5 Reasons You’re Feeling Medical Appointment Anxiety
A chronic illness diagnosis can affect your mental health, but more specifically, medical appointment anxiety is a universal concern, even before a diagnosis has been made. With so many unknowns of what will happen during the appointment, your mind and body are likely to respond in ways that are uncomfortable.
Here are some reasons that you’re feeling anxiety before, during and after chronic illness medical appointments.
#1. Racing thoughts/worries
Have you ever noticed that your thoughts get jumbled when you’re anticipating your medical appointment? It can be hard to concentrate and focus your thoughts, as anxiety starts to get stronger leading up to your appointment.
Some common worries that are experienced before and during medical appointments include:
- Being labeled as aggressive or uncooperative if you ask “too many questions” or make certain requests.
- Thinking that your doctor will “write you off” or dismiss my symptoms?
- Worrying that the doctor will say your symptoms are psychosomatic (“it’s all in your head”)?
- Your doctor won’t know how to help
- Possibly being referred to another doctor and having to “start all over”
- Fear of the results
- Worry that you won’t get to ask all of your questions
- Fear of being misunderstood when trying to advocate for yourself
You’re not alone if you have experienced these worries.
Living with a chronic illness brings on many unknowns, and it can be even harder to manage the anxiety when you’re not sure what will happen at a medical appointment.
#2. History of Medical Gaslighting
As a chronic illness therapist and warrior, I know firsthand the stressful experiences that can come when navigating the healthcare system.
Most chronically ill clients that I’ve worked with say that they have experienced medical gaslighting in some way. Here are some examples:
- Medical provider dismissing your symptoms
- Feeling rushed out of the appointment
- Being told that your symptoms are mostly because of your mental health
- Doctors not documenting or following through on your requests for additional testing or treatments.
- Insisting that you are “fine” based on your test results while your body is experiencing heightened symptoms saying otherwise.
- Providers interrupting you when expressing your concerns and feelings during the appointment.
These are just a few signs of medical gaslighting that can occur with a chronic illness, but they impact your medical appointment anxiety significantly.
Honestly, these experiences over time can make you question whether or not you’re actually “making it all up,” because you’re so used to hearing people doubt you. Perhaps you have heard a provider say, “this is all in your head” or “your pain is caused because of stress.”
How do you receive that information?
Yes, stress can negatively affect your mental and physical health, making you sick. At the same time, understand that mental health treatment is one part of a larger process to help you get to the bottom of what’s really going on with your health.
In this case, it can’t hurt to talk with a mental health professional, because medical treatment itself can increase stress. Regardless, there’s nothing wrong with requesting additional medical testing and follow-up to get more answers. Check all of your boxes unapologetically.
How Lack of Trust in Your Doctor Increases Your Anxiety
Medical providers are people who have studied years in the medical field to support your health and recovery journey. That amount of training makes you want to trust them and feel confident that they can help you.
After all, they have connections to treatments, information and other providers that can help you make sense of what’s happening with your chronic illness. They are literally the last person that you want to feel uncomfortable with.
However, medical gaslighting makes it harder to trust medical providers because you don’t feel heard or emotionally safe working with them. In fact, medical gaslighting is a barrier for actually getting your needs met with a chronic illness and can increase the amount of time it takes to get a confirmed diagnosis and proper treatment.
It makes sense why one would feel uneasy and anxious when you’ve had a history with providers that make you feel this way.
Here are 10 safety signs that relieve anxiety and build trust during medical appointments:
- Medical provider listens to your concerns (and documents them).
- Exploring options collaboratively with your doctor (even if that means you take a list of options home to review BEFORE you make a final decision).
- Provider is open to scheduling follow-up phone calls, appointments and other communications (i.e., online messaging through your electronic health record) to answer any questions that come up or provide support if problems arise.
- Doctor is open to reviewing research articles that you find on your symptoms and treatments.
- Your doctor is honest and tells you when they don’t know what’s causing your symptoms or how to treat them.
- They schedule additional tests that you request even if they doubt that it will provide answers.
- Provider collaborates with other doctors on your team.
- They remind you of all the things you are doing well to support your health (instead of focusing only on the problems).
- They provide you with up-to-date articles, handouts, resources and literature to inform you of your chronic illness symptoms and ways to approach it.
- They refer out to other specialists to get more answers.
#3. Thinking you have to “dumb down” your responses
Many people with chronic illnesses admit to thinking that they have to be the “expert” on their specific chronic illness because they worry that their doctor will be misinformed about it.
One of the ways that you may notice feeling this way is if you spend countless hours researching your chronic illness to the point that you go down the internet black hole (or Google). It becomes the black hole when you become stuck looking online and you end up feeling worse and more afraid than when you started.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s essential to be informed about your own care, and research is a key way to do that. However, if you worry that your doctor is not informed enough to help you, this can be a scary situation to be in.
It’s also common to feel that you’ve done something wrong when information you present during the medical appointment is dismissed or questioned as if the information is invalid.
