For many of us, going to the doctor can feel daunting and fill us with anxiety. Here are some tips to help overcome your fears and make you calmer

Does the mere thought of visiting your doctor fill you with dread? Despite telling yourself that you’ll be in safe hands and there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, you just can’t help feeling anxious?

Well the good news is, you’re not alone! A recent study revealed that between 15% and 30% of people in the UK experience this.

This phenomenon, known as white coat syndrome, white coat hypertension, or the white coat effect, occurs when an individual experiences higher than normal blood pressure when they are in a clinical setting.

It’s believed to be a symptom of the fear of the unknown, and/or a negative association with hospitals and clinics. The problem here is that, for many people, taking that first step towards seeking help for their health is hard enough emotionally already, so addressing white coat syndrome is essential to make sure people aren’t deterred.

Despite white coat syndrome causing a spike in the blood pressure of individuals who are normally deemed within the healthy range group, some doctors believe it might reveal people who may develop actual hypertension, therefore a thorough assessment is essential.

Diagnosing someone with white coat syndrome can be challenging, as it’s often difficult to gain a precise reading. In real terms, this may mean your doctor comparing readings taken in the clinic with those at home. Talk to your doctor about this if you have any concerns.

Meanwhile, there are several things you can do to help yourself overcome your fears.

Try relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques, such as breath exercises and meditation, can be incredibly useful in teaching you how to calm down. They’re popular, easy to do, and the medical benefits are well-proven.

Distraction therapy

Try focusing on something other than the blood pressure test itself. For example, try counting things in the room (three things you can see, two you can hear, one you can touch), or even wiggling your toes – the important thing is to take your mind off the task in hand.

Reduce the chat

Talking while getting your blood pressure taken can actually raise it a little, so maybe hold the chat until after the reading is done.

Try some deep breathing exercises

Simply breathe in through your nose for three seconds, hold your breath for five seconds, exhale through your mouth for seven seconds, and repeat that cycle four times. Not only will your mind be focused on something else, but you are also actively suppressing your body’s fight-or-flight response to stress. Try to complete this cycle before your blood pressure is taken, not during.

Relaxation techniques, such as breath exercises and meditation, can be incredibly useful in teaching you how to calm down

Take a brisk 15–20 minute walk

A short walk is enough to help you start rhythmic breathing, which actually decreases blood pressure by calming the body’s stress response.

Request a quiet room

When you make an appointment, ask for a quieter examination room that’s out of the way of all of the hustle-and-bustle of the main area.

Drink a glass of water

Another simple tip is to drink a glass of water. Water has a calming effect on the nervous system, and it flushes out sodium, too (a risk factor in hypertension).

Watch what you eat before your doctor’s visit

You can’t undo a lifetime of diet choices in one afternoon, but you can try avoiding meals that are high in fat and sodium, ideally at least two days before your appointment. If you’re a smoker, try to refrain from smoking for at least one hour prior to your appointment.

Eat a banana

Did you know that potassium-rich foods could help control blood flow and heartbeat? You can take potassium supplements, but those can take weeks to have any significant effect, whereas eating a banana, a sweet potato, or some cooked spinach or broccoli, can show a positive effect in just one or two hours.

Make your appointment for later in the day

Blood pressure is likely to be higher in the morning. By scheduling an appointment in the afternoon, you may experience lower blood pressure without having to do anything else.

Counselling and stress management

Stress and anxiety play a significant role in raising blood pressure. Therefore, it is essential to try to find better coping skills. Counselling provides a safe space for you to talk about issues that may be creating additional stress in your life. In addition, being able to offload bottled up emotions not only allows you to feel more relaxed, it promotes a healthier approach to dealing with life.

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