If you’re feeling nervous about an upcoming CT scan (or CAT scan), you’re definitely not alone.
Maybe not so much about going through the scanner itself. (Though this can cause claustrophobia in some people.)
Rather, I’m talking about being nervous over the news you may hear after you get the CT scan.
What Is Scanxiety?
Scanxiety is particularly common with cancer patients, who hold their breath every few weeks or so — whenever they await news on if their tumors shrank, grew, or remained stable between treatments.
Of course, scanxiety can also occur if you’re receiving a scan for just about any medical reason.
I know about scanxiety. I endured it secondhand every time my mother went in for her 8-week CT scans during cancer treatments.
In case you don’t know, cancer patients usually wait for these scans with bated breath, because each CT scan represents a possible milestone in their cancer treatments.
So, there’s always fear about what the doctor is going to say once you leave the imaging department and await word from the doctor on what the medical staff found on the CT scans.
That’s when minutes can seem like hours, and days between the imaging appointment setup and arrival at the medical center for the scan can seem like weeks — or more.
How To Cope With CT Scan Anxiety
It’s never easy waiting in the doctor’s office for a consultation after a CT scan. What’s the doctor going to say?
Making matters even worse, the anxiety caused by getting scanned and waiting for the results can’t do any good for your spirit, let alone your body.
If [anxiety] gets too intense… you might start to feel lightheaded and nauseous. An excessive or persistent state of anxiety can have a devastating effect on your physical and mental health. Source
Here are some tips my family used to help my mom reduce anxiety when she was going through rounds upon rounds of CT scans, as well as advice from professionals:
#1 – Accept the results of the scans, whatever they are.
I knew that if the CT results showed my mom’s tumors had shrunk since the previous scan, then everything was going well.
If the tumors had grown, then it’s good we knew so we could find a more effective treatment plan for her.
We experienced many ups and downs on the CT scans, with the oncologist maintaining the chemotherapy regimen when things looked good and changing to new protocols when tumors showed signs of growth.
It’s important to accept the results and medically tackle the challenges, whatever they may be.
No amount of worry will shrink tumors or eliminate bad things that may show up on your scans. Anxiety may only worsen the problem.
#2 – Try relaxation techniques to melt away the fear.
There are many health benefits associated with the use of relaxation techniques.
My mom was very lucky to be admitted to a comprehensive care National Cancer Institute-endorsed cancer center. Not only does that center treat cancer, but the staff there also studies other things — such as the mental health of cancer patients.
During the early months of her treatment, my mom was invited to participate in a stress study that monitored the psychological effects of cancer treatment. One of the core elements this psychiatric study focused on was guided imagery.
The study’s leading clinician believed that using guided imagery during treatments could reduce stress and eliminate a lot of the anxiety that often accompanies things like MRIs, CT scans, chemotherapy treatments, and the general worry associated with having cancer.
My mom found the guided imagery helped reduce her anxiety as she focused on more relaxing things, like:
- Imagining she was on a beach
- Dreaming about driving in a convertible car on a pleasant day
- Thinking about other things that helped take her mind off her medical concerns
All of these guided imagery techniques were accompanied by closing the eyes and taking deep, prolonged breaths.
Whatever relaxation technique you choose, you’ll be able to decrease the effects of stress on your mind and body, while awaiting the results of your CT scan.
#3 – Focus on doing positive things.
You may feel helpless — especially if you have a medical condition that makes you feel incredibly tired, limits your mobility, or otherwise makes life more difficult.
And waiting for the results of your CT scan doesn’t make things any easier.
But, if you think about doing meaningful activities that help take your mind off your worries, you may feel better in the long run.
Do something that you feel is productive…
- Tend to your garden.
- Watch a how-to video and then try out the new techniques you’ve learned.
- Get some household tasks done.
- Take a vacation.
- Find ways to get better sleep, try exercising, or do something else that improves your health.
Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy the activity and will feel better after accomplishing your goals.
#4 – Try positive self-talk.
You can be your own cheerleader, and you can do this by telling yourself positive things.
To make this work though, you’ve got to believe what you’re saying to yourself.
Self affirmations need to be built on the things you think may be going right — such as being on a treatment regimen that seems to be working, or switching to a new one that looks promising.
Even if you’re worried because you’re not feeling very well (feeling more tired, have a new pain, etc.), what’s to say those aren’t simply side effects of your treatment?
Or, maybe you aren’t feeling so hot because you overdid it one day while exercising, or changed something about your daily routine?
Your CT scan may show that things are getting better, or that your health status is being properly maintained.
#5 – Focus on what’s happening right now.
I think everyone is focused on tomorrow, next week, next year.
I know that for those who are fighting something like cancer, the thoughts of the future are sometimes either filled with hope or ridden with doubt.
No matter what any of us are facing in life, all we really have is today. We need to enjoy the gift of this moment.
How can you make today awesome?
Focus on making the moments you have right now as great as they can be!
If you put your energy into the now, you won’t have much time to give to things such as facing anxiety over CT scans, worrying about medical bills, or making all those plans for your No Evidence of Disease (NED) celebration party.
More About Anxiety & Medical Scans
- How To Prepare For A CT Scan Or PET Scan
- MRI & CT Scans: How To Cope With The Stress
- Brief History Of CT Scans
- MRI vs CT Scan: What’s The Difference?
- 10 Ways To Cope with Anxiety
- What Is White Coat Syndrome?
- 6 Powerful Steps To Stop Worrying And Start Living
I want everyone to live their best life… for as long as possible. So I often write about the health screenings that we all should be getting — to help catch potential health issues early. (Yes, I get my screenings too.) I also share my knowledge and experience with specific health problems that I am personally familiar with.