I was introduced to a new term today, scanxiety. Though not a new concept, I had not heard this word before today. The term was brought up at a cancer support group. Scanxiety refers to anxiety before, during, and after medical scans. Technically, it could apply to anyone with health issues. But, as cancer survivors, we know firsthand the anxiety that comes with awaiting text results. Luckily, there are some tips to cope with scanxiety.
Scanxiety – Cancer Survivors’ Anxiety Before, During, and After Scans
Still, almost seven years after my cancer diagnosis, I get scanxiety. I get scans every six months. Scanxiety starts rearing its ugly head as I get closer to the scan date. By the day of the scan, I am jittery, irritable, crabby, and restless. I was so jittery during an MRI, the tech suggested I take a sedative the next time I need an MRI. The MRI was blurry and they were barely able to read it.
Until I receive the final scan results, the symptoms continue. Before I get my test results, my scanxiety is horrible every time the phone rings. Before I see the caller ID, my heart starts beating quickly. If it happens to be the doctor’s office, forget about it. It can take hours to come down from that scanxiety high. I have a whole post about Phone Call Stress – Awaiting Test Results After a Cancer Diagnosis.
Now that you know what scanxiety is, what can you do about it?
I spend a lot of time with other breast cancer survivors. Although it is a club no one ever wants to belong to, once you are in, the breast cancer sisterhood can be a wonderful, supportive, group. We commiserate, encourage, celebrate, and share tips and suggestions with each other. After the group discussion today, I decided to write a post on tips to cope with scanxiety to help other cancer survivors with anxiety before, during, and after scans.
8 Tips to Cope with Scanxiety
1. Go to your Happy Place – literally or figuratively
Take your mind off your scanxiety by doing something you love or going to your happy place. Listen to music, treat yourself to a drink (coffee, wine, beer, whatever), visit with friends, or whatever else makes you happy.
For me, I love being outside. I find walking around the lake or taking a hike gets my mind off of things.
2. Knowing is half the battle
One of the tips to cope with scanxiety is to understand how the test results will be communicated with you. It helps to know if you be given the results over the phone, by email, or through an online patient portal. That way, you might not freak out every time the phone rings if you are expecting your scan results by email.
I’m sure you already know this, but exercise helps just about everything. You don’t have to go all out or run a marathon, just get your body moving. Get your blood flowing. For example, take a walk around the neighborhood. If you want to know the science behind how exercise can help scanxiety, read the New York Times article, How Exercise Can Calm Anxiety.
Now that you are done exercising, it’s time to relax. Chill out! That’s easier said than done, right?
Practice mindfulness. Try meditating or doing yoga. You could even try downloading some meditation podcasts if you have trouble meditating on your own. For yoga, there are lots of places to find free online yoga videos. I like the free site, Do Yoga with Me.
Soak in a bubble bath with your favorite magazine and preferred beverage nearby.
Another helpful tip, is to accept the fact that you have scanxiety. Talk to someone about it or write about it in your journal. If it helps, try to figure out what exactly you are so stressed about. Are you scarred of a recurrence? What is the worst that can happen?
6. Be Prepared
Although it is not fun to think about, make plans for the worst case scenario. Having a plan will give you (a small) sense of control. We cancer survivors know, cancer can make you feel powerless. Even having a little bit of control can ease the mind.
7. Help Others
Research shows that when we help others we also help ourselves. Don’t believe me? Check out this article, How Helping Others Can Reduce Stress and Increase Happiness. You don’t have to organize a large fundraising event, just choose a small act of kindness. Pay it forward, volunteer in your community, spend time with a lonely friend, visit the nursing home, and so on.
If all else fails, there’s always medication. Remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. With the help of a doctor, you can find a medication that is right for you.
If you would like to read more about my breast cancer experience and get tips on living a happy and healthy life on a budget, visit my blog Cha Ching Queen.