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.