Living with cancer is hard, but anxiety around routine scans compounds feelings of fear and worry. Scanxiety is the angst you feel when it’s time for another medical scan. I know it well. Too well. Here’s how I cope.

Meditation

If you’re new to meditation, I recommend a guided practice like this podcast episode from Tara Brach. Meditation brings you into the present. While your brain is focused on the here and now, it can’t be distracted by life’s “what ifs” and spend too much time imagining what could go wrong.

Exercise 

Take your dog for a walk, play a sport, or film a TikTok dance video. It matters less how you move and more that you move. Movement boosts endorphins and distracts you from your fixation on those MRI or PET scan results.

Medication

While being anxious over the results of a scan is a normal human emotion, It’s not one most of us enjoy. In fact, it can complicate an existing physical illness. And sometimes medication is the best way to deal with it. There’s no shame in getting help where you can find it.

Sleep Aids

Taking supplements like melatonin to help you sleep can prevent insomnia from making your scanxiety worse. Talk to your doctor to see whether starting a sleep regimen that includes melatonin might be helpful for you.

Medical Marijuana

While getting high can certainly be a fun way to take your mind off your worries, you can also microdose medical marijuana to keep calm. Take it before your exam and while you wait for your scan results. Make edibles with cannabutter or try vape for more immediate relief.

Prescriptions

Anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam can be very effective, and in the U.S. often come with the added benefit of being covered by insurance. Talk to your primary care physician or oncologist about your possibilities.

Hobbies

Reducing anxiety is about giving your brain something else to focus on. Something you enjoy. Here are a few ideas if you’re looking for something calming to do:

Zentangle

Zentangle is a form of meditative drawing that can reduce your symptoms. It is increasingly popular among cancer patients. Learn more about it here.

Baking

Many people report that baking for themselves or others is a form of therapy. If you have the energy for it, give it a try. Put scanxiety on the back burner.

Birding

Birding can get you in nature which reduces stress by lowering blood pressure and stress hormones. But it can help even if you can’t get outside. Try a bird feeder with a camera or downloading the Merlin app and identifying bird songs through an open window.

Gardening

If you enjoy getting your hands dirty, gardening is a great way to reduce anxiety. It’s rewarding to see plants grow and flowers bloom and know that you had a part in making something beautiful happen. It’s also satisfying to grow your own vegetables and cook. Planning your garden in the off season can also relieve stress.

Gaming

If you prefer to—or need to—stay indoors, video games provide a distraction from worry too. We have a tendency to view things negatively when they are actually quite helpful, and video gaming is one of those things thatbis too easily criticized. Whether you like Fallout 4 or Animal Crossing, play what brings you joy.

Small Comforts

Sip tea while reading a cozy mystery under a weighted blanket. Maybe play soothing rain sounds on your noise machine. Watch your favorite TV show. Whatever comforts you after a long day at the office can also comfort you during a bout of scanxiety. Take care of yourself by recognizing your need for downtime.

Personal Connections

isolation can make anxiety worse, so maintaining social connections is important. Whether you need to talk about your fears or you need a distraction from them, other people can provide the sense of community you need.

Support Groups

Support groups are an opportunity to be with people who get it. In addition to feeling less lonely, isolated or judged, it can be helpful to talk to someone not immediately affected by your illness, because sometimes feeling like a burden is a burden.

Family and Friends

The people who know you best can sometimes make you feel your best. Keep a standing date for game night or movie night or pizza night or whatever it is that you and your people enjoy. During that time scanxiety probably won’t find a seat at the table.

Social Media

If you can’t physically get to a support group meeting, social media can be a lifesaver. From Facebook groups to cancer-related hashtags, empathy and advice are available 24/7 because someone is always listening.

Mundane Chores

Doing the dishes or folding the laundry can give you a sense of accomplishment. The distracrion and hit of dopamine might be just what you need to get out of your own head until your anxiety wanes.

For many, it’s waiting for the results to come in that’s the most difficult. If you’re in that boat, you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need.

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