Afraid of visiting the doctor? Learn how to cure your fears

If the thought of having your blood drawn makes you cringe, or you dread the doctor for fear you’ll receive a terrible diagnosis, don’t avoid medical appointments – instead, set up a visit.

One of my clients, who I’ll refer to as Pam, received a call from her OBGYN explaining she had HPV and would need to return for further testing. Despite her healthy lifestyle and preference for organic produce and Bikram yoga, Pam dodged calls from her doctor’s office for months after she learned she may have HPV, erasing messages left for her without listening to them. After a year of hiding, she finally made an appointment while sitting in my office. Pam thought avoiding the doctor would make her feel better, but she felt best when walking out of the doctor’s office with a new appointment card in hand.

That same week, my client – I’ll call him Gary – rescheduled a glucose test; he was worried he’d learn he was diabetic and have to change his diet. Glucose tests are nauseating and uncomfortable, so I empathized with Gary. But given his professional drive, wouldn’t it make sense to take good care of his body?

It’s hard to estimate how many people avoid going to a doctor out of fear. We all want to avoid bad news and pain. But the irony is that avoiding the doctor heightens our chance of bad news when we finally do go. I learned this first hand when I decided to skip a couple of dental cleanings in graduate school, telling myself I was too busy and it was a waste of money. When I finally returned to the dentist, I was faced with far more expensive and time-consuming procedures than if I had cared for my teeth earlier.

Think about how you want to live your life. If you want to live with courage and awareness, get on ZocDoc and make an appointment. If you’re not convinced just yet, weigh the costs and benefits of procrastinating.

Aside from her fears, Pam also avoided her doctor because she seemed cold and judgmental. You have choices about which physicians you see; some doctors may make you feel more at ease than others.

In our next session, Gary confessed he avoided his glucose test in part because he dreaded a diabetic diagnosis – but more saliently, because he felt faint when his blood was drawn.

If you feel faint at the prospect of blood, injections, or other medical procedures, a cognitive behavioral therapist can help you overcome your fear with a few sessions of exposure therapy.

You can simulate the experience of having your blood drawn or watch YouTube clips of blood drawings, to prepare you for the experience. You’ll  also learn something called applied tension. With practice, this technique prevents your blood pressure from dropping, to prevent fainting. After treatment, you’ll be ready to prioritize your health, donate blood and even watch Grey’s Anatomy without flinching.

In treatment, Pam learned her HPV tests were falsely positive and Gary learned he was pre-diabetic, motivating him to make some essential dietary changes. They both felt empowered after seeking professional help.

Remember, the recipe for fear is running away, the cure for phobias is courageously facing them.