• Especially if you have a difficult medical history, visiting your GP can be anxiety-provoking

  • Tracey Livecchi and Liza Morton offer their 6 tips to soothe anxiety before and during appointments

  • If you are living with health anxiety, we have specialists who can help here

It's completely understandable that visiting the doctor can bring on anxiety. This is especially true for those who have a chronic or serious illness or who have had difficult medical experiences in the past. This anxiety can get in the way of scheduling preventative care visits or may lead to delaying important follow up appointments. However, avoidance of medical follow up and care can negatively impact health outcomes. We have detailed six tips for managing doctor’s appointments.

1. Social support

Social support is one of the most protective factors for our mental health and wellbeing. During medical experiences the soothing presence of a loved one has particular health benefits. 

Research studies have shown that compassion can help us to feel safer and more resilient. As such, it can really make a difference to reach out to a caring family member or friend and ask them to accompany you to hospital appointments. They can also help you to remember any new care instructions or recommendations; it can also give them a better understanding about what is going on medically for you.


2. Acknowledge your feelings and practice self-compassion 

Go easy on yourself and look after yourself as much as possible. Medical appointments can be difficult and it is understandable if you feel anxious, angry or a bit down. This doesn’t mean that you are not coping, it just means you are having a normal response to a challenging situation.  

Plan something pleasant to do before and/or after your appointment, reach out to loved ones to talk through your experience, or do something that helps you feel more relaxed and safe. Learning and practising relaxation techniques such as grounding, deep breathing and relaxation exercises, meditation and mindfulness can help you leading up to and after your appointment.  

There are many good mobile phone apps and online resources (for example, MIND, The Mental Health Foundation, Anxiety UK) with free access to information and resources including relaxation techniques. If it would help you to talk to someone anonymously The Samaritans (116 123) and Breathing Space (0800 83 85 87) offer a free, confidential listening service or you can text SHOUT to 85258 (UK). 

3. Assertive communication 

Communicating assertively will better enable you to make the most of your appointment with your doctor. Many people report feeling disempowered during medical consultations and it is common to revert to the ‘patient role’ at this time. If this is the case it can be useful to write down any questions you have in advance and take this list with you to make sure each one is answered.  

If possible, you may find it useful to ask your doctor, by contacting their medical secretary, what you can expect during your appointment in advance. You can also let your doctor or someone on his/her team know how difficult appointments are for you. 

If your doctor’s ‘bedside manner’ is contributing to your feelings, you might want to attend a different doctor to see if their style helps to increase your sense of safety and trust. It may also help to take someone with you to provide a backup ‘memory’ or to advocate for you.

If you have encountered difficult medical experiences in the past that make your care more challenging or evoke strong feelings then you can let your doctor know this. You can ask them to write this in your medical notes so that additional time and care can be taken for any procedures that you find particularly difficult. For example, if you have a needle phobia you can ask to be referred to a therapist for treatment. Following this you can ask for additional time, support and if it helps, to be lying down before blood is taken and additional recovery time afterwards. 

4. Prepare for your appointment

Make sure that you plan going to your appointment in advance to minimise stress on the day. This will help you to ensure that there is enough time in your day, and that you have planned for travel time, parking, check in time and where you need to go. 

Depending on your condition and financial situation you may be entitled to transport or assistance to and from your appointment.

5. Patiently waiting  

Unfortunately appointments are often delayed so it can be useful to bring along something to distract you while waiting to be seen. Different things work for different people, depending on your interests, however knitting, journaling, reading, a fidget toy or playing a word game on your phone can help. You could also listen to relaxing music or relaxation exercises on your phone. 

If you find that you have been waiting for a long time let the people on reception know in case you have been missed. You can also ask them how much longer you are likely to wait.

6. Self-care

Visiting your doctor is an important part of self-care. Staying on top of your recommended appointments is one of the ways you can maximise your overall health, contributing to a better quality of life. Often people will report feeling a sense of relief after their appointment is over, and sometimes recount that the anticipation leading up to the day was more difficult than the appointment itself.

Tracy Livecchi and Liza Morton are the authors of Healing Hearts & Minds: A holistic Approach to coping well with congenital heart disease 

Further reading

Nobody's 'just a hypochondriac': my experience of health anxiety

After my cancer diagnosis, therapy helped me feel less alone

Are you catastrophising? 9 steps to regain control of your thoughts

Cancer survivorship: living well beyond breast cancer

How Jessica Morris greeted her cancer diagnosis with patient power