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Reducing Smear Test Anxiety This Cervical Cancer Prevention Week

This week is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, a time when we think about the importance of smear screenings, and what we can do to raise awareness for this important cause.

Although it's super important to go for your smear test, unfortunately, it can come with a lot of anxiety and stress attached.

There are many reasons why you might feel anxious about going for your smear test- and it's completely normal to worry about it, even just a little bit.

However, in this post I want to discuss how we can reduce smear test anxiety.

I want to consider how we can act with compassion and kindness towards those who feel unable to go for their test, sharing a few experiences that show you're not alone.

What is Cervical Cancer Prevention Week?

Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is an important time when charities, organisations and people across the UK raise awareness for cervical cancer prevention.

Spearheaded by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, this year's campaign wants to end cervical cancer for good.

"We have the tools to make cervical cancer a thing of the past. HPV vaccination, cervical screening, and treatment for cell changes can all help prevent it but we need to increase awareness and uptake, and the funding to do so.
Did you know that 1 in 3 women and people with a cervix do not take up their screening invite? Help us change this!"

As well as encouraging people to go for their smear test, this week looks at how we can raise awareness for the signs, symptoms and prevention of cervical cancer across the UK.

Why is it important to go for your smear test?

A cervical smear test checks for abnormal cell changes in the cervix, to prevent cervical cancer.

As a preventative measure, it is very important to book your smear test as soon as you get the invite. During your screening, the nurse or medical professional will collect a small sample of cells from the cervix.

Nurses receive a lot of training before completing their first smear test, so you'll be in capable hands when you make your appointment.

Typically, those with a cervix are invited for their first smear test around their 25th birthday. After this, cervical screenings take place every 3 years for those aged 25-49, and every 5 years between ages 50-64.

Reducing smear test anxiety

Many people struggle with smear test anxiety, which is completely understandable!

Although the procedure is quick and, for most people, relatively painless, it's completely normal to feel a bit apprehensive about your test- whether it's your first time or not.

You might feel uncomfortable due to personal reasons, or you might just be nervous about taking your clothes off in front of a stranger.

However, there are a few ways to reduce smear test anxiety. If you're feeling nervous about your appointment, you could take someone along with you that you trust.

You can even take them into the room with you if it makes you feel more comfortable.

Doing your research beforehand can also put your mind at rest, as you'll know exactly what to expect from your appointment.

For those with a cervix who do not identify as women, it's still super important to go for your smear test- but there may be additional worries or concerns about the test.

The Jo's Trust website provides lots of advice and support about getting your smear, including dedicated resources for those who do not identify as women.

Everyone will have their own reasons for feeling anxious, so it's important to treat this issue with compassion.

You never know what someone has experienced in the past, or why someone feels particularly anxious about this appointment.

Above all, we need to be sympathetic to individual concerns, while also encouraging people to go for their cervical screening whenever possible.

Tips and experiences from 6 bloggers

If you're worried about going for your smear test, you're not alone!

Below, find a few tips and experiences from other bloggers, including ways to reduce anxiety and personal experiences from their smear tests.

Sarah: Sunshine Sarahxo

First up, I thought it best to share my own experiences as a pre cursor to hearing from everyone else.

At the grand old age of 39, I've had the pleasure of having three smear tests & three different experiences.

And each one ending with me wanting more compassion for those of us who find the smear test itself an uncomfortable, occasionally painful experience.

All too often, when the time comes for our smear tests, we're bombarded with the old school rhetoric that it doesn't hurt, only takes 2 minutes & how if we're feeling nervous, we should just talk to the nurse and did we know that if we wear a skirt & keep our socks on we'll instantly feel more relaxed?!

Yeah, that's exactly what I'm talking about. It doesn't make me feel any better when I'm lying on the bed with my knees splayed apart, bracing myself for insertion of the speculum!

Thankfully in my last appointment, I actually had the midwife conducting my smear test, which instantly made me feel at ease because I thought, well if anyone's experienced in this department, it's a midwife!

She was very good with me actually. I was able to talk to her about my fears and she was very patient, trying out different sized speculums on me to see if that was the problem.

She actually ended up using the first one she tried and after a few moments, to my relief, it was actually done.

It was by far, the best smear test experience I've had to date.

I think I was very fortunate to end up with the midwife, because it was during the heady days of lock down where 'we're slowly getting back to normal, but you should definitely still come for your smear tests because they're a super important way to check for and prevent, Cervical Cancer.'

Because of this experience I am less nervous about my next smear test which, at the end of the day, is the important fact to remember and take away from the experience.

I'm still here to support those of you who also feel somewhat sidelined by the whole 'it only takes two minutes' rhetoric! So please don't forget that.

Chloe: I'm Just a Girl

Last Monday I had my first ever Smear Test at the age of 24. I received my letter exactly six months before my 25th birthday and I booked my appointment as soon as I could.

I was a little nervous beforehand but I'd had a similar experience before when I'd had tests in the past so I sort of knew what to expect.

Upon arrival at my local GP surgery, I was greeted by the nurse who performed my cervical screening and she explained what was going to happen and what I could expect.

I still felt very nervous and a little apprehensive but the nurse was so lovely and talked to me throughout the whole process and it was literally over in less than 10 seconds.

I expected to be sore for the rest of the day, but aside from a little discomfort somewhat similar to period pain, I didn't have any other issues.

I know how daunting this kind of experience can be but I was delighted that my experience was genuinely very calm and comforting.

I would advise everyone who's eligible for a smear test to get one (providing that you're comfortable and safe to do so).

Coralle: Eco Cozza

I went for my first smear test last year, which was a few months before my 25th birthday. I was very nervous, but honestly, it went very smoothly.

The nurse was extremely lovely and talked me through the whole thing. A lot of people are nervous about the procedure itself, but this part takes around 1 minute.

I felt some discomfort and a little bit of pain. But a few seconds of discomfort is worth it if it could potentially save my life.

Luckily, I don't have to go back for a few years, but I won't be as nervous the next time round now I know what to expect.

I'd always encourage people to get a smear test, even if they're extremely nervous. Tell the nurse how you feel as soon as you get in there. They should do their best to put you at ease.

Soffy: A Little Cup of Us

I put off my smear test for five years until last year because I was really scared! Especially after my daughter’s birth, I just didn’t even want to think about it.

Last year I had a little scare and had to have my smear test in order to find out if everything was alright. I’m so glad I went.

Here is what I did to help me:

  • I was honest with the nurse about my fear and asked for her to use the smallest instrument she has.

  • To distract yourself just have a random conversation with the nurse.

  • Listen to music or an audiobook to take your mind off of it.

  • After the test, go treat yourself! Go for a self care date

It’s literally only a few seconds that can save you from a long term misery. The next time I get my letter I won’t be putting it off!

Also wanted to add I took paracetamol before the appointment helped calm my nerves

I'm pleased that this post is helping you feel more prepared for when it's your turn!

Claire Mac

After two kids you think I'd be used to having someone up and in my downstairs business, but the thought of going for a smear test made me nervous as hell.

After two not so great experiences, my latest was a breath of fresh air. I remember tweeting about it, shocked because it was actually a really positive experience.

The nurse on hand was incredible. I knew what to expect, but she talked me through everything and we chatted as if we were sat by the fire having a cup of tea.

She asked me about the kids, about what I do for a job - Normal stuff, you know? It wasn't awkward. It wasn't painful. And guess what, it was over and done with in about 30 seconds.

Going for regular smear tests are so important, but so is having a friendly, down to earth healthcare practitioner. I think I was just unlucky with my previous two experiences.

Sophie: Glow Steady

When I was approaching smear test age, I didn't think I'd be too nervous. I'd been in and out of the gynecologist's office for years due to issues with my periods so I thought this would be just another test.

No big deal.

But when that letter landed 6 months before my 25th birthday, I was oddly nervous, and waited another 3 months to book it before I finally got myself to the doctor's.

A couple of years previously a nurse had been taking high cervix swabs, checked my notes and saw I was younger than the cervical screening age and told me that my smear would feel like nothing after those swabs (while the swab was still inside me - and they were only mildly uncomfortable).

She was wrong.

My first smear test was awful. That day, my body was not cooperating with the speculum at all. Unfortunately, my nurse wasn't the most helpful or understanding either and made the whole experience 10x worse.

You hear all the time that it's just a few seconds of discomfort and while it's wonderful that that's all it is for many women, it isn't always like that. Sometimes it's painful. Sometimes it's 10 minutes, not two. But it's always worth it.

Getting that letter confirming everything is fine is so much better than not knowing. And if everything isn't fine, you want to know sooner rather than later.

When it was time for my second appointment, as awful as the first one was, I booked my appointment straight away and prepared myself for a rough afternoon.

I got myself some good snacks and planned not to work afterwards like a little self-care afternoon. And that time was so much better!

It was still painful, but much less so than the first time. My nurse was so much more understanding and made me feel much more at ease.

Although they can be a bad experience for a variety of reasons, no two tests are the same. Please don't let a negative experience deter you later.

Talk to your nurse, ask for a smaller speculum or to go slow and maybe ask her to skip the small talk if you find it more stressful.

Maybe take your partner or a friend if it will make you more comfortable and take whatever little steps you can to help ease your nerves. But it's better to know.

Do you feel anxious about your first smear test? Do you have any tips for reducing smear test anxiety? Are you marking Cervical Cancer Prevention Week?

I'd love to know all your thoughts on this important topic in the comments. Please, be kind.

Love, Sarah xoxo

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A 30 something woman navigating life, sharing posts focussing on mental health, midsize fashion, self-care routines and life as a vegan.

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