Managing health anxiety with the current NHS wait times

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Health Assured team

01 June 2022

NHS waiting times are higher than ever before; 6.1 million people are currently awaiting treatment for mental and physical health conditions.

The pandemic struck NHS services hard, leaving many people unable to access routine services and treatments. 

Procedures were cancelled, capacity was limited, and patients were deterred from seeking medical advice for fears of contracting or spreading COVID-19.

These issues have slowly been building on a national scale since the pandemic began in 2020, leading to a backlog that’s hard to shift. The backlog means that more patients are now waiting for treatment—than ever before. 

People have had referrals refused and treatments delayed, leaving them in mental or physical pain on a daily basis. This can be an agonising way to live, especially when you’re unsure when you’ll be getting treatment.

If you’re struggling right now—know that you’re not alone. To help you through these difficult times, we’ve put together some tips below.

 

Tools for managing anxiety 

Many people find periods of uncertainty cause anxiety levels to rise. With waiting times for NHS treatment increasing to over 18 weeks, the process can quickly become tedious, frustrating and overwhelming.

Anxiety can be a difficult emotion to manage; it’s an emotion that can feel consuming, repetitive and panicky. If left unaddressed, this anxiety can seep into daily life, causing body, mind and relationship issues.

The steps below should help you manage any anxiety you might be feeling. 

Anxiety awareness 

The first step to coping with anxiety is awareness; so look out for the key indicators below:

  • Dizziness
  • Stomach ache and nausea
  • Feeling dread
  • Irritability
  • Problems concentrating

Notice any of these signs? Try these management tools to find what works for you. 

 

Breathing exercises 

In times of distress, the breath can be an invaluable grounding tool because the breath, body and mind are all connected. 

Research shows that practising breathing exercises with an extended exhalation can soothe the body and the mind. 

Try the box breathing exercise below and see if it works for you. 

Box breathing or square breathing is simple, easy to follow and repetitive, so you can quickly get in the flow. 

To use this technique, settle in somewhere comfortable and follow the steps below.

  1. Inhale through the nose four a count of four.
  2. Hold the air in the lungs for a count of four.
  3. Exhale through the mouth for a count of four.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of four.

Repeat this process for around three to five minutes.

 

Look out for unhelpful thinking habits  

When you’ve managed to ground yourself down from racing thoughts and emotions, it can be helpful to challenge and reframe unhelpful outlooks. 

The grips of anxiety can trigger negative perspectives and unhelpful thinking habits like the ones below:

 

Catastrophising: thinking that the worst-case scenario will happen.

For example, I’ll be waiting on this treatment for months.

Must and should statements: judging yourself for how you feel or thinking that you should act or feel differently about something.

For example, I shouldn’t feel this angry that my appointments have moved back—I need to be calmer and cope better with this situation.

Labelling: anxiety can make you label yourself in a negative way.

For example, I feel so on edge—I’m useless.

 

Reframing unhelpful thoughts 

Once you’ve noticed an unhelpful thought pattern, it can help to try and challenge it using the steps below.

  1. Can you find any evidence against this thought?  I’m not useless, I’ve accomplished many things today.
  2. What would you say to a friend in a similar situation?  I know this must be hard for you right now, but it won’t last forever.
  3.  Is there a different perspective you could take? Hopefully, I’ll get some news about my treatment soon. But until then, I’ll try and take care of myself as best I can.

 

Keeping the basics covered

In times of heightened anxiety, it’s important to take care of the basics. Intense thoughts and emotions can be draining, and this might lead you to neglect the important things. Keep your body and mind functioning as well as possible by:

  • Drinking 6-8 cups or glasses of water each day
  • Getting between 7-9 hours of sleep each night
  • Do some kind of exercise each day (if possible)
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet
  • Socialising with others

 

Self-care

Delayed treatments and cancelled appointments can be disheartening. When going through these difficult emotions, it’s important to take care of yourself. 

Nurture your mental and physical health by taking some time for you. Try not to overload your schedule and make time for things you enjoy. Go and see a friend. Take a walk in nature. Cook yourself a meal you love. 

That dedicated self-care space can give you a chance to unwind, and if you do suffer from anxiety, it can help ground you when the world feels like a lot.

 

Access support through your workplace

Many workplaces now offer both physical and mental support. So you could be eligible for counselling support, medical advice, or money for healthcare services depending upon the type of package or programme your workplace provides.

Health Assured’s Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) provides free access to counselling support 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. These counselling services help to take the pressure off the NHS, and they may mean you can access the support you need quicker than other routes. 

Ensure you reach out to your workplace to see if there's any support they can offer you during this time. 

 

Other helpful support links 

The waiting game can be a difficult one. But there are many organisations that provide information, advice and support for a range of mental and physical health conditions. 

We’ve put together some useful links that you might find helpful.

Samaritans. If you’re having a difficult time and need someone to talk to, the Samaritans are there. You can write a letter, talk on the phone or email someone for support.

NHS. The NHS website contains important information on a range of health conditions, along with self-care tips to keep you going.

Mind. The mental health charity Mind has fantastic resources and an online community where you can connect with others who understand what you’re going through.

 

It may also be worth researching a little more about your condition anAd other available resources out there. 

When you can find a community of people going through something similar to you, it helps you stick together and makes tough times a little easier.

 

Health Assured can help you support your employees 

If you're an employer, you have an opportunity to provide your employees with access to support during these difficult times. Contact Health Assured to see how we can help you make a difference in the lives of your employees. Get in touch with one of our wellbeing experts today to see how we can help: 0844 891 0353.

 

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