They say a watched pot never boils, but can we talk about how when you’re awaiting medical-test results, a watched phone never rings? During that time of peak anxiety, when all you can think is the worst-case scenario, time straight-up crawls. While you can’t control that slow-speed time warp of awaiting news from your doctor nor the impending results themselves, there are strategies to self-soothe so that your time—which can be hours, days, or even weeks—spent waiting in limbo skews more tolerable and functions less like a breeding ground for anxiety.
“Most people begin to create a negative storyline,” Jane Ehrman, a behavioral health specialist at Cleveland Clinic Wellness, says of the experience of awaiting test results. Your mind can’t tell the difference between what’s happening in real life and what you’re imagining, and your body responds to the stress you’re feeling, she says. That can cause all kinds of issues, like increased blood pressure, immune system imbalances, and, of course, extreme stress. “This is a big deal,” Ehrman says. Basically, just as seeing is believing, to your body and psyche, believing is affecting.
Many people feel a “complete loss of control” in this kind of situation, says licensed therapist Alisa Ruby Bash, PsyD. “It’s easy to get lost in the ‘what ifs.’”
And while everyone has different preferred methods for coping with stress, one super-simple strategy is worth a shot: Using a mantra. “Mantras help calm our restless minds by helping them focus on the positive instead of wandering into the darkness,” says Dr. Bash, who adds that mantras can reduce your stress response and encourage you to slow down.
“Mantras are positive and meaningful. What we say, think, and believe affects our outcome and truth. It anchors you in the moment.” —Jane Ehrman, behavioral health specialist at Cleveland Clinic Wellness
But most importantly, though, mantras help keep you present, Ehrman says. ”The repetitive nature of saying a mantra is calming, and can help clear the mind,” she says. “Mantras are positive and meaningful. What we say, think, and believe affects our outcome and truth. It anchors you in the moment.”
Your go-to mantra should be whichever one feels right to you. It can be as simple as, “In this moment, I’m okay”—a phrase that helps remind you of your current reality. Similarly, “I am happy, healthy, and whole,” “I am safe and secure,” and “all is well in my world” can help, Dr. Bash says.
“The true value of a mantra is how it makes you feel,” Dr. Bash says. “If it resonates for you and makes you feel confident, peaceful, and safe, it could work. “
For some people, a faith-based mantra, like a piece of scripture or saying the word “God” can be beneficial, Ehrman says. For others, something like “I am peaceful, I am calm” can help. “There’s a part of your mind that says, ‘No, I’m not,’ but what you say eventually becomes your truth.” And since your test-results-awaiting anxious mind may be campaigning for your truth to be prematurely catastrophizing the event, using a mantra to fake a positive mind-set till you make it a reality is extra beneficial.
Ultimately, though, a mantra can be anything that resonates with you. “It doesn’t have to be prescribed. It just has to be meaningful and calming,” Ehrman says. The best way to incorporate it into your life is to practice your mantra daily, as well as whenever your mind starts to wander. “Do it a couple of minutes a day, and then get to 15 minutes a day. Once you get to that, you’re rewiring your brain.”
It’s unlikely that any method for coping will fully remove the stress associated with awaiting medical-test results. But, finding a mantra that works for you can make the process a lot more livable.
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