Nothing to smear! Tips for tackling your first smear fear

At the time of writing this post, it has been revealed that cervical screenings (smear tests) are at an all-time low. It’s a statistic I don’t even want to think about. I turned 25 last September and as predicted, was invited for my first smear test – which I had done 4 days before my 25th birthday (I wrote about my experience here). I suffer with anxiety – GAD to be specific (Generalised Anxiety Disorder) but I suffer extra anxiety when it comes to medical related things. 

It’s a common fear, I know. Nobody likes going to the doctors. Nobody wants to go to the doctors. But at the end of the day, we’re all going to need to go to the doctors for something or another and most people will just rock up, get seen and leave with prescription in hand. I, on the other hand, will get myself in a right tizzie. I cancelled an appointment I had once to talk about hay fever… because it was making me so anxious that I felt ill. Granted, the whole “being terrified of the doctors” thing is something I’m really working on at the moment and I’ve been much better at not getting myself in such a state. But before I attended my smear, the only thing going around my head was, “how on EARTH am I going to do this?

And proceeded to worry about it every single day for an entire month from the time of booking my appointment, to the day of my test. 

It’s no secret that a lot of women are nervous about having their first test. From, “will it hurt?” to “I don’t want to take my knickers off for a random doctor!“. They’re all perfectly reasonable reasons to be nervous. But what I really, really, really hate hearing is that someone’s anxiety is stopping them going to get this literal life saving test. It makes me sad not only because I know how important this test is but because I’ve been there. I was that person for a while. But I did it. I got through it. I even got through a hospital appointment when my results came back abnormal! Which was my worst nightmare – but I even got through that.

Anxiety is a rotten, rotten thing. It can be completely all-consuming and debilitating. It can stop you doing things you love and things which are really important. So… whilst I can’t physically force you to go and have your smear test done, I can offer some advice from someone who’s been there. As someone who’s felt that all-consuming, sickening anxiety every single day but took productive and pro-active steps to ensure that it didn’t stop me having my test.

Of course these are things I’ve personally done or just general tips which could be useful. I’m not a medical professional so you 100% do not have to listen to me.

1. Research: Using valid and professional websites only (such as NHS), research about smear tests, what’s involved and what they’re looking for during the test. Educate yourself fully – knowledge is power!

2. And stay off of forums: The majority of people you’ll find in forums are those that have had a bad experience. Everyone else had their test and got on with their day. Do not read horror stories beforehand because they are irrelevant to you and your personal experience.

3. Make a separate doctors appoint to talk about your concerns: This is totally okay to do if you need to or if not, make your cervical screening appointment a double (if at all possible) which will give you time to talk to the doctor / nurse about everything you’re concerned about as well as getting used to the surroundings.

4. Consider medication: This one is obviously very much personal experience and down to what your doctor thinks but when I was due my hospital appointment, my doctor actually prescribed me some Valium to take beforehand just in case I got really worked up. I didn’t take it but having it in my bag was a huge help. This could be something to discuss.

5. Or herbal remedies: Again, please consult with your doctor or a pharmacist to ensure these are safe for you but I take Kalms tablets and use a Bach’s Rescue Remedy Spray for anxiety which all are herbal remedies. If you’re not keen on medication, this could be an option.

6. Ask the receptionist to write that you’re nervous on your notes: Just a little thing but my doctor knew I was bricking it before I went in because the receptionist wrote it on my notes so that helped a little!

7. Speak to a loved one: Chances are your mum, nan, aunt, friend, girlfriend has had one done. It can be really beneficial to sit down with them in a relaxed, cosy environment and have a chat about their experiences.

8. Practice meditation, mindfulness or yoga beforehand: I know this is going to sound wishy-washy to some people but, as I said, these are things I have personally done and I’m a huge advocate for yoga and meditation based things. But it’s cool if you’re not. Practice being in the moment – this works especially well for the days leading up to your test where your anxiety might be ranking up a bit.

