Do you feel afraid to go to the doctor?

Do you feel afraid to go to the doctor?

Do you feel anxious about going to the doctor? Although some women can see the doctor without trepidation, many women feel varying degrees of anxiety about visiting with their doctor. This article looks at some of the reasons for this kind of anxiety and offers suggestions about how to cope. This article was written before the new healthcare law so the references to being uninsured are hopefully going to change in 2014.
Photograph by George Hodan at Public Domain Pictures.

What is it about going to the doctor that can be so anxiety producing?

Part 1—Reasons for doctor visit anxiety
Although some women can go to the doctor without trepidation, many feel varying degrees of anxiety. Here are some reasons:

1. You fear having a disease—the mind is a powerful suggestible receptor and there is so much medical information online that your mind can get carried away with stories about your body that are usually not true. Some doctors are forceful in their discussion of what might be wrong, and this can be scary, especially if you are “suggestible”–that is think what the doctor says is probably true even before it is tested.

2. You fear facing symptoms, especially if they are intermittent. You would rather not think about it or have anxiety about getting a diagnosis. You fear the unknown—and desire to avoid what is scary.

3. You have a friend or family member who has a serious disease (contagion effect). Someone you know just died of a disease and you worry about having the same thing.

4. You have physical discomfort or embarrassment during exams.

5. You have had a bad experience in the past, if a doctor yelled at you, scared you, or embarrassed you at some time.

6. You have low self-esteem causing you to feel you are not worth getting medical care.

7. The doctor is too rushed, cold, or uses a one-size-fits all approach.

8. You may not have had parents who took you to the doctor routinely so you are not used to regular check ups. You may want to ignore getting checked if you feel fine even though some problems are easy to catch and treat early and have no symptoms for a long time.

9. You don’t have medical insurance and can’t afford to go to the doctor.

10. You have a secret like an eating disorder or alcohol/drug problem. You might feel on edge about withholding information from the doctor and fear he/she will catch you up and put you on the spot. You might not be ready to face your problem within yourself especially if you feel out of control and afraid you will be forced to stop your self-harming behavior. And there is shame about having the problem in the first place.

Part 2—Things you can do if you have doctor-visit anxiety
There are many great doctors out there but sometimes it’s hard to find the best fit. In an article about anxiety and going to the gynecologist, Tracee Cornforth  says most women would rather have a female doctor, especially for their gynecologist. Even with a woman, style and personality can be very important in addition to knowledge and skill. Sometimes your friends will have good recommendations, but sometimes even those aren’t the right fit. Try to think about what is important to you in the doctor-patient relationship. Sometimes it helps to write down for yourself what is important to you. And keep looking until you find the right match.

Unfortunately many doctors are not trained to deal with addictions or eating disorders.
The website (about eating disorders) has sections on things doctors should not have said and guidelines for doctors. Even if eating disorders aren’t your issue, I think there’s useful information there. Anyone who has ever had a doctor comment on their weight inappropriately will know what I mean here. And sadly, doctors seem to be trained to think that weight is something they need to mention. Since most women are not generally comfortable with their body size, this kind of scrutiny can be very difficult to take. On the flip side, women who know their weight is too low will often get praise and misunderstanding at doctor visits.

Sometimes a hard truth is that more than one try is needed to find the help you need. A really hard part of problems that are “secret” (such as eating disorders or alcoholism) is the isolation and shame you feel about them. However, there can be a turning point, a moment of resolve or readiness that connects you to the right person in the right place. If you are feeling open to trying, calling a local psychotherapist or organization that works with these types of problems can be a good way to find the right medical practitioner with an understanding about your special problem.

Other things you can do for doctor visit anxiety:
Get support if you can, such as asking a friend to go with you, or online support, where you can express yourself anonymously. Knowing you are not alone is a really big deal.
Doctors can try to accommodate your needs if you let them know up front what they are. This is where your own reflection on what you want from your doctor is helpful. You can try an initial meeting with a doctor before you let them become your physician. Usually doctors who are willing to do this are more interested in working with you as a team than doctors who won’t do this.

Advice nurses, or other people who can help you navigate your healthcare system can be invaluable. Tracee Cornforth recommends educating yourself about your symptoms and your questions, and then speaking up to have your own individual input considered. If this is important to you, then try to find a doctor who wants to listen and communicate with you. Also, writing out your specific questions and taking notes or having someone else with you to take notes is a good way to remember important information that is given quickly or easy to forget later.

Remember that if you do have a medical problem, the sooner it gets found and treated, the better. A good example of this is the common vaginal yeast infection. The symptoms can be truly scary, yet it is a common and easily treated problem for most women, especially if tackled early. And getting information, like reducing sugary foods when you have yeast, is so very helpful in clearing it up.

If you do not have medical insurance at the moment, there are still low cost clinics with good care. Check online or network with others to get information.

Finally, remember that anxiety is real and not made up—it is important to be gentle with yourself and try not to beat yourself up if you are having a hard time getting to the doctor’s office. Give yourself support for making the appointments and keeping them. And if you are reading this and have not been able to go to the doctor yet, keep trying.


Doctor visit anxiety — 2 Comments

  1. I’m afraid of finding out if i have something wrong with me and i don’t know if i want to know or not. I have been afraid of doctors since i was a little girl and the seem like scary people. I get anxiety and panic attacks for the appointment and during the appointment. any advice?

    • Hi Tina,
      Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I would suggest that you get to know your doctor before he or she examines you. This could be a consultation where you meet in the office, not the exam room, and you get to ask questions about anything you need to know. If you haven’t tried therapy, I might also suggest that you see a therapist who can help you with this fear. EMDR could be helpful if there is an early trauma involved
      Hope this helps.
      Best wishes, Phyllis Klein, LCSW

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