How to Not Freak Out When Waiting for Test Results
Even routine medical testing can create a lot of anxiety. Here’s how to stay calm.
As access to testing has increased and roughly 750,000 Americans per day line up for a Covid-19 test, wait times for results have climbed up to two weeks in many places — and more people than ever may be experiencing test result anxiety, experts say.
Even before the pandemic, plenty of studies have found that waiting for medical test results can cause psychological stress. In a 2017 study evaluating emotional state among patients waiting for imaging results, 45% of respondents reported experiencing an emotional change as a result of waiting for testing results. Among those respondents reporting an emotional change, 85% reported feeling anxiety.
Pamela Ressler, a nurse and the founder of Stress Resources, an organization that helps individuals build resiliency, started her company after noticing an increase in stress levels among her patients and colleagues after September 11, 2001. Ressler has previously written about how to manage “scanxiety,” which she describes as the anxiety, worry, and fear that accompany the waiting period before and after a medical test.
In Ressler’s experience, increased anxiety in response to medical testing is common. “Even routine medical testing can create a lot of anxiety for many of us,” she explains. “Why is that? The first reason is that we perceive any kind of testing as a threat, and our body’s stress response hasn’t evolved to differentiate between psychological stressors. So, the body doesn’t distinguish enough between a blood test and more serious physical stressors.”
“In many ways, we still have caveman brains. We don’t want to starve to death, so we imagine the worst outcome and try to prepare for that.”
We’re also just getting more tests, with more data points within the results, than ever. “As we’ve gained more technology, we don’t really understand what that testing will lead to or mean in our lives. A hundred years ago, there weren’t the blood tests that there are, we didn’t have X-rays. So, there is still a fear of the unknown and what we do…