Scanxiety: Dealing With Your Fear
January 28, 2019
Medical tests and scans are an important part of your child’s treatment plan. They act as a measure of progress, an early indicator of problems, and one of the main weapons in the fight against any childhood illness or injury.
So why do scans fill parents with such terror? It’s the uncertainty that surrounds them, the fear of bad news or that any remission is short lived. It’s knowing that your lives can change in an instant.
What Is Scanxiety?
Scanxiety refers to anxiety, worry and fear before and after a medical test – whether it’s to check progress during treatment or to check for relapse after. And unfortunately, it is very normal.
Even with a “good” result you may not feel relief. You may continue to worry that this is only a temporary reprieve until the next test in a few short weeks or months.
The good news is that some children, especially younger ones, do not fully realize what is going on. But you as a parent certainly do!
What Are the Signs of Scanxiety?
Scanxiety can be intense and may mimic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An upcoming test may even trigger PTSD itself.
While everyone experiences it differently, below are common symptoms of scanxiety to look out for:
- Difficulty sleeping, eating or functioning in daily life
- Intrusive thoughts
- Feelings of helplessness or fear
- Reliving the diagnosis or past treatment
- Delaying major decisions
(If you feel your anxiety goes beyond the scans, it may be useful to review the signs of PTSD here. Many family members experience PTSD during or after treatment.)
Tips to Manage Scanxiety
If so many patients and their families experience scanxiety, what can you do? While you will always worry, there are some things that may help.
Planning ahead can help you regain some control. Think about what parts are most stressful and devise a plan to ease this burden. If you prefer to stay busy, plan fun activities around the procedure. Or schedule nothing so you can relax! Just be sure to only do what makes you and your family feel best.
Many people also find it helpful to schedule tests in the morning, so they don’t have to anticipate them all day. Finally, be sure you schedule a follow up appointment, or at least have a clear understanding of when and how you will hear the results – and what to do if you don’t!
Distraction is one of the most common ways people manage anxiety. Before, during or after your child’s test, try reading, listening to music or watching TV or movies. Other activities that may help include coloring, knitting and other crafts, or journaling.
Mindfulness is the process of focusing on the present moment, and simply acknowledging your thoughts and feelings. It may involve techniques such as meditation or taking deep breathes.
To start, try focusing on your breath. This can help you stay in the moment and combat the physical signs of stress. The members of your care team may also be able to point you to helpful resources, such as guided meditations, classes or books.
Also ask yourself if worrying will really help. There’s no point in worrying about a future that might not occur. As hard as it is, it is best to focus on today and what you can control.
Give Yourself “Worry Time”
If mindfulness isn’t for you, or you can’t break the worry cycle, try setting aside a time to focus on your fears. This “Worry Time” can be one or two 10-minute periods. If a worry comes to you during the day, simply write it down. Knowing you will have time to come back to it later may make it easier to ignore.
Most testing occurs on a regular basis, so it may make sense to create rituals to help you and your family through. This can normalize the experience and provide some certainty in an uncertain time. It doesn’t matter what you do, just that you do the same thing every time. Obviously, you want to enjoy the activity, but repetition itself is comforting.
Eat, Sleep and Exercise
You are likely sick of hearing, “You have to take care of yourself.” This may not only seem impossible, but completely off-mark. However, taking care of your needs will help you better care for your child.
Nutritious food and sleep fuel your body and mind. And exercise provides a natural outlet for all the adrenaline you experience from stress. Any physical activity will do but those that focus on flow and rhythm, such as yoga or walking, may prove most calming.
Shift Your Mindset
While it’s easier said than done, it may help to change the way you think about these procedures. Scans and other medical tests do not give your child the illness or injury. Rather they catch any recurrence early, make sure the treatment is working and help your child’s care team create the best plan.
Ask for Help
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. You would not expect your child or friend to face a life-changing illness or injury alone. So why yourself?
First, talk to your doctor if you feel your anxiety is out of control. They may recommend medications to relieve your symptoms, either long term or around the scans. They can also connect you with a team of professionals, like social workers, therapists and chaplains, who may be able to help you better manage your emotions.
Also, reach out to your community. Surround yourself with people who put you at ease. And don’t forget the value of simply having someone listen. It can help to vent or state your fears out loud.
Coping with Scanxiety
Sadly, there is no cure for scanxiety – regular medical tests are often a fact of life and poor results are a very real fear. However, there are things you can do to help you cope. It may take a while to find what techniques work best for you, but there is hope.
Most importantly, remember you are not alone. Lean on family and friends, and know you can always find additional support on CopingSpace.org.