By Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach
As we navigate the continuing maze of medical care, the wait between medical tests and results seems to be taking longer all the time. Routinely we go in for the test, the results of which will be important to us, and wait in the hospital or at home for hours, days, sometimes even a week or more.
Being in a period of not knowing and not being able to act builds tension and anxiety. It's a time of escalating tension, and strong and conflicting emotions, and thoughts that can get out-of-control complicate things. Coping requires emotional intelligence skills.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
DEALING WITH THE PROBLEM
Don't get ahead of the game. Until you have the diagnosis, you have no treatment plan, and no prognosis. Thinking along the "what if" lines is contraindicated. Playing out the worst-case scenario may be tempting, but it doesn't accomplish anything. Even with a prognosis, they are only statistical, sometimes based on incomplete data, and may not apply to your individual case. There will be time enough for this when the results are final.
Since there is nothing you can do (plan or action), it's a good time to divert yourself. It takes self-discipline, but is worth it. Worry doesn't help, it just saps energy. Make some plans. Get with people, including people who don't know what's going on and are going about their lives in the normal fashion. Children are good for this. They are always just in the moment.
It's typical to have escalating emotions. You can cycle from denying "it" and being euphoric, to dwelling, and becoming terrified. Either will exhaust you and will accomplish nothing. Practice your emotional management skills. Breathe deeply. Mediate. Exercise. Focus on normal daily tasks, such as normal meal times and activities.
You can also release the anxiety in chores - cleaning the house, weeding, planting a garden or doing woodwork. If your physical activities have been restricted, get a good book on a meaty topic and start reading it - something non-fiction and educational that will grab your interest.
Alternatively, laughing has been proven to be great stress relief and beneficial to your immune system. You might rent some funny videos and sit down in front of them for a couple of hours.
DEALING WITH THE PEOPLE
Those around you who are close to you may also be affected. It's best to keep in mind that everyone means well and is trying to help, in their own way. It's a good time to perhaps not remember some of what goes on. One person may disagree with another about what should be done, or one side of the family versus the other side. This amounts to releasing tension on their part and should be looked upon that way. We all have a litany of things that were said in such circumstances that were not helpful, or even unfortunate. Remember that just as there was a time "before," there will be a time "after." Hang on to the big picture, over time.
If you are one of the caring individuals on the "outside," be aware that many people in such a crisis choose one person to sort of be in charge. Don't be offended if you thought it would be you and it isn't. This person could be the most analytical one in the group, the one most likely to be able to ignore the emotional side and get the facts straight. It could be the most domineering one, the one who can get nurses running and get phone calls answered. Or it could be the person with whom they feel the most comfortable expressing their emotions.
If it isn't you, remember that "they also serve who only stand and wait." Your presence is known and appreciated. Your time may come. Look for something that needs doing that you can do. Take the kids on an outing, offer to pick up some groceries, or to get some things from home and bring them to the hospital.
If you are the individual involved, and you can muster the presence, find a time to tell each person how much you appreciate their support, and find something specific to mention about what they're giving. Example: "Just knowing you're here makes me feel better, Mom. I want [my wife] in here now, but I need to know you're right out there in the waiting room if I need you." Or "Gran, you can't believe what a difference that Boston Crème Pie made. It's my favorite and really helped. Don't think I didn't notice and appreciate it."
You will do better if you don't isolate yourself, no matter how tempting it may be. That's when your thoughts and emotions can really escalate out-of-control. It may be stressful to deal with the people around you, but it's also a distraction, and that's a good thing.
On the other hand, if you are waiting in the hospital and in such a condition that you need rest, make sure you get it. If this means asking everyone to leave your room, do it. That's what waiting rooms are for.
Medication is available to lessen anxiety. Take advantage of it. It can help you cope better, relax and sleep better.
This waiting time can be likened to the pre-game jitters - getting "up" for something big that's coming up. As sports coaches know, this period of time must be attended to, from nutritional needs, to activities, to mental thoughts and emotional management, to appropriate rest. Your first priority is to take care of yourself. Keep your thoughts positive, like pro athletes do. Get a massage every day if you can. This sort of deep muscle relaxation will do what words can't do.
It can also be helpful to find someone external to the situation to talk to. Coaches are excellent for this, since they work by phone and are readily accessible. If you have a cell phone, you have a coach at hand.
When all else fails, remember "how long can ____ be?" The time will pass one way or another, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself - mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually - during the interim so you'll have reserves when the news comes in and it's time to move to the next stage.
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