Managing cancer scanxiety
Scanxiety is not a medical term but has been coined to describe the anxiety people living with cancer feel while they wait for scans and tests. Whether scans are being done for diagnosis, or to determine the size and/or how widespread the cancer is, scanxiety can be intense and highly distressing emotionally, psychologically and as a natural physical ‘fight or flight’ stress response to perceived threat. Virtually every person dealing with cancer will experience varying levels of stress and anxiety during the stages of their cancer experience.
If you have an upcoming scan and are feeling anxious, here are a few tips suggested by people living with cancer for managing stress, that may be helpful for you.
Identify the physical effects
Recognising and being in tune with how your body reacts to stressful situations can help you understand your individual stress response. Are you breathing faster? Are your hands sweaty? Are you clenching your jaw or hands? Are your muscles tense? Being aware of how your physical body is responding to scanxiety can assist you to regulate the tension when it occurs.
Engage in relaxation techniques
Pay attention to your breathing. When we are stressed, our breath becomes shallow thereby depriving our bodies of sufficient oxygen. Practice deep abdominal breathing that can help to slow down the heart rate and lower blood pressure.
Focus on the present. Thinking too much about the past or future can increase worry and stress. Be in the here and now through techniques such as deep breathing, guided or silent meditation (further information and resources below) and positive visualization that helps you imagine a calming and peaceful place.
Practical ways of coping
During the days leading up to your scan, engage in pleasurable activities such as watching your favourite TV shows, reading a novel, treating yourself to a massage or outing with a friend, or spending time with loved ones, especially young children who take delight in a simple card game, building Lego or wanting their favourite book read out once again. Cranking up the radio and blasting some of your favourite tunes can also assist with distracting from scanxiety, even if for a short while!
Embrace any form of movement such as pilates, yoga or going for a walk around the block. Exercising can have a positive emotional and physical impact and can lower stress levels and anxiety.
Acknowledge your fear
It is impossible to completely break away from your anxious thoughts and feelings and ignoring them may overwhelm you further. Allow yourself some time and space to acknowledge these feelings around scan time, without letting them control your life.
Plan for when and how you will receive your results: ask your medical team when to expect the results, who will deliver them to you and how, i.e via phone call or face-to-face appointment, so you are not wondering over days about when you will hear back.
Keep talking and seek support from family, friends and health professionals. Scanxiety can be overwhelming and distressing but remember, you do not need to experience it alone.
If you require further information or would like a confidential conversation, please contact our Pancare emotional wellbeing counsellor, Mira Patel on [email protected]
Further reading and patient blogs:
Mindfulness & Meditation Apps information: https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-apps/
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