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Let’s talk about it… anxiety and smear tests

Posted on: Tuesday, 27th February 2018 by Imogen Pinnell, Health Information Manager

While smear tests are not enjoyable, for many women they’re over in a few minutes and they can continue with their day, knowing that the job’s been ticked off. 

Let's talk about it

However, for other women, going for their smear test is not as simple.

Anxiety can make attending a smear test very hard. There are many triggers for anxiety, including health anxiety, fear of the unknown, body dysmorphia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or experience of sexual violence. For some women, just thinking of going to the doctors or leaving the house can cause extreme distress.

Smear tests provide the best protection against cervical cancer, so it is extremely important that nurses are fully aware of the barriers women can face and take steps to minimise distress or anxiety.

If smear tests cause you anxiety, the tips and ideas in this blog may help. They include things to do in the lead up to your appointment, as well as during and afterwards, which might make the process easier. Everyone affected by mental health problems will face very different challenges, so we know these ideas may not work for everyone and some may work better than others. One of the most important things to remember is that you know your body and your mind better than anyone.

A smear test is not a test for cancer, but it can prevent cancer

Between 90 and 94% of smear test results come back as completely normal. It provides the best protection against cervical cancer by looking for cells which, if not treated, could develop into cancer. 

Cervical cancer is rare

Remember that cervical cancer is still a rare disease, and attending your smear test provides a high degree of protection against developing it.

The nurses are experts

Try to remember that nurses are very experienced at taking samples. They can talk you through ways to make the test easier, including different positions and using a smaller speculum to ease discomfort or pain. Your nurse will have done many tests before and won’t care what underwear you are wearing, what your body shape is or about your sexual history. Their focus is on taking the sample and making sure you feel at ease.

Talk to your nurse

If you feel able, talk to your nurse or GP to explain how you are feeling. It may be helpful to book an appointment with your GP beforehand to talk through what will happen at the test and ways they can make it easier. Ask as many questions as you need and make sure you are fully aware of what is going to happen during the test and after.

Say stop

You are in control during your smear test. You can ask your nurse to stop at any time during the test.

Relaxation and distraction

Relaxation techniques may be beneficial leading up to your test as well as during the test. You may want to listen to music or watch a video to take your mind off the test.

Focus on your breathing

If you feel your heart rate is increasing and you are becoming tense, try and block out any background noise, and close your eyes. Mind recommends inhaling through the nose for 4 seconds and exhaling through the mouth for 4 seconds to breathe more easily, as this will help to slow the heart rate down.

Wear a skirt

Some women find wearing a skirt makes the test a little more comfortable.

Reward your efforts!

Make sure to congratulate yourself on what you have achieved by doing something that makes you happy, whether that’s catching up with friends, watching a film, or something completely different – it’s up to you.

For more information and support

Anxiety UK have lots of information about living with anxiety and getting support, including an Infoline and live chat service.

Mind have information about different anxiety disorders and an Infoline that you can call for support.

If you are feeling concerned about your smear test appointment, you can call our free helpline on 0808 802 8000. Alternatively, you can read more about the test itself from our information section.

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