Comfortable conversations - GP appointment anxiety

Published on 10/07/2024

As part of our Comfortable Conversations series, we sat down with Dr. Macarena Staudenmaier, our Head of Clinical Product and Operations, to talk about appointment anxiety – what it is, what you can do about it, and how you can prepare for appointments. We also discussed why searching your symptoms online isn’t a diagnosis, and for some, it can have a damaging impact on mental wellbeing.

What is appointment anxiety?

In my experience, appointment anxiety is related to the nervousness around and before health appointments. It includes a broader fear of healthcare settings and procedures, diagnosis and bad news in general. It stems from thinking that there's something wrong with you.

It also varies significantly from person to person. Some people struggle to book an appointment because of anxiety. In contrast, others find their anxiety increases as the appointment gets closer.

- Dr. Macarena Staudenmaier, our Head of Clinical Product and Operations

What can people do if they're suffering from appointment anxiety?

GP speaking to a patient

There are a lot of general anxiety strategies that can help if you're suffering from appointment anxiety - mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, and techniques like focusing on breathing when you're in the waiting room can all help.

 

My two pieces of advice would be:

  1. Think about the source of the anxiety and what makes you feel that way, and then try to address that problem through talking. Talk to your clinician ahead of time, let them know that you're suffering from some appointment anxiety and explain what makes you anxious so the clinician can work with you.

  2. You can also ask someone to accompany you to the appointment if you don't want to be there alone. Support from a close friend or family member can create a comfortable space.

Discussing specific health concerns, especially those related to men's and women's health, can be daunting. How can you prepare yourself so you're comfortable having conversations?

There are a few ways you can approach those trickier talking points.

Writing a list can help you prepare for your appointment and ensure your questions are answered. That list could include your symptoms, how it's impacting your life, and any fears you have based on those symptoms. That way, when you're in the appointment, you can discuss it with your clinician and won't forget or miss anything or leave the appointment with regrets.

I recommend writing the list in a calmer setting at home where you feel comfortable. That way, you can get your thoughts out of your head more clearly and articulate them even better.

Then, if you're in the appointment and you don't feel comfortable talking about your symptoms, you can give that piece of paper or the notes on your phone straight to your clinician or GP. They can read it, start the conversation and address your concerns.

It's also essential never to ignore how something makes you feel and how it affects you. A good example is period pain. If you go to your doctor with that period pain, it's important to tell them how it's impacting your day-to-day life as this often determines the course of treatment.

Always remember that clinicians hear about conditions and symptoms all the time; it's nothing new to them, and they're there to help. It's okay to speak freely. There's also confidentiality; everything you say to your clinician will be kept within those four walls.

How can a Simplyhealth plan help people who suffer from appointment anxiety?

At Simplyhealth, we have mental health services that our members can call for 'in the moment' support, providing calming strategies, and advice and reassurance on how to move forward.

We also offer virtual GP appointments where you can speak to a GP from the comfort of your own home. Going to the doctor can be daunting for some people, so having that conversation in a more relaxed setting can work. We also have telephone consultations, so if you don't want a video appointment, you can do it over the phone as a call.

Searching for symptoms before your appointment can impact appointment anxiety and health anxiety in general

Man feeling anxious researching symptoms online using mobile phone

There's a fine line when searching for your symptoms before an appointment. Information can calm down your anxiety, but it can also be the cause of it and ultimately make things worse.

Some people feel calmer with the more information they have. They get anxious when they don't know what's happening, so researching and looking for information can help. But as mentioned, there's this very fine line between adequate and right information and going to the other side, searching symptoms, and being 'diagnosed' with the worst-case scenario. This can feed anxiety, causing more stress and worry, and it can snowball.

Remember
, anything can be published online, so it's important to make sure anything you read comes from a reputable source like the Mayo Clinic or the NHS, which has accreditations behind them.

The other thing is that these articles are not personalised to you. To cover every condition, they give a potential diagnosis from the least severe to the most severe. And you could fall anywhere in that scope. Everyone's health is unique, so you won't know your diagnosis unless you speak to a clinician.

Before typing in your symptoms, always ask yourself, does searching for symptoms make your anxiety better or worse? If it makes it worse, refrain from doing it and talk to a clinician about your symptoms. If you think it calms you down and you like having more information, and you can discern that information and apply only what's relevant, that's your choice, but make sure it's a reputable source.