Waiting for Test Results: How to Get Through the Countdown
If worry gets the best of you, Dr. Gary has good advice.
By March 16 426
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
A client I’ll call Dawn talked to me about waiting for test results. Here’s what she said:
“The results are going to show whether my current regimen is working for me or not. If not, we are back to square one—and that’s going to have a big impact on my life. Now, I know this isn’t life and death, but some days it feels like it. All the uncertainty. What can I do to get through the next seven days?”
I hear this often from clients who are awaiting test results. If you’re living with a chronic condition, you’ve probably felt the same way as Dawn.
Here’s what clients in Dawn’s situation often experience:
- Worrying. As Dawn said, all the uncertainty. It leaves you with an achy feeling that kind of hangs over you like a dark cloud.
- Creating stories. Without adequate information, our mind fills in the gaps. Usually with one “what if” after another, each conjuring up another version of the worst possible scenario.
- Stressing out. Yes, that’s where all that worry and story creation takes you. And stress makes it that much harder to cope. It’s a vicious cycle.
You can’t control the test results, but you can do something about the worrying
Waiting on test results doesn’t have to leave you feeling like you’re walking down a tunnel that may or may not have a light at the end. Here’s what you can do:
Don’t fight the worry. Human beings don’t do very well with uncertainty. It’s totally normal to feel anxious. Especially when the results, depending on how they go, may lead to big changes, or to more uncertainty.
But be careful about those stories. The stories your mind makes up for you just fuel more worry. Unfortunately, they pop up out of nowhere, and you can find yourself in the midst of a disaster movie with you as the star. Your mind may even tell you that if you imagine the worst possible result, you won’t be disappointed if it happens.
Be mindful. When a story sneaks up on you, call it out for what it is and let it go. The worst thing you can do with those scary stories is to indulge them.
Use some self-talk. Or better yet, a lot of self-talk. Remind yourself that you don’t have any information. So the stories are just that. And a waste of time.
Review your foundation. Regardless of what your test results are, you are not out on a limb. Take stock of the resources you can call upon if needed. These might include a supportive family and friends and competent healthcare professionals. Along with your own ability to face difficult situations and make informed decisions. After all, you’ve done it before.
Stay involved in your life. It may be tempting to isolate yourself, to shut down and let yourself ruminate about the future. But try to resist that temptation. Instead, use positive distractions, things you enjoy, responsibilities you have taken on, things you might do to promote your emotional and physical wellness. Embracing your daily life can be empowering!
Get support. From the beginning of your wait until the minute you walk into your doctor’s office, stay connected to your support network. Talk it out. Vent. Expose your deepest and darkest fears to the light of day. You might want to let people know you aren’t looking for advice or for them to “fix” you. You just need a listening ear. You might even want to ask someone to accompany you to your appointment to support you. Don’t hesitate to be high maintenance!
Be with your Higher Power. If you are involved in religious or spiritual practices, this can be a good time to reach out—up—to your Higher Power. Focus on the larger meaning beyond what you’re currently experiencing in life.
As the day for your results gets closer, take extra good care of yourself. Even baby yourself a little. Do something that relaxes you. Have a laugh with a friend. Enjoy a fun evening with your family. Make your peace of mind a priority.
You and your test results. You won’t know until you know. Sure, waiting can be agonizing. And your anxious mind can be hard to tame. But you can get through this: Harness your inner resources. Get support. Stay connected with what’s important in your life.
What helps you deal with health worries? Share your advice by commenting below.