“I felt like someone was accessing a part of me deep inside that should never be touched,” health media director Kristin Canning recounts when discussing a visit to her gynecologist’s clinic. Fear or anxiety surrounding a trip to the gynecologist is not an uncommon feeling amongst women. There are a variety of reasons why a gyno visit may arise these negative emotions—the most prevalent being discomfort, embarrassment, feelings of personal intrusion, and fear of finding health issues such as cancer. If these fears sound familiar to you, know that you are not alone.
What can be done to help alleviate OB/GYN anxiety?
First and foremost, it is important to find a provider that works for you. Since your OB/GYN will be seeing you in a more vulnerable state, they should be someone that makes you feel comfortable, safe, and heard. You should also consider other factors such as insurance policies (if you have insurance), location, and gender. In searching for the right physician, try reading reviews online or asking friends or family members for referrals. Before scheduling a wellness exam with a potential OB/GYN, you can also see if there is an option to meet with them briefly. Some clinics offer virtual or in-person consultations that would allow you to ask any questions you may have, express any concerns, and generally gauge your comfort level around them before scheduling an exam.
Along with finding a gynecologist that is the right fit for you, communication is essential for creating a positive environment for your wellness exam visit. It is much easier for a physician to modify their approach to procedures and exams in accordance with your needs, if you express those needs with them. However, speaking up can sometimes be a difficult obstacle to break. In order to build up confidence during your physician encounter, try:
- Talking to trusted friends (they may even share similar anxieties!)
- Reading other people’s stories about their gynecological experiences
- Planning out what you would like to say or ask (i.e., coming to the appointment with a written list of questions or concerns)
Remember that you are NOT being a burden by asking for medical care in a certain way. You could ask for the smallest possible speculum to be used during your pelvic exam, for the doctor to tell you step by step what they’re doing, or have them not say anything at all and move through the procedure quickly. You can even ask to place the speculum yourself — an option many people are not aware they have.
Other general tips for reducing or coping with OB/GYN anxiety include:
- Bringing a family member or friend with you to your wellness exam – you can decide if this person is simply there to sit in the waiting room with you or if they will accompany you in the exam room. Keep in mind that a provider may ask for a few minutes of one-on-one time if they want to discuss personal or sensitive information with you.
- Relaxing your muscles and taking deep breaths during the pelvic exam – this might seem obvious but it can be easy to forget to breathe during your pelvic exam, especially if you are nervous or are experiencing any pain. Deep breathing can help your muscles and your mind relax.
- Positioning yourself in a comfortable manner prior to the exam – during a wellness exam, your feet are on stirrups and your legs are bent and open while the rest of your body lays back on the exam bed. Providers state that they often have to ask patients to bring their bodies further down the bed. Doing this actually makes it easier for your muscles to relax. Additionally, try to let your knees fall naturally to the side when you open your legs as this position will aid in preventing muscle strain. Another small but helpful tip is to wear your favorite pair of warm socks if you are worried about the stirrups being too cold.
- Finding distractions – most OB/GYNs know pelvic exams are not the most comfortable experiences in the world and will try to distract you in some way during the exam. If your provider does not do this, you can come up with something fun or silly to think about during your exam. It is also completely okay to ask the doctor or a nurse if they have any distractions (eg. music, games on a tablet, etc.) they might be able to provide.
Although it is valid and common to feel anxious about visiting your gynecologist’s office, it is important to not let this deter you from attending your yearly exams. Dr. Chau Nguyen-Tran, a board certified OB/GYN at Memorial Hermann Sugar Land, explains that her specialty is comprehensive, and screening includes mental, physical, and social stratagems. Annual check-ups offer opportunities to adopt instructions towards proactive health practices such as hygiene care, self breast exams, and nutritional recommendations. Physical exams can also be a way to detect certain precancerous lesions and/or infections. These annual visits also allow you to discuss issues related to sexual and/or reproductive health since OB/GYNs are the experts! While medical information is abundant on the internet, it is much better and safer to acquire this information directly from an educated source like your provider. Lastly, the purpose of yearly wellness exams do not always solely focus on women’s reproductive health. Your provider can also assess general health through laboratory tests, measurement of vital signs, and discussions regarding eating, sleeping, or exercise habits. This is highly valuable, especially if you do not see a primary care physician. In summary, your annual well woman exam can serve as a preventative, diagnostic, and educational experience.
There are several reasons why people suffer from OB/GYN anxiety, and it is entirely okay to feel this way. Nonetheless, there are many methods to tackling this fear and working your way up to a safe and stable relationship with your gynecologist.