Do you feel stressed out before a scan? Do you feel anxious waiting for results? This is what cancer patients, thrivers, and survivors call “scanxiety.” Scans can be physically uncomfortable, and you may find yourself fearing the worst about your cancer — but there are ways to help.
First off, let’s talk about how scanxiety can affect you.
Stress can release adrenaline, telling your brain to go into fight or flight mode. This can lead to an increased heart rate, sweating, feeling shaky — or even nausea or muscle pain. Scanxiety can cause emotional effects too. You might find yourself reliving how you felt during your diagnosis, or other scary moments in your life.
Everyone reacts to stress a little differently. Some people might get sweaty hands or an upset stomach. Maybe you have trouble sleeping. Other people find themselves easily irritated and don’t know why. Figuring out how you respond can help you spot signs of stress, and take steps to relieve them.
Read a book, watch TV, go for a walk, listen to music or a podcast. Find ways to take your mind off upcoming scans.
Give yourself something to look forward to. Even if it’s as simple as getting a cup of coffee and a doughnut, or a trip to the library to get some new books, plan something that you can get excited about after your scan.
Meditation might sound intimidating, but it’s easier than you’d think. Sit down someplace comfortable and quiet, close your eyes, and focus on your surroundings. What can you feel beneath you? What can you hear? What does the air smell like? Then, focus on your breathing. Listen to yourself breathe in and out. Remember that meditation is a practice — you don’t have to do it perfectly. Just practice clearing your mind.
Deep breathing exercises can help calm your heart rate and relieve anxiety. Breathe in for 5 seconds, then breathe out for 5 seconds. Repeat until you feel calmer. Or try visualization, where you imagine a calming place — the library, a beach, or even your childhood bedroom.
Some cancer centers offer workshops on relaxation techniques. Reach out to yours to find out more.
Compile a list of quotes that speak to you — kind words from your friends or family, or maybe a line from your favorite book. Having words of encouragement at hand can give you something to focus on and provide comfort.
It’s okay to worry. Acknowledging that it’s normal to be nervous can help you stop stressing out over feeling stressed. You can write your feelings down in a journal, talk to a therapist, or even your pet.
Although it might seem counterproductive, giving yourself time to worry can help relieve some of the pressure. Set aside 10 minutes or so, and let yourself worry about your tests. During this time, think about potential outcomes — both positive and negative — but also create action plans detailing how you will address each scenario.
You might find that you can get the nervousness out of your system, and you might feel a bit lighter afterwards.
Remember that you can’t predict the future, and it’s important to live in the present. Focus on your surroundings, and be fully engaged in what you’re doing right now. Make every moment count!
Many cancer centers offer support groups for patients. Reach out to your center to see what options are available to you. Join the COLONTOWN community, and connect with people who are going through the same thing as you.
If you have loved ones who help calm you down, spend time with them. You might even ask them to come to your appointment with you.
If you find yourself stressing out about scans, schedule your appointments as early as possible. You’ll get the hard part over with quickly, so you can enjoy the rest of your day.
Talk to your healthcare team about what to expect. Bring a blanket or eye mask if that will help you be comfortable. Scans might be loud, so bring headphones so you can drown out the noise with your favorite music. If your scan involves needles, or anything else that might be painful, ask for numbing cream or pain medication.
Speak to your doctor about keeping the wait for your results as short as possible. Discuss how you’d like to receive them — a phone call, email, uploaded to your patient portal or in-person appointment. This can help reduce the number of unknowns related to your scan.