Madrid, July 18, 2022 - Fear is a natural, shared human response to the unknown. Under normal conditions, it helps us to survive by avoiding exposure to certain dangers. However, it works against us when a visit to the doctor is on this list of situations. "The problem is when we perceive as dangerous or threatening something that should actually protect us," says Fatima Castaño, of the Psycho-oncology Service at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid. "We advise facing up to this protection mechanism, analyzing it in a much more rational way, to try to ensure that it interferes as little as possible in our medical processes," says the specialist.
The consequences of not going to the doctor are very clear. “In the short term, we protect ourselves by avoiding the source of fear - going to the doctor. But this kind of behavior can have very serious consequences. It is the opposite of an early diagnosis. It is essential to detect any disease in time and address any symptoms to improve your chances of survival, the quality of recovery and general improvement”, explains the psycho-oncologist.
Although everyone experiences fear, their response will vary depending on whether they tend to reach their own interpretation of their symptoms, there’s a tendency towards pessimism or being anxious about their health (what was previously known as hypochondria). “The key is in how we face up to fear. The ideal thing would be to find resources that help you to face the situation by actively taking a step forward and going to the doctor, thus reducing the false feeling of protection produced by not going to the doctor”. Fear can be confronted directly. "We must face our fears by focusing on the search for solutions and on the benefit of having the corresponding medical check-ups".
Once the patient takes that step, the health professionals will be a 'helping hand' that contributes to making them feel comfortable, reducing their fear of the diagnosis and normalizing the patient's emotional state, especially in cancer processes. “The most important thing is that we provide them with information, emotional support and help with any questions or difficulties that may arise. Uncertainty is what generates the most fear and anxiety. Information brings peace of mind, whether the news is good or bad, and it helps a lot to dismantle erroneous beliefs and inappropriate thoughts regarding symptoms or treatment”, continues Ms. Castaño.
Three important tips to manage one’s fear of going to the doctor
When someone is afraid of going to the doctor, these are some tips from the psycho-oncologist on how to handle things:
- Identify the emotion and fear, and allow ourselves to feel and express them
- Ask ourselves what the fear wants us to do (avoid the visit to the doctor) and ask ourselves if that really benefits us
- Seek help or resources that allow us to achieve our purpose
“It is important to speak to someone who cares and can make things easier, to give ourselves time and motivation to act. Getting carried away by fear can become paralyzing and can often lead us to not make the right decisions”.
Telemedicine - a new ally
The rise of telemedicine may work in favor of medical care among the most reluctant patients. “We often fall into self-justification when we are afraid. We tell ourselves that we don't have time or that the medical center is too far away, and that can be a problem, because the processes are left halfway through,” explains the specialist from MD Anderson Madrid. To deal with mental excuses of this kind, telemedicine helps, since it allows greater flexibility in terms of schedules and not having to travel for an appointment, or even simply having the consultation in what is a familiar environment for the patient, making the patient feel safer.
"From the moment a person has the first contact with doctors, and with the help of the healthcare professionals, a good therapeutic relationship can be established, helping patients to feel safe and dispel many of their initial beliefs that caused insecurity, paralyzing them, and encourage them to continue taking care of themselves, including attending face-to-face consultations, if necessary.