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How To Cope With Waiting For An Appointment Or Test Results

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Waiting is part of modern medicine. Waiting for test results. Waiting for an appointment. Waiting for treatment to begin or for treatment to be effective. 

Waiting can be awful. For some people, the anxiety is worse than physical pain.

Following are some time tested ideas that have worked for people to make the wait easier (in no particular order):

Try to schedule tests and dates with your doctor to minimize the waiting period. 

  • Schedule tests for early in the week so you don't have to wait over a weekend for results.
  • When scheduling a test, let your your doctor or other person who will conduct the test know that you are anxious about the results and that you would like to get them as soon as possible. 
  • Find out how long it takes for your doctor to receive the results. (It is unlikely that you will be sent the results directly).  Set an appointment  with your doctor for that day, either on the phone or in person. 
    • If you will get the news by e mail: Give the doctor your personal  e mail address. It is better to use a personal address instead of a work address. Employers are entitled to read all e mails sent to your work account.
    • If by phone:
      • Tell the doctor which number to use.   
      • Is it okay to leave a message with another member of your household? If so, a message with the test results or just to call the doctor?
      • Is it okay to leave a message other than "Please call Dr. XYZ"? You may not want to hear difficult news by voice mail, or have someone else get the message for you.
      • Keep in mind that if you tell the doctor not to leave a message other than for you to call, the fact that no message was left does not indicate bad news.
  • If you don't hear at the specified time, call your doctor's office to find out what is happening.

If a test is a routine one, don't wait for your doctor to order it when the two of you are together. Instead, take the test before you see the doctor so you and the doctor can review the results together at your visit. For example, have blood drawn a week before your scheduled appointment.

Ask that you be given the results as soon as possible.

  • Standard procedure is that test results are given to your doctor, who in turn tells you what they are. However, it can't hurt to ask that a copy of the results be sent to you by e mail or fax. The worst they can say is "no".
  • Whether the results are sent to your doctor or to you, the sooner the results are back, the sooner you'll know the result. The simple request to get results as soon aspossible may speed getting test results.

Use whatever techniques helped you get through stressful periods in the past.

  • If the technique or techniques worked, consider using them again.
  • Before you jump in whole heartedly, consider whether you can make changes in a technique that would make it even more useful now. If the change doesn't work, you can revert to the way you did it before.

Use stress reduction techniques. For example:

  • Use deep breathing exercises
  • Visualization
  • Focus on muscle groups and relax one at a time. This is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. To learn how to do it, click here.
  • Try meditation. Meditation is easy to do. There's no magic formula. You can find a meditation primer by cliking here

Adopt the attitude that you are okay today, that "no news is good news" or that "my worrying won't change anything" or that "in a week this will be behind me, and I'll go on."

Keep busy, especially on weekends. Lying in bed worrying about what could happen generally makes things worse.

  • Maintain your daily schedule.
  • Catch up on all the movies you haven't seen yet - including those on DVD.
  • Read a fast moving book.
  • Do something to help another person.
  • Research your condition if it helps.
  • Don't sit home alone. Spend time with the people who love and support you.
  • Do the household chores that require your focus so that time disappears without notice.

Use your mind to reframe what is happening.

  • Just because you had a test, doesn't mean that you will get negative results.
  • Develop statements that are comfortable for you. For example: "My last scan was fine. There is no reason to expect a change with this one." or "I don't have ____ until I am told I have _______."
  • It helps to stay in the present - in this precise moment. 
  • Also: remind yourself that no matter what happens, you have the coping skills to deal with it. You've dealt with life so far - there is no reason to think you won't be able to deal with whatever comes along.

Take advantage of your support systems.

  • If you haven't already, think of family members and friends as part of your team.
  • If you haven't joined a support group yet, consider joining. There are many advantages in addition to emotional support. For information, click here

Keep a balance in your life.

  • Withdrawing from life or work is a no-no.
  • If you need some time alone to think things through, do what you can to take the time. The rest of the time live as normally as you can. 
  • Don't start making changes in your life based on an assumption of what the test results will be, and what that will mean.
  • Trying to do everything you've wanted to do in a short period of time can increase the stress and leave you too exhausted to do the things you need to do, or to think clearly when you do get the test results.
  • Avoid extreme emotional highs and extreme lows to the extent that you can.
  • This is not a time for binge eating. On the other hand, a daily treat that's not dangerous to your health can perk up a sagging spirit.
  • Include activities that make you feel good.
  • Include activities that keep your attention..

Take advantage of your support systems.

  • Engage in activities with friends and family or even co-workers. It doesn't matter whether it's a simple phone call or a day doing an activity together.
  • Share your concerns with friends and/or family. Let them know you may be jumpy or nervous. You may have a short temper. 
  • If anxiety becomes difficult to live with, consider contacting a mental health worker such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker, your clergy person or other spiritual advisor.
  • If you aren't in a support group, consider joining one, even if it is just for the short term. Coping with waiting is one of the many subjects appropriate for discussion in a support group. You don't have to stay with the group long term. There are all types of support groups that meet at all sorts of times. You no longer have to be face-to-face. You can join a group online or on the telephone. (To learn about support groups, click here.)
  • In addition to expressing your concerns, when you're with friends or family, stay connected to their lives. Be sure to ask what is happening in the life of the people you care about - and listen to the response. If their concerns seem minor compared to yours, that doesn't mean they are any less important to them.

If it helps, do some research.

