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Overcoming Stress Caused by NHS Waiting Times: A Guide to Self-Care



Whether it’s for a persistent cough, an aching back, or a cervical screening, medical appointments are an unescapable and important part of our lives. But as the waiting list for hospital treatment continues to rise to record levels (7.2 million in January 2023), your next check-up may take a while to come around.

Not knowing how long you have to wait for a doctor’s visit can affect your mood and mental health. It has been found that almost four in ten Britons have felt stressed or anxious due to issues experienced with the NHS waiting times.

Specifically, awaiting a GP or hospital appointment without a confirmed date in your diary affects the mental well-being of 30% and 23% of patients, respectively.

So what can you do to mitigate your sentiments of stress? Here, with some insights from Richard Holmes, Director of Wellbeing at Westfield Health, we look at simple ways to manage your mental health as you’re added to the waiting list.   

Plan ahead

One of the first things you can do to keep your feelings of stress and anxiety at bay is to plan.

You may still not know the exact time and date of your appointment, but you’re likely to have an idea of where the visit will take place. Generally, this will be either at your local hospital or GP practice.

Also, think about what you need to bring, such as a list of your current medications, test results and notes with any questions you may have.

By doing so, you’ll feel more comfortable, prepared and in control of the situation. Once you receive more information about the exact date, all you’ll need to do is simply show up.

Redirect your focus

Waiting can cause a sense of unease as it merges two uncomfortable situations: not knowing what’s on its way and being unable to do something about it.

If you’re unsure when you will get your appointment and it’s worrying you, try concentrating on other important aspects of your life. Richard Holmes from Westfield Health, who are expert in health cash plans, says that redirecting your focus can help you distract from whatever is causing you anxiety.

“Focusing on other things that mean a lot to you can ease your stress,” he explains. “If socialising makes you feel good, get in touch with friends and family. You could focus on your favourite hobby, such as a dance or cooking class, whatever you enjoy doing most.

“Alternatively, to relieve your stress you could focus on your breathing. Slow, deep breathing is a simple technique that can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety as it minimises the level of stress hormones in the body.”

Eat well and exercise

When feeling worried and blue, it’s easy to fall into routines of eating unhealthy food. However, one of the best ways to mitigate the effects of stress is to follow a balanced diet that includes natural foods and a mix of fruit and vegetables.

A healthy menu can help your body manage the physiological changes triggered by anxiety and regulate stress-inducing sugar levels.

If you’re anxiously waiting for the date of your medical appointment, make sure to get out and about if you can. Physical activity releases cortisol, a feel-good hormone that helps you keep stress at bay.

Not only that but exercising allows your brain to focus on something else, which is a great coping method to overcome challenging times.

Seek additional help

If a medical examination that has not been scheduled yet is keeping you awake at night, don’t be afraid or feel embarrassed to ask for professional help.  

There are many organisations, including Mind and Anxiety UK, that are happy to offer plenty of free tips, advice, and information on how to manage your feelings of stress.

If you have already been diagnosed with a certain condition and are waiting for a follow-up appointment, you can also contact more specific charities. They will give you expert guidance on dealing with your health problem and anticipate what your hospital appointment will likely entail.

Letting your GP know about your anxiety is also a good idea, especially if this sense of unease impacts your ability to carry out your daily tasks. This way, your doctor can provide the right support for your needs.

There are several reasons why NHS waiting times are at a record. As much as we appreciate the efforts of doctors and nurses to keep things running, being put on a waiting list for weeks or months can be frustrating for patients.

If this is causing you stress and anxiety, follow some of our handy tips, from planning ahead and redirecting your focus to seeking additional support and sticking to a healthy diet.

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