If you have a niggling health problem what’s the first thing you do? Arrange a doctor’s appointment or avoid it?
Of course, your ailment might just disappear. Or it could be serious, and by ignoring it, you’re potentially making it a lot worse – or even life-threatening.
According to one poll, those in middle-age are most likely to avoid medical appointments, single people are most prone to swerving the offer of a health check – and men tend to endure symptoms longer than women before finally going to the doctor.
So, what is really going on in people’s minds? Here are the dangerous tricks your brain plays on you that can stop you getting help.
1. Denial makes you feel better – for a while.
The primary factors behind avoiding the doctor are fear and denial.
“The problem with any medical investigation is that it always raises the doubt there could be something serious going on. That would really frighten you, so you minimise everything,” says psychologist Dr David Pendleton, who’s written books on doctor-patient communication.
“We think of denial as being hugely irrational, but if you convince yourself what’s happening to you isn’t serious, then for a while it isn’t, for you, and you instantly feel better.”
2. You ‘logically’ convince yourself it won’t happen.
There’s an inverse relationship in people’s minds between likelihood and seriousness – they think the things likely to happen to them aren’t likely to be serious, and vice-versa.
So they think they’re likely to get a cold but it’s not likely to be serious, and they think they’re not likely to get a disease like cancer, which is serious.
But, of course, that doesn’t always hold true.
3. You choose to believe a friend’s advice, whether good or bad.
Research shows married people are more likely to go to the doctor, possibly because their spouse gives them the push they need.
Before people visit a doctor, they usually talk to someone else about what’s wrong, and the person they speak to – even though they’re not often medically qualified – might either say it sounds like nothing or that it ought to be checked out.
This serves as a kind of second opinion, almost giving the worried well permission to go to the doctor. Or not.
4. You take the easiest option to save yourself fretting.
Psychologists say behaviour goes the way of least effort, and it’s easier not to have to make a doctor’s appointment, take time off work, have tests, or worry about them.
But people need to override this mentality, stresses Dr Pendleton, and realise early detection is better in almost every case.
“What’s usually going on is an attempt to minimise the discomfort of worry,” he says.
5. Googling has proved you are just fine.
Many people try to self-diagnose by searching their symptoms on the internet, and while this can increase fear, the opposite can also be true.
You can also practise denial through the internet, and selectively find reassuring messages about similar symptoms.
“If you’re a pessimist you can find things to worry about, and if you’re an optimist you can find reasons to show your problem is nothing at all,” says Dr Pendleton.
“It’s just another way of fooling yourself. It’s much better to see a real doctor.”
Here’s what you really need to do …
Seeing a doctor means you know exactly what you’re dealing with, and if it’s serious it can be treated quickly.
On the other hand, if there’s nothing to worry about, you can completely lose any fear.
“The really rational thing to do is to go for certainty rather than uncertainty, and find out what’s wrong,” stresses Dr Pendleton.
Do you avoid going to the doctor? Do you go for the recommended health check-ups regularly?
– With PA
If you enjoy our content, don’t keep it to yourself. Share our free eNews with your friends and encourage them to sign up.
Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.