As someone who’s suffered with anxiety for almost a decade, I can remember the sheer terror of my first smear test like it was yesterday. I used to be terrified of anything medical – even going to the doctors to get some hay fever tablets sent my anxiety through the roof. And the prospect of having a smear test was extreme. But of course, the letter came eventually and off I went to my very first smear test.
Smear tests can be hard for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. But they’re such incredibly important tests that can literally save your life, that it’s important to find those coping techniques to allow you to go to your test. Particularly if it’s your first smear test and are likely more nervous.
Don’t read forums before you go.
The people on forums are those that have something to talk about. Everyone else who went for their smear just got on with the rest of their day. Forums are horribly anxiety-inducing (which as someone who also had health anxiety was not a good mix!) so stay away from them at all costs.
But do educate yourself on the test.
However, education is really important. But only from reliable and trustworthy sources. Before you go for your first smear test, it can help you educate yourself on the test and what it is exactly that they’re testing for. There’s a lot of misconceptions around this which panics people into thinking that they’re testing for cancer – they’re not.
Take someone with you who has had a smear test.
Taking someone with you is always a good idea if you’re particularly nervous. But taking someone with you who’s also had a smear test themselves can be extra helpful as they know exactly what you’re going through and can relate on a much deeper level.
Learn some breathing techniques to calm you down.
Breathing techniques can work absolute wonders and I’ve regularly used them sitting in my doctors office. The 7/11 is a good technique to try, where you breathe in for 7 counts and out for 11. But if you can’t manage 7 and 11, you can always reduce it to a rate you can manage. Just make sure you totally concentrate on your breath and fill your belly up with air when you breathe in and feel your belly retract towards your spine as you breathe out.
Consider medication (or herbal remedies).
There’s no shame in needing that little bit of extra help. There’s two options here: medication or herbal remedies. Herbal remedies are good for those who feel like they can manage their smear test but just need something to take the edge off their anxiety. Medication could be an option for you if you’re so nervous you’re not sure you’ll be able to attend.
When I had my first smear test and my results came back as having abnormal cells, I was referred to the hospital for a colposcopy. I was actually prescribed valium tablets, just in case my nerves got so bad that I needed something to calm me down. Luckily, I didn’t need them. But having them there in case helped massively. So if you feel like this would be a good option, have a chat to your GP.
Take it one step at a time.
This is a trick I used to use loads when my anxiety was particularly bad, especially around appointments or events. That was to quite literally take your day one step at a time. So instead of looking at the big picture and getting overwhelmed, you’re taking it in smaller steps. For your first smear test, these smaller steps could be:
- Getting your bag together for your appointment
- Having a shower and getting dressed before your appointments
- Making it to the doctor surgery
- Signing in and waiting for your appointment
Of course, you can make these steps as small as you like or need in order to cope better but this technique help you focus on the moment instead of the scary big picture.
If you’re due for your first smear test soon, I hope it goes well for you! Remember that nerves are perfectly normal and I hope these tips help you tackle your first smear fear.