwell or you’re long overdue for check-up, book in with your doctor ASAP. Avoiding the doctor and stressing yourself out over the ‘what ifs’ may actually increase your anxiety and can even make you sick. Living with high anxiety or stress can have some unexpected side effects on the body and lead to serious conditions like high blood pressure.
Schedule your appointment at a good time
When you make your appointment, be sure to pick a time that you’re more likely to be at ease. For instance, if you know you usually feel more anxious or stressed in the mornings, choose an afternoon appointment. Try to avoid times when your stress levels could be heightened, like after a big day of work meetings.
Try a new doctor
If you don’t feel completely comfortable with your current doctor, try to find a new doctor or practice. Sometimes your anxiety could be linked to a certain practice or doctor and a change of provider may help to reduce it. Research other practices in your local area or talk to trusted friends and family members about their healthcare providers. You could also seek out practices that address your specific fears. For example, if you have dental anxiety, you could try to find a clinic that specialises in being comfortable and calming — just like us!
Try anxiety-reducing techniques
There are a few simple relaxation techniques you can use to ease your anxiety before and during your doctor’s appointment. Breathing exercises such as the 4-7-8 technique can help to moderate the body’s stress response and calm the mind. Need a distraction in the waiting room? Pop in your headphones and listen to your favourite music or podcast — or better yet, a guided meditation or relaxation hypnosis.
Bring a friend
Having a familiar face by your side can work wonders on your anxiety at the doctor’s office. A supportive family member or friend will not only help to comfort you (or distract you from your nerves), they can also be a second set of eyes and ears to listen to the doctor and pick up on any important details you may miss in your anxious state. They can also help to advocate for your needs if you’re worried about speaking up or asking questions.
Tell your doctor
Be honest with your doctor about how you’re feeling. The simple act of acknowledging your anxiety can be the first step to overcoming it. If your doctor is aware of your fears and concerns, they’ll be able to tailor their approach to ensure your comfort and ease. Plus, when you have open and honest communication with your doctor, they’ll can offer you a better level of care.
Ask about alternative treatments
If your anxiety stems from a fear of pain or a fear of the treatment your healthcare provider has prescribed, ask if there are alternative treatments available. For example, if you’re looking at teeth straightening options and your dentist suggests the traditional option of braces, you could ask them about getting Invisalign instead. It would also be valuable to have them compare Invisalign vs. braces for you so you know the exact pros and cons of each.