I’ve personally had people tell me that they worry about being considered disrespectful to their doctor if they come off as a “know-it-all,” making them minimize their symptoms or what information they find. This is a sign that you are not receiving the support you need, and can increase your anxiety over time.
This is your healthcare – not your doctor’s. So, take the time to do your research and confidently ask questions. You do not have to minimize anything.
In fact, request specific information about clinical trials, treatment protocols and tests to see if those options would be an appropriate fit for you. If your medical provider does not respond in ways that are supportive of your health choices or needs, you can request a referral to another provider for a second opinion.
Transitioning from one provider to the next can become overwhelming with trying to remember who treats/prescribes what issues and what recommendations were. Keep a file with all of your medical provider notes, treatments and recommendations so that you can provide those to your new medical provider.
#4. History of seeing multiple providers after low success with getting help
A chronic illness diagnosis can lead to you having multiple healthcare providers working together to ensure that you are getting support from several angles. From general practitioners to specialists and mental health providers, we all play an important role in your healthcare.
Here’s where it can get tricky… What happens when you are constantly meeting new doctors because a) your current provider can’t figure out how to help you or b) you have to discontinue care because you didn’t feel safe working with them?
This part of the chronic illness journey gets draining very quickly.
After seeing multiple doctors with minimal success, it’s understandable that you feel worried that this one will end poorly too. Your mind may want to go through all of the worst case scenarios of what will go wrong so that you don’t feel as bad if it actually comes true.
In these situations, remind yourself of how working with a different doctor could actually help you. Intentionally take your mind to that place and consider this. Scheduling that appointment with the next provider is an act of advocating for yourself and staying hopeful. It provides the opportunity to get more answers and support.
#5. Challenges advocating for yourself
But what happens if you’re unsure of how to advocate for yourself? Or maybe you’re simply tired of having to do that?
I feel you. Self-advocacy in medical appointments can be scary and anxiety provoking, but it can also be empowering.
Advocacy is a skill that all chronically ill people need to strengthen during your journey, because your health requires you speak out for yourself – even when other people won’t. It can feel intimidating when you are trying to be honest about your health when you worry about how it will be received.
Here are some signs that you are struggling to advocate for yourself:
- You question your judgment when other people have a difference of opinion
- You stay quiet and don’t ask for help because you fear being a burden to others
- Other people’s opinions are guiding your treatment, but you don’t feel involved in any of the decisions (even though it’s your body and healthcare)
- You feel that making requests and expressing your needs will turn people away or is “unacceptable.”
- You’ve given up on seeking answers and support because “it’s a waste of time.”
These signs indicate that you may be feeling unsupported with your chronic illness in more than one area of your life. It’s a hard road, but it can get easier to bear when you are aware of the signs and how to handle them when they come up.
Let’s be clear here. You are allowed to have a difference of opinion from other people when it comes to your health. It’s your body and your choice and how to treat your chronic illness.
And even though advocating for yourself is hard – it’s necessary. Your voice and needs deserve to be heard regardless of how it makes anyone feel, because you’re the one who is living with the chronic illness. What you think, feel and need IS the priority.
Advocacy helps you feel more safe and supported because your needs and desires for your healthcare plan are clear. Although you may not be in complete control of what your body does from time to time with a chronic illness, feeling more involved in your care can help you feel more relief.
You’re worth taking the uncomfortable step to speak up for yourself. It takes practice, but you can do it.
Read more on how to talk about your chronic illness.
Can I control my worries and anxiety for medical appointments?
Yes you can. Understand that your worries are a sign that your health is important to you. Medical appointments can potentially provide information that can change your life (for better or worse).
10 Ways to Relieve Anxiety Before and During a Medical Appointment
- Make a plan to help you prepare for the medical appointment.
- Do something that makes you feel calm beforehand
- Take someone else with you for support. This supports you in advocating for yourself and allows your loved one to learn how they can help you outside of the appointment. Here are other ways that your spouse or loved ones can support you and cope with their own anxiety moving forward.
- Get there 10-15 minutes early
- Make requests to meet your needs
- Have your list of symptoms and questions ready. The list helps you to remember discussion points in case your mind becomes cluttered and scattered during the medical appointment.
- Give yourself something pleasing to focus on while you wait (photos, videos, game on your phone)
- Focus on your breathing
- Ask questions
- Write down the doctor’s recommendations
- Express your thoughts and feelings
Here are more chronic illness management tips that I recommend to help calm your anxiety before, during and after your medical appointment.
Next Steps for Chronic Illness Management
I help chronically ill teens, adults and families individuals manage the anxiety they feel managing their health and daily life. Therapy is a powerful tool that can help you continue talking about your chronic illness, coping with the medical appointment anxiety and navigating the healthcare system. Although your journey with a chronic illness can be hard, therapy can make it more bearable because you get to practice having those conversations during the therapy session, giving you more confidence and improving your mental health.
You can schedule your first appointment with me by booking a free 15-minute consultation call.