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Waiting for test results? Don’t catastrophise. Keep busy. Try not to look up Dr Google

The waiting game won’t last forever. The time will pass and you will soon have answers

Waiting for test results isn’t easy. When it takes a few days or a few weeks to get the outcome, we can start to feel anxious.

“It’s an extremely difficult time for anyone,” says Séamus Sheedy, a psychotherapist accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. “If it’s you, your child or a partner who has gone for tests there is this awful space of waiting where you don’t know the answer.”

It can be hard to stop your mind from anticipating the worst.

“What happens is you can catastrophise,” says Sheedy. That’s where you start to believe you are in a worse situation than you actually are, or you start exaggerating your difficulties. “You don’t know what’s going to happen so your mind makes up a catastrophising story.


“Remind yourself that you don’t have the answers yet. You don’t know what’s going to happen, so if your mind is making up a catastrophising story make up a better story – a more plausible story. You will get the results so don’t make them up in your own head. We have a tendency to make up the wrong things.”

Be kind to yourself

If you find yourself speculating about the outcome or the future, be kind to yourself, says Sheedy. “Have compassion and empathy towards yourself, this is a tough time. Try to accept that this is where you are at. This waiting game won’t last forever. This time will pass and you will soon have answers.”

Having gone for the tests you are already further along the road to getting help. “Remind yourself too that in modern day medicine there are many different treatments for everything.”


You may feel a loss of control as you await answers. Searching for information can help you feel more in control. However, without a diagnosis some information may be confusing and upsetting.

“Try not to look up Dr Google,” says Sheedy. It may be better to wait until a diagnosis is made before looking for more information. If you do decide to do some research make sure the information is from a reliable medical source.

Keep busy

There is no right or wrong way to feel or to deal with your feelings. Some people find it helps to keep busy, says Sheedy. “Stick to your normal routine if you can. See other people. It can help to concentrate on other tasks.”

Everyday activities like going to work can be a welcome distraction from worrying. Others may find they can’t concentrate on anything else.

Take a brain break

You may find your mind swings between regret or reproach about the past to “what-ifs” in the future.

Practising mindfulness meditation or breathing exercises can be beneficial in keeping you in the present, says Sheedy. Another way to give your brain a break is to do something that gets you in a state of flow – that’s where you are completely absorbed by what you are doing – like running, reading, writing, knitting, gardening. The worries may return but at least your brain will have had a rest.

Talk about it

Speaking with someone about your worries can help you to rationalise things and keep perspective. Talk to a friend who is a good listener and who won’t try to jolly you out of your feelings or seek out an accredited counsellor – your GP may be able to recommend one.

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance