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Too scared to take a test? Come on, you’re tougher than that.

Procrastination - you’ve probably got it down to a fine art. Need to clean the bathroom? Sure, right after you update your profile picture on Facebook. Got a pressing email to send? You’ll get straight on it, as soon as you’ve finished your H&M online order. Hey, it’s not hurting anyone. Unless you’re putting off seeing the doctor about that weird mole on your back or having your routine smear test... Suddenly the stakes get a lot higher.

We don’t want to sound like your mum, but if your body’s started doing a little funny business, you really should get it checked out. Actually, maybe we do want to sound like your mum - a survey by Cancer Research UK and Tesco found that 40 per cent of people needed a nudge from a relative or friend to finally see their GP about a worrying change in their body.

‘No matter how silly or subtle it may seem to you, pass the worry onto your doctor, don’t deal with it yourself,’ she says

‘No matter how silly or subtle it may seem to you, pass the worry onto your doctor, don’t deal with it yourself,’ she says

It’s natural to feel anxious or embarrassed about your health issues, but it’s not your job to worry about it. Instead, delegate the task to your GP, says Embarrassing Bodies’ Dr Pixie McKenna, who’s supporting Cancer Research UK and Tesco’s campaign to raise awareness about the importance of early diagnosis (cruk.org/spotcancerearly). ‘No matter how silly or subtle it may seem to you, pass the worry onto your doctor, don’t deal with it yourself,’ she says. ‘Many people are too afraid to take a smear test or to talk about their bowel motions with their GP, but it’s our job, we really don’t mind!’

Get a grip

OK, so you know you should make a date with your GP, dentist or nurse and yet, you still haven’t picked up the phone. So what’s the hold-up? Whatever it is, you’re not the only one using It’s natural to feel anxious or embarrassed about stalling tactics. ‘I regularly see people with these kinds of fears,’ says meditation expert and Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe. ‘Going to see a doctor or dentist is often both physically uncomfortable and emotionally unsettling, so it’s perfectly normal to have less than positive associations with both places.’

Instead of taking the ostrich approach (that is, burying your head in the sand!) you can use a simple mind game to keep your stress levels in check and your thoughts from spiraling out of control. ‘Scientific research has shown that meditation can alleviate anxiety, and induce what’s known as the “relaxation response”,’ says Andy. ‘In this state, your breathing slows, your heart rate slows, and your body’s release of the harmful chemicals associated with stress stops altogether.’

‘Scientific research has shown that meditation can alleviate anxiety, and induce what’s known as the “relaxation response”,’ says Andy

‘Scientific research has shown that meditation can alleviate anxiety, and induce what’s known as the “relaxation response”,’ says Andy

It’s a good idea to practice meditating to nail the technique before you head off to your appointment (visit getsomeheadspace.com to learn a simple 10-minute meditation and download the free Headspace app), but once you’ve mastered it, it’ll become your first line of defense against those irrational and stressful thought patterns. ‘Anxiety and stress require a great deal of thinking and energy to fuel them,’ says Andy. ‘But if you know how to step out of that thinking, you essentially short-circuit the loop. It doesn’t mean they will immediately cease, but a different sense of perspective on these thoughts means that they will almost certainly subside.’

It’s a good idea to practice meditating to nail the technique before you head off to your appointment

It’s a good idea to practice meditating to nail the technique before you head off to your appointment

Get organized

Once you’ve booked your appointment, get your head clear about exactly what’s worrying you, the questions you want to ask and the answers you want from your practitioner.

‘I always encourage my patients to book an appointment when they know they won’t be in a rush - for example, no quickie appointments in a lunch break.’ says Dr. McKenna. ‘Try to see a doctor you know and trust. You can always have a chaperone if you’re anxious about going in on your own, and if you want a female doctor, ensure you specify this beforehand. And make sure you don’t leave the surgery without a management plan. How are you going to get your results? What’s the next step? Be clear on this and ensure the surgery has your correct details.’

Some dentists specialize in treating nervous patients and will make more time for you.

Some dentists specialize in treating nervous patients and will make more time for you.

Remember that you have the power of choice, too. If you’re looking for a new dentist and the mere thought of the drill terrifies you, go slowly. ‘Your first appointment should just be for a consultation,’ says Dr. Nigel Carter OBE, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation. ‘See it as an opportunity for you to “interview” the dentist and have a chat about what you should expect next time you come in. Some dentists specialize in treating nervous patients and will make more time for you.’

Part of the fear of dentistry is knowing that you’ll have the power of speech taken away, so if you’re having fillings, ‘agree with your dentist on a sign that means “stop now - I need a break” before the treatment starts,’ says Dr. Carter. ‘Usually you can just raise your hand. Once you know that you can control the situation you’ll feel much more confident.’

On the other hand, if you’re literally too scared to speak up, put your concerns in writing, tips Dr McKenna. ‘Hand the doctor the piece of paper detailing your symptoms,’ she suggests. ‘Ideally, only bring your most important problem to the consultation; if you try to multitask. Your Main issue may not get the attention it deserves.’

Ignorance isn’t bliss

Unfortunately, there’s no one single test you can take each year to rule out absolutely everything, and the frequency with which you should visit your GP or dentist varies depending on the individual. What you can do is get to know your own body and stay on top of any changes that occur, rather than allowing them to fly under the radar.

‘Nine out of 10 cancers are diagnosed in people over the age of 50, but anyone can develop cancer, so it’s important to recognize what’s normal for you,’ says Dr. McKenna. ‘You should see your GP if you notice any unusual or persistent changes to your body.’

You should see your GP if you notice any unusual or persistent changes to your body.’

You should see your GP if you notice any unusual or persistent changes to your body.’

Those changes can range from bleeding after sex to bloating that won’t subside, unexplained weight loss, a change to a mole or skin blemish, or a mouth ulcer that doesn’t go away. It might not be painful, but if it’s different and it worries you, pick up the phone and get a date in the diary. And in the meantime, know that statistics are on your side. ‘Most tests are normal,’ Dr McKenna says. But whatever the outcome, it’s better to know than not know.’

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