Doctor Appointment Anxiety and What You Can Do About It

Does the thought of doctor appointments twist your stomach into knots? You're not alone. These practical tips will help relieve your anxiety and put you on the path to a healthier, longer life.
Doctor shaking hands with a senior patient

If anxiety makes you dread doctor's appointments, you're in good company. Many people avoid seeking medical care out of fear. Maybe the doctor will find something terribly wrong with you or misdiagnose and mistreat you. Some people get claustrophobic at doctor's offices, worry they'll be criticized for unhealthy habits, or shake at the sight of needles and blood. But here's the irony: going to the doctor is meant to calm your worries rather than kindle them. More importantly, doctor’s appointment anxiety can keep you from getting the medical attention your mind and body need.

Fortunately, you don't have to avoid doctors for the rest of your life. These practical tips about doctor’s visit anxiety for seniors will help relieve your anxiety about going to the doctor, make appointments positive and productive, and put you on the path to a healthier, longer life.

Take Blood Pressure at Home

White coat syndrome, where blood pressure spikes when taken in a medical setting, affects 15 to 30 percent of people with high blood pressure readings at the doctor, according to a recent study. But while blood pressure screening can trigger anxiety and even keep people from seeing a doctor, there's a simple solution--invest in a home blood pressure monitor. Home monitors are accurate, easy to use, and allow you to take your blood pressure in a relaxed environment. If asked to retake BP at the appointment, you'll know the true measure and be able to report it.

Bring Support to Your Appointment

Got a friend or family member who's supportive, calming, and willing to tag along to your doctor’s appointment? Having a supporter at the visit will give you confidence and a reassuring shoulder to lean on, plus you’ll get the benefit of another set of ears. Nervousness can make it hard to concentrate fully on a doctor’s assessment and instructions. A supportive friend can take notes, ask questions, and get clarification, go over details after the appointment and help you follow through with the doctor’s recommendations.

Talk to the Staff

There are plenty of people in a doctor’s office besides the doctor who are happy to help make your visit more comfortable. Consult with the staff about your doctor’s visit anxiety, what to expect at the appointment, and any specific concerns you have regarding seeing a doctor. From the appointment scheduler to the nurses, they can help ease your fears by offering encouragement before and during the appointment and helping you determine the level of care you need to make your visit as thorough and painless as possible.

A doctor checker an older woman's heartbeat using stethoscope

Time It Right

Stress and anxiety affect everyone differently but can be more intense at certain times of the day, week or even year. If possible, avoid scheduling a doctor's appointment during a period when you have other stressful events going on--a hectic season at work, for example, or a move to a new home. Likewise, opt for a time of day when you're most relaxed. Schedule an afternoon appointment if you typically feel rushed in the morning. But if you're going to worry about the appointment all day long, get it done as early as possible.

Be Rested and Refreshed

Fatigue can make anxiety worse, so try to go to bed at a decent hour the night before a doctor's appointment so you can feel rested and refreshed the next day. In addition, eat a healthy breakfast that includes calming foods that soothe the stomach. Good choices include yogurt, oatmeal, berries, nuts, seeds, avocados, and herbal teas. Avoid sugary treats as well as caffeinated beverages, which can provoke and increase the jitters, stay in your system for hours and make a doctor's appointment more stressful.

Get Realistic

If you're worried about a diagnosis, ask yourself how bad your symptoms truly are. A healthy dose of common sense can help you be more realistic about your medical problem and the role a doctor has in managing and treating it. Self-talk is an effective tool for convincing yourself that going to the doctor won't be as scary or impossible as you think. If your mind grows out of control with fear, you might consult a cognitive behavioral therapist who can help you face your doctor’s appointment anxiety more rationally and learn to cope with them sensibly and effectively. They can also teach you how to shift your focus to being grateful or, if ever, how you can keep your spirits high when your health is failing.

Do Your Research

Getting to know the doctor you'll be visiting can go a long way in helping calm your fears about an appointment. Many doctors have their profiles online today, so you can learn plenty about a physician's background, specialties, and interests before the visit. Some clinics allow meet-and-greets, where you sit down with a doctor, ask questions about his or her experience and methods, and get to know each other better. Good chemistry between doctor and patient is key to a comfortable, successful appointment.

Avoid Waiting Too Long Between Appointments

Going to the doctor can be even more nerve-racking if it's been a long time since you visited a clinic. Try to avoid long gaps between appointments and get on a regular schedule instead. Just like anything in life, the more you do it, the less worrisome, awkward, and uncomfortable it is. To stay consistent with doctor visits, stop at the reception desk before leaving the office and make your next appointment then and there. Or ask the staff to send reminders when it's time for you to be seen again. Then follow through.

Assistance Club Summary

Doctor's appointment anxiety can consume you if you let it. Learn how to approach going to the doctor with confidence, courage, and calm. Your health and well-being depend on it.

For more tips on planning successful doctor’s visits, check out our other articles on Senior Assistance Club!