Doctor Fears? Tips to Cope

It's normal to feel nervous about seeing the doctor or dentist. But what if it's preventing you from getting the medical care you need?

Most people say their biggest medical fears are about pain, needles, being embarrassed or vulnerable, being judged, receiving bad news, appearing ignorant, or having to make big lifestyle changes. Follow these three tips to put big fears into small packages:

  1. Name it. Pull out a paper and pen and jot down any painful, anxiety-provoking or fearful medical situations you've experienced. It might not even be your experience that's triggering your fear, but your mother's hospitalization or your brother's illness that's the culprit.  Narrow your list to specific issues most likely causing your fear.
  2. Frame It. When you put a frame around a fear, you confine it to one particular area. That helps you identify parts of your medical experience that are not scary. For example, if your upcoming appointment includes something you're afraid of, like being judged for being overweight, mention it when you make your appointment, and before you step on the scale. You'll be surprised by how much respect and compassion you'll get to help you bump past this fear. Then, the rest of your appointment will be easier. 
  3. Tame it. Determine whether a fear is definitely going to happen or if it's just anticipated.  For example, if you're afraid of needles, find out if a needle is part of your upcoming appointment. 

No? Then there's nothing to be afraid of and you've tamed this fear. 

Maybe? Make your appointment knowing most of your visit won't be frightening. You can always refuse a needle (or any medical care) if you're not able to deal with it at the time. 

Yes? Repeat step two and "frame it." Tell your providers about your fear. Then, be open to their suggestions. Ask a trusted friend or family member to make the appointment for you, attend the visit with you, and help you maintain your cool.  Remember, the thing you're afraid of will most likely be only a fraction of your time with your doctor.

 What are the most common medical situations patients are afraid of?

  1. Dentist. The days of white-knuckle dentistry are gone. Today's dentists understand their patients' fears of shots, drills, and judgment. It might take some extra courage (or even a small dose of anti-anxiety medication) to get you in the door that first time, but after that, you'll be amazed at how comfortable modern dentistry has become.
  2. Primary care doctor. It's your doctor's job to understand your health, warts and all. If you're afraid she'll judge your weight, appearance, or lifestyle, you're not alone-and doctors understand that. Yes, she might say something you don't want to hear, but if she knows what you're afraid of, she can be extra-sensitive around that issue.
  3. Gynecologist. Your modesty and comfort are your gynecologist's top priority. Remember to name it and frame it, and ask your doctor to explain everything she does. Take a shower before your appointment, and just do your best to relax. And remember that not every visit requires disrobing or getting a pelvic exam.  
  4. Cardiologist. Seeing a heart specialist doesn't mean you're ripe for a heart attack. Most patients leave the heart doctor with either a clean bill of health or a solid action plan for getting their ticker into tip-top shape.  
  5. Oncologist. These cancer doctors are top-of-the-line specialists in addressing patients' fears. Don't put this visit off. In almost every instance, anticipation is the worst part of treatment. Once you're in their care, they'll help you over each hurdle and help you gain a sense of control.

Name it, frame it and tame it, but don't let your fears get the best of you. If these tips don't help, see an anxiety/phobia specialist or mental health therapist because putting off necessary medical care might give you something very real to worry about.