5 Strategies to Help You Sail Through Your Pap Smear
A number of years ago while working at a large counseling center I was speaking to a colleague about my concerns for a client who refused to go get a pap smear. “I’ve never gotten one either,” my colleague confessed. "Why not?" I asked, really surprised since my colleague was an older woman who I thought took excellent care of herself. “I’m too scared” She admitted.
Since that time, I’ve come across many women who admit to skipping this important screening test. I also have worked with a number of young women whose doctors recommend that they have their first pap smear, but have been extremely anxious to do so. Since then, I’ve made it a point to help many of my female clients empower themselves to go have their pap smears and to remain calm while doing so.
First, if you haven’t read Eileen Bailey’s excellent SharePost, “The Importance of Pap Smears,” please do so. She describes the procedure well, which is good to be familiar with before going in for your appointment. My focus will be on giving you tools to remain calm and relaxed during your exam.
Eileen states that the pap smear “may feel uncomfortable for a moment, but there is no pain….” While this is generally true, women who are very tense and anxious during their exam are far more uncomfortable than those who are relaxed.
Let me give you 5 strategies for keeping your anxiety at a minimum during your exam:
1. Make sure you have something interesting to read or an IPod/MP3 player with you. Sometimes there is a wait between the time you undress in the exam room and when the doctor actually comes in to see you. People normally tend to get anxious after 7 minutes of waiting, but for some this time is shorter if they are waiting for a pelvic exam!
2. Learn proper abdominal breathing, which is amazingly effective for relaxing women prior to a pelvic exam. Read Dr. Walcutt’s article on breathing and practice breathing twice a day for two weeks prior to your visit.
3. Find a calm place to think about while practicing your breathing, such as the beach or the mountains. You need to feel peaceful and relaxed in this place. As you focus on your calm place, come up with a cue word that you can repeat to yourself, such as "calm," “beauty,” or “peace.”
4. Have a strategy during your exam. For example, my own doctor is very talkative and friendly, and she always asks me about my children. My strategy is to tell her a short antidote about one of my children, about 15-20 seconds long. By the time I’m done my story, my doctor has gotten the swab!
5. If talking does not sound appealing to you, pick a focal point to stare at, breathe, and repeat your cue word to yourself. Again, some doctors hang mobiles from the ceiling, but you can look at your watch, a ring, a point on the ceiling, etc.
Again, the key is to practice relaxation on a daily basis before relying on it to keep you calm in a situation such as a pelvic exam. Remember, no one gets excited about going in for a pap smear. However, it’s a very simple test that can be uneventful if you’re relaxed, and well worth the effort!
Jennifer Fee is Director of Vision Quest Psychological Services. She is a psychologist licensed to practice in the State of California. She wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Anxiety Disorders.