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Published on October 29, 2019

A mindful approach to waiting room anxiety

Waiting Room Anxiety

You’ve walked into the doctor’s office, registered for your appointment, scanned the waiting room and found an empty chair. Now what?

If you’re one of the 63 percent of Americans who admit they have waiting room anxiety, you fidget, shuffle and consider bolting for the exit.

More than half of all patients surveyed nationwide said the most stressful thing about going to their doctor was sitting in the waiting room.

If waiting rooms make you nervous, try mindfulness meditation. You can practice this free, easy solution any time. Now would be a good time to start.

Use this technique to relax

“I talked about this recently to a group of pulmonary rehabilitation patients at Cape Cod Healthcare’s Partial Hospital Program,” said Manny Marrero, licensed occupational therapist and certified mindfulness meditation instructor. “They learned a little mindfulness meditation exercise, and I told them it’s something they can practice in a waiting room or when they’re driving and stuck in traffic. Places like this are ideal to take a moment to physically relax the body.”

Marrero served two tours of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq. He credits mindfulness meditation with helping him cope with the traumatic stress experienced during his deployments, as well as with life’s daily stresses outside the military.

“I’m a walking testament to how wonderful meditation can be,” Marrero said. “Personally, it’s been very healing, and I enjoy teaching our patients how to meditate.”

Patients enjoyed their classes at the hospital so much they encouraged Marrero to create this free YouTube® video, “Guided Breathing Meditation by Manny Marrero, OTR/L.

Here’s how to do the body scan mindfulness exercise:

  • Sit comfortably.
  • Try to pay attention to different parts of your body, in succession. Start at the head and as you go down, scanning every muscle, relax areas that hold the most tension.
  • Relax the jaw physically. Take a slow, deep breath. As you scan each area of your body, take a deep breath into the area, then exhale gently and experience whole body relaxation, peace and well-being in that moment.
  • Move down the body, noticing the neck and shoulders, where we can hold a great deal of tension. Relax your neck. Relax your shoulders. Remember to inhale and exhale and that it feels good to relax.
  • Moving down, slowly scan and relax the arms, hands, chest, abdomen, upper and lower back. Scan all the way down to our legs and feet.
  • It takes about five minutes at the most to gently guide your way from your head to toes and try to consciously relax each area as you notice it—all while incorporating the deep breathing.

Acknowledge Waiting Room Anxiety

“I experienced white coat anxiety, which is when your blood pressure goes up in the doctor’s office,” said Marrero. “My doctor asked me to take a few slow, deep breaths. In a little while, my blood pressure returned to normal. It’s remarkable how you can control your own mind and body.”

Whatever the reason for your anxiety, stress levels go up and we may not notice, because it can be subtle, he said. Just in that moment when you consciously relax the body and take a deep breath, you can lower your blood pressure and almost instantly reduce stress.

Active waiting may include using your cell phone as if your life depended on it just to keep your mind on anything except where you are. A better idea is to incorporate “active” mindfulness practices that allow you to relax, Marrero said. It’s a healthier long-term solution.

“Acknowledge and accept your feelings of stress,” he said, “and in that moment, allow yourself to experience those emotions. We’re human; we’re allowed to experience a wide range of emotions. One of the most important things is not to push anything away that we notice because that alone can cause tension and increase stress. There’s a paradoxical effect. We find that when we tune into our body and feelings and emotions, we don’t want to push them away, we just want to fully accept them and be present with them.”