Nervous about seeing the doctor? Ten minutes of meditation could help you relax
If you get so nervous seeing the doctor that you can barely pay attention to the health information they’re trying to give you, briefly meditating beforehand could help.
That’s the suggestion from a study conducted by psychology researchers at the University of Michigan, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The researchers were keen to explore ways to boost positive emotions, noting the consequences of negative emotions such as shame, fear and anxiety when consulting a health professional.
“An intense negative emotion can lead to a patient to focus on only one or two pieces of information and gloss over other important details from health messages,” said the study’s lead author Koji Takahashi, a psychology graduate student.
Takahashi and study co-author Allison Earl, an assistant professor of psychology, recruited more than 1,400 participants — a mixture of college students and people recruited online — for several incarnations of the same experiment.
These participants listened to one of two audio clips: either 10 minutes of guided mindfulness meditation, or 10 minutes of local history.
After listening to either clip, participants read information on various health conditions — such as flu, HIV, cancer, gonorrhoea or herpes.
Participants rated how much time they spent reading the information and how much attention they paid to it.
Taken together, the experiments indicated that meditation increased concentration on and time spent reading health information, because it increased the participants’ positive feelings — their affect, as psychologists call it.
“A negative affect drives attention away from unpleasant or threatening information,” Earl said in a statement. “You’ll be able to handle the information better by being in a calmer mood.”
The researchers said that time in a doctor’s waiting room might be best spent meditating or at least listening to calming music rather than watching TV or using their phones. Takahashi added that, if you’re still too anxious to concentrate, consider taking someone to your doctor’s appointment to take notes on your behalf.
The study doesn’t quite mimic the real-world experience of visiting a doctor — the researchers noted that they only tested how the participants responded to written health information, and more research is needed to confirm how meditation might be useful for other kinds of consultations.
However, Sydney meditation teacher Rory Kinsella said the study aligns with his experience with his students.
“When you meditate, you relax and allow your body to make chemical changes that open up your full conscious capacity and make it easier to take in information,” he said.
“When you’re stressed, your body is in the fight-or-flight response and primed for action — which earlier in our evolution meant escaping immediate physical threats. In this state you’re not primed for thinking or taking in information — neither of which are priorities when you’re scared for your life.”
Kinsella said that meditation works as a tool for dealing with stress in two ways: firstly, it can be used every day to make you calmer in your day-to-day life; and secondly, it can be used tactically to prepare for stressful situations.
“From my experiences, putting aside even just 10 minutes in a situation where you would usually be working yourself up into a state can do wonders,” he told Coach.
“If you can close your eyes and direct your awareness away from your thoughts to a meditation anchor such as the breath or a mantra, you will find your body naturally becomes more relaxed and you’re able to operate effectively.
“I’ve used it in the past for things like job interviews or giving presentations and have surprised myself by not only being able to cope with the situations but actually enjoying them.”