  • For some people, researching information about the possible results and potential helps get through a waiting period. The research can make you more prepared to discuss the results when you get them. On the other hand, for other people, the nightmarish things that could happen because they have happened to a small minority of people can make the waiting worse.
  • Think about how you relate to "what ifs" before you engage in research at this point. It is unlikely that you will have to make an immediate decision if the results you're waiting for aren't positive. You'll likely have time to do the research then, when the facts are known. At that point, your doctor can help direct your research to information that applies to your situation rather than the "what ifs."
  • For information about how to do medical research, click here

Enlist the help of a higher power.

  • Enlisting the help of a higher power can be done in two ways.
  • One way is to just let go -- and mentally turn the situation over to a higher power. 
  • The second is prayer. Even if you don't believe in a higher power, or the power of prayer, many people report that praying is helpful. It can't hurt. 
    • Prayer is a petition (a request) to God, a god, or a higher being. 
    • Prayer helps cope with illness, stress and anxiety.  It also promotes a positive outlook and helps provide a strong will to live. It also helps people feel better and stronger.
    • People who are religious have a lower risk of alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, mental illness and risk of suicide.
    • Prayer takes many forms. It can be practiced in many ways.
      • Prayer can be silent or aloud. 
      • Prayer can be alone, or in a group. 
      • Prayer can occur anywhere, for example, in a religious setting, at home, or in a field.
    • You can pray for yourself, for some one else, or some else can pray for you. Whether prayer helps if it is done by other people to benefit you, or by you to benefit other people, is being studied.

Live in the moment.  It may sound trite, but there's a reason we hear over and over truths that make life easier:

  • Focus on the here and now - what is, not what could happen. 
  • The word for the moment is "present" because it's a gift.
  • There's no way to know what the future will hold.


  • Exercise is good for your body. It also stimulates endorphins which make you feel better.
  • Exercise doesn't have to be in a gym - and can be as simple as walking.
  • If you already exercise, consider increasing it.
  • For exercise tips, click here.

Eat as well as you can. Good nutrition is important to your health. For information about nutrition, click here.

Listen to soothing music on your own or under the guidance of a music therapist.

  • To do music therapy on your own, listen to your favorite soothing music in a relaxed setting.
  • To find a certified music therapist,  consider the following:
    • Ask for a referral to a music therapist from your doctor or a member of his or her staff
    • Look at the web site of the organization known as The Certification Board for Music Therapists,www.cbmt..or offsite linkg. Click on "Find a Board Certified Music Therapist" or call 800.765.2268.
    • Before starting with a music therapist, it is advisable to ask:
      • The person's training
      • Experience with people with your condition
      • What to expect if the therapy is successful.
      • Charges
    • If you have health insurance, check with your insurer to find out if music therapy is covered as a complementary treatment. 

Try to think positively. Recognize negative thoughts and try to change them. They are only thoughts.

  • It may be impossible to be positive all the time -- especially when dealing with a serious diagnosis. Well meaning people may tell you that all the time. Dr. Jimmie Holland refers to it as the "tyranny of positive thinking." However, it still helps to try to be positive. Think about all the blessings in your life. About the good times. It won't change the reality -- but it can help change the way you relate to it.  
  • Try to change negative thoughts.
    • Try not to be angry.
      • If anger does pop up, try not to take it out on other people. If you do, don't let it dredge up gripes you may have about the person. Once you've calmed down and recognized what happened, an apology helps.
      • One technique for getting rid of anger is to let it out in a controlled manner. One of our writers keeps a pile of very inexpensive plates on hand which he throws against a wall. Cleaning up afterward helps complete his letting go of his anger.
    • Let go of self pity. It helps one of our writers to remember the old adage: "I wept because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet." Another remembers that (if you'll excuse the expression): "Shit happens."
    • "Why me" can sound like an interesting question until you ask yourself how often you've wondered "why me" about the things you've enjoyed in your life. One of our readers suggested considering an alternative question: "Why not me?"
  • For more information about a positive attitude and how to keep it, click here.

Don't make rash decisions or open the spending spigot irrationally.

  • Decisions
    • Experts advise not making unnecessry decisions during period of high stress. If you have a decision to make, try to give yourself as much time as possible for emotions to settle before making the decision. On the other hand, do not let the need for time give you an excuse to procrastinate about making the decision.)
    • To help think things through, it is helpful to get advice from as many reliable sources as possible.
  • Spending
    • It's easy to think that you are going to die soon (whether it's true or not), and spend your assets accordingly. We have witnessed too many people live high for a short period of time - only to regret the expenditure during the unexpected months or years that follow. 
    • If allowing yourself a luxury or two will help keep you from a depression, or make the time better, it is advisable not to go overboard. Consider whether there is something within your economic wherewithal that you don't usually do, that you could do to make yourself feel better without breaking the bank.

Watch for signs of depression.

  • Depression is an illness just like the physical condition you're concerned about. Depression is generally treatable.
  • You can find the symptoms of depression and tips for coping with depression in our article: Depression

Keep in mind that symptoms and side effectds such as pain, fatigue and nausea can be controlled.

  • If new symptoms appear while you're waiting, or current symptoms unexpectedly get worse, contact your doctor immediately. Most symptoms can be treated, or at least minimized.
  • For information about side effects and what to do about them, click here

Also keep in mind that you have managed to live until today. You have proved that you have the coping skills to deal with whatever comes along.

IF the above ideas don't work for you, ask for help. Speak with your doctor, or a mental health professional. Medication is a possiblity to relieve the anxiety.

For more information, see

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