Clinically reviewed by Dr. Chris Mosunic, PhD, RD, CDCES, MBA

The ultimate checklist for caring for your mental health before, during, and after a doctor's appointment

by Kells McPhillips

Cancer treatment can be physically draining. Whether you’re undergoing chemotherapy, getting what feels like your hundredth scan, or simply discussing your treatment with a new doctor, discomfort or pain may be part of the equation. But going from doctor to doctor isn’t just physically challenging; it can also be taxing for the mind.

Whether you’re in the early, mid, or late stages of your diagnosis, there is a myriad of reasons why doctor’s appointments could make you feel nervous, stressed, or even anxious. “A patient may have anticipatory anxiety about completing required medical tasks, including pain related to procedures or needle sticks. Patients and families may also feel stressed while waiting for results from scans or labs, or when determining the next steps for their treatment plan,” says Elyse Heidelberg, PsyD, an assistant faculty member of the psychology department at St. Jude.

Ryan James, PhD, a faculty member at the psychology department at St. Jude, adds that your stress levels may wax and wane depending on the type of appointment as well. For example, those nearing the final stages of their treatment may feel stressed about the possibility of cancer recurring. “If following up with the oncology team for surveillance/survivorship care, fear of recurrence may be present. For non-oncology doctors’ appointments, stress is likely related to some of the challenges described above,” says Dr. Heidelberg and Dr. James.

How to care for your mental health before, during, and after a doctor’s appointment

No matter the cause of your stress, remember that there are ways to take care of yourself (and your mental well-being) before, during, and after you head to the doctor’s office. Below, Dr. James and Dr. Heidelberg offer some suggestions for caring for your psychological health as you navigate your treatment journey.



Feel free to call your doctor’s office and ask what to expect from your appointment. That way, you’ll be able to pack your bag accordingly with what you need to feel safe and comfortable.

Practice self-care

“Practicing relaxation strategies like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, as well as mindfulness-based techniques, may help to settle nerves,” says Dr. Heidelberg. You can also choose other self-care practices like taking a walk in nature or unwinding with a movie or good book.


Spending time with people you love will distract you before your appointment and remind you how many people are in your corner. Whether you go for a nature walk or ask for a friend to join you for a yoga class, Dr. James says that distraction—and specifically social distraction—can be really valuable at this time.


Distract yourself

“To reduce stress during doctor’s appointments, patients may benefit from bringing enjoyable activities or distractions for the waiting room,” says Dr. Heidelberg. She recommends listening to music, bringing a book to read, or drawing.

State your needs

Doctor’s visits can feel like a whirlwind. As you’re ushered from one room to the next, make sure you’re being heard, and don’t be scared to ask questions. “Patients may benefit from discussing any fears they may have with their medical team in order to work collaboratively to address these concerns,” says Dr. Heidelberg.

Ask as many questions as you want

“It is okay to ask questions and share preferences—this often leads to collaborative conversations between patients and medical team members,” adds Dr. James. Be sure to bring a list of questions to your appointment so that nothing slips your mind when you find yourself on the exam table. Some people even find it useful to bring an ally along with them who can ask the hard questions when the appointment starts to feel overwhelming.


“After a full day of appointments, some patients may find it helpful to schedule downtime or plan something relaxing, while others may prefer to schedule a fun activity. Engaging in enjoyable activities may serve as a reward for completing medical visits,” says Heidelberg.

Before your appointment, plan out what you want to do afterward, but don’t be afraid to change the plans if you thought you’d want a night on the town but are now craving a quiet night at home. Or vice versa.

Calm Health is a mental health wellness product. Calm Health is not intended to diagnose or treat depression, anxiety, or any other disease or condition. Calm Health is not a substitute for care by a physician or other health care provider. Any questions that you may have regarding the diagnosis, care, or treatment of a medical condition should be directed to your physician or health care provider.

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Our programs are created by licensed psychologists, and you can explore them at your own pace, in any order you like.

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