9. Deep breathing: The 7/11 breathing exercise I find really beneficial and calms me down almost instantly. It’s 7 counts breathing in, 11 counts breathing out and it’s super soothing and the counting takes your mind off things for a while.

10. Ring a helpline: Jo’s Trust is a brilliant charity and they have a helpline you can call and talk over any of your concerns from attending your first smear, nerves over the results, hospital appointments – anything! Their number is: 08088028000

11. Take someone in with you: It’s perfectly okay to take someone in the doctors room with you when you have your test done. If it’s going to make you feel better – do it!

12. Ask for a smaller speculum: If the speculum part of the procedure is particularly worrying you, ensure that you ask for a smaller one. In both my doctors and my hospital appointment, there were smaller ones at hand which were used without an issue.

13. Remember that everyone’s experiences are different: If you’re having your first test, I would highly recommend going in with no expectations. Everyone’s experiences are different and everyone will feel differently about their smears. Yes, for some people it hurts. But for a lot of people, it doesn’t. Nobody elses’s smear test is important right now – only yours.

14. Treat yourself: This is the most important thing of all. Treat yourself to something nice after your test because 1) you’ll have something to look forward to and work towards and 2) you bloody deserve it! A few of my personal favourite suggestions would be: your favourite takeaway, a visit to the cinema or a whole tub of ice-cream to yourself, under a duvet with your favourite TV show.

So, there we go! Some of my personal tips on dealing with anxiety and your first smear test. I really hope you found this helpful if you’re due for your first smear this year. If you took any of these tips on board (or are planning to) please let me know in the comments. And of course, let me know how you get on! 

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45 thoughts on “Nothing to smear! Tips for tackling your first smear fear

  1. Love this post! Your first smear is so scary, my first came back abnormal and then had to have them annually ☹️ luckily everything was fine but it highlighted how important they are to have. Not pleasant but very necessary. Thanks for sharing 😊

  2. I’ll be getting my first one this year! The possible pain is what worries me. I feel like everytime it’s brought up in conversation someone always says how ‘uncomfortable’ it is. It’s so worrying to hear that more people are avoiding getting it done.

  3. I was terrified before my smear! I spent a month leading up to it constantly crying and feeling really anxious! My doctor prescribed me Valium which helped a little … but on the day I took my boyfriend into the appointment with me so I had a friendly face to keep me sane and it helped so much!
    These are great tips 💕

  4. Another really helpful post on this subject, Jenny. The tips about asking reception to note your nerves, and a smaller speculum are great. I can’t say I enjoy smear tests but I know how necessary they are, so thank you for sharing this. Xx

    Lisa | http://www.lisasnotebook.com

  5. This is such a brilliant post, I love your tips for easing the anxiety a lot of women feel, there’s definitely something for everyone whether you prefer medication or meditation! I was nervous about my first smear but only really from an embarrassment perspective, it didn’t really occur to me anything might be wrong. In the end, the nurse had to fetch another nurse, and then a doctor, and it turned out I had a cyst that was blocking my cervix. I had to go for hospital check ups and an MRI but it turned out to be benign and I had no symptoms so they left it. Until we started trying for a baby, nothing happened and after 18 months they decided to operate to see what was going on, and remove the cyst just to kill two birds with one stone. Now I’m pregnant and my consultant thinks the cyst was pressing my cervix closed, so even though my smear itself came back normal there are other things that they can diagnose during your test that can be really important! I haven’t been again yet as I’m due now but they don’t do them while you’re pregnant, but I’ll definitely be going straight away once the baby is here and I’m called up! Thanks for sharing your experience Jenny, it’s so important and can absolutely save lives 😊

    • Goodness me what a story! I’m so glad you got that sorted for the sake of fertility and your baby! I think they’re just as important for other things, like that, too. Obviously we can’t see what’s going on up there so it’s handy to have someone look every once in a while! xxx

      • Exactly 😊 I just want other women to know that even if your results come back abnormal or they find something else, like with me, it doesn’t necessarily mean the worst possible news, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry! In Wales the age is 20 for your first smear, one of my best friends’ sister had an abnormal result at her first one at 20, so it’s especially important to go as soon as you’re called and not think you’re young so you’re in the clear. It usually just involves a follow up to get a second sample or possibly a procedure to get rid of the effected cells, and then regular check ups to make sure it doesn’t come back. Anyway I’ll stop harping on now! 😂 Everybody just go and get checked!! 😄 x

      • Yep I had abnormal cells and had to go for a follow up at my hospital 🙂 thankfully they had cleared up by then though so I didn’t have to have any extra treatment but even if you do, like you said, it’s better to be safe than sorry (: xxx

  6. This post is so great! I always say when I’m nervous now, usually about injections/blood tests and the nurses are so sweet and helpful! For anything medical related I just have to constantly remind myself that they do this everyday and want it to go well. Xx

  7. Girl I am so happy you’ve posted this! I’m planning a similar post for my blog since reading that so many women are frightened to get smears or worried about what they look like!! This post is amazing and so helpful!!

  8. Thank you so much. I actually thought the age was 24 and was just coming around to the idea as I’m 24 in two months, so to find out you could book yours just before you turned 25 is really helpful as I want to get it out the way. Thank you for the helpful advice as always!

  9. I think point 13 is so crucial to remember. I had my first smear test when I was 20 and I had never discussed it with anyone further than the “ugh don’t want to go to that!” jokes. But now with the amount I see on Twitter, I’m kind of glad I didn’t. While I think it’s really good that people are able to discuss this openly, the number of people saying “it’ll hurt” or whatever would’ve really put me off. I went in expecting it to be awkward but not painful – and that’s how it was. If I’d heard that it hurt I would’ve been 1000 x more tense and probably been unable to relax and therefore, it would’ve hurt! I worry about the number of people who get caught up in expecting their experience to be like someone else’s. I hate to know people are putting off something so important just because it ‘might’ hurt.
    Beth x Adventure & Anxiety

    • Oh I totally agree! The awareness we have now is great and getting better but the comments from people really aren’t helping. I didn’t really have too many expectations either – I spoke to my mum about it in depth but that’s about it. She only told me AFTER that hers always hurt – probably cos she didn’t want me to worry more. And mine didn’t hurt at all (: xxx

  10. Really great post Jenny! Unfortunately I am only 20 so another 5 years to go till I get invited for a smear though I do think the age should be lowered as they are incredibly important!

  11. such an important post, im only 21 so still have a few years off but i think its so important that people continue to talk and be open about it although I do think the age should be lowered

  12. amazing tips! this is such a lovely post to write for us all to read, it has definitely made me feel better! thanks so much xx

  13. I haven’t had my test yet. I didn’t even received my latter! But I know how important it is and that I should go. Thanks for these tips, they will make it easier! xx corinne

  14. I found this so interesting. I’m 23 so I’m not quite there yet. I’ve had many many appointments involving doctors in that general area because of issues with my periods. I’ve had exams, swabs and even a camera up there but the thought of getting my smear p-e-t-r-i-f-i-e-s me. And I’m not typically an anxious person. It’s funny how some things just rattle you x

    Sophie
    http://www.glowsteady.co.uk

  15. I have to admit, I’m completely overdue a test (for a long list of reasons) but your advice is really helpful. I still have questions about it but I’m going to book an appointment hopefully this week x

  16. Oh my gosh this is ridiculously helpful. I’m turning 25 this year and have been nervous about the idea of getting a smear test done for years after hearing so many horror stories from people I know but this has definitely eased my anxiety a little 🙂 Will be bookmarking this so I can re-read it when the time comes for me to go!

    Jessica ♡ jessinwonderlandx.blogspot.co.uk

  17. I love how relatable this post was! You gave somebody wonderful tips for such a nerve racking experience. I remember when my girlfriend went for one. I know she would’ve enjoyed reading this to ease her mind. Smears are absolutely important, you’re right it’s nice when you can brin a friend and boy was that lovely of the nurse to jot that down on your notes. Lovely as always. 😊

    xx Lena | https://lenadeexo.com/

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