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Waiting for any kind of result is nerve-wrecking. Whether it is waiting for a reply after a job interview, waiting for exam results, or waiting for a result on a medical test, it is normal to feel anxious. When factoring in the situation of the Coronavirus, it is completely normal for the waiting period, although relatively short, to feel never-ending. 

Such a situation can cause you to think of ‘the worst case scenario’. This is called ‘Catastrophic Thinking’ or ‘Catastrophizing’. This kind of thinking lowers productivity, and increases stress and anxiety, making it harder to cope with the particular scenario. Research suggests that our tendency to think of the worst can be a result of what we have seen on social media or the internet. It also is dependent on the type of test and what a negative outcome implies, as well as our own perception of our inability to control the situation.

Three ways to cope with the waiting period stress: 

  • Check the facts: How about we flip the above around and think of the best case scenario? As the things stand currently, the large majority of the swabs that have been done so far in Malta have tested negative. Even in the case that you are positive, the large majority of those positive, had mild symptoms that did not need to be hospitalised. Stay away from social media as much as possible, and if you do want to stay updated, stick only to the daily press conference with factual information. 
  • Make a Plan: Despite the facts, it may still be hard to avoid thinking about it completely, particularly when the result time is approaching. If it would make you feel better, it is not a bad idea to think about a plan just in case the result is positive, just so that you can be prepared for such a scenario. There is nothing wrong with having a bag prepared or a plan with your family. However, do not spend more than a few minutes doing this, and remind yourself that you are making a plan just in case. 
  • Keep yourself Occupied: The waiting period should not stop you from your activities, whether you are working from home, enjoying some time off, or taking care of your kids at home, it is best to keep yourself occupied in order to avoid falling into the trap of negative thinking. Exercise, watch a movie, check things off your to do list, there are plenty of ways to keep your mind occupied. 

If you are still finding it hard to stay calm, there are various ways that you can support yourself:

  • Self-help Blogs: The internet is riddled with information about COVID-19. It is also riddled with good information on how to calm yourself down. Look up blogs or articles with practical information about how to calm your anxiety. 
  • Online Support: Various chat and help-lines have been set up in Malta, to answer questions and support your mental health. They are there for you to make use of, don’t be afraid to reach out. 
  • Calming Applications: There are also various applications that you can download on your phone to help with anxiety and stress. 

Use the waiting time wisely, and remind yourself that if the result is negative you would have spent that time worrying for no reason, and could have spent that time doing something productive and enjoyable. Remember that whatever the outcome of your COVID-19 swab, there are measures in place to support you. 

References

De Peuter, S., Lemaigre, V., Van Diest, I., & Van den Bergh, O. (2008). Illness-specific catastrophic thinking and overperception in asthma. Health Psychology, 27(1), 93-99. doi: 10.1037/0278-6133.27.1.93

Smith, L. (2020). How to ease worry when waiting for medical test results. Retrieved 29 March 2020, from https://patient.info/news-and-features/how-to-ease-worry-when-waiting-for-medical-test-results

Nicola Falzon is a psychology officer within the Willingness Team, delivering training and workshops on mental health, managing different services such as Sex Clinic Malta, and organising different events. Nicola is also involved in various projects related to sexuality.