Your first cervical smear screening at the age of 25 can be an incredible daunting thing. I was suffering from a severe anxiety disorder at the time of mine, so adequate preparation to keep my nerves in check was crucial for me to be able to attend my appointment.
Because at the end of the day, these 5 minute appointments can save lives and attending your cervical smear screenings is so important. Nerves will play a part for a lot of people. But that’s certainly not a reason not to go through with it.
There are plenty of things you can do to make that first cervical smear screening a better and more comfortable experience. Of course a lot of things are out of your control but it’s important to focus on what you can control in order to prepare for that screening.
So let’s get into how to prepare for your first cervical smear screening and some simple things you can do to help make it a better and smoother experience:
Before booking your screening
Avoid the dates of your period: Cervical screenings can be an ordeal, especially if you’re nervous. So you definitely only want to have to go and have it done once every time. To avoid getting an inconclusive result, avoid making your appointment for the dates on and around your period.
Consider going when it’s less busy: Doctors waiting rooms can be a pretty stressful place too. Although it can be hard to judge as all GP surgery’s are different, if you know of certain days and times that tend to be quieter at yours, consider booking your appointment for then.
Ask for a female nurse / doctor: If you feel like this will help you be more comfortable with attending your screening, then ensure when you book your appointment, you ask for a female practitioner. This can be particularly useful for those who may have past trauma.
What to wear and take with you
Loose clothing (if possible): Of course this might not be possible if you’re attending your appointment straight from work or university but if you’re going from home, change into some comfortable loose clothing to avoid any unnecessary discomfort.
Wear a skirt (if possible): At your screening, you’ll be asked to remove your clothes from the waist down. This in itself can be a daunting thing for a lot of people. However if you wear a skirt you only need to hoist it up, rather than take it off which might make you more comfortable.
Wear a panty liner / sanitary pad: Some people may experience some slight bleeding after their cervical screening. This doesn’t mean anything will be wrong (for example, my Mum has bled after hers before and she’s never had any problems. I didn’t bleed at all after mine and I had abnormal cells) but you want to be covered just in case for the journey home.
Take a bottle of water: Because it’s important to stay hydrated at any time and if you’re stressed about your appointment and sweaty, it will help to have some water there.
Don’t forget your face mask: Post COVID, you’ll also have to remember to take your face mask with you to the doctor surgery, otherwise they may not let you in. A lot has changed in this post COVID world!
Tips to manage first time cervical screening nerves
Take someone with you: A really simple way to ease your nerves is taking someone with you. Preferably someone who’s also had a screening and understands how you feel, like your mum, daughter, sister or friend.
Practice breathing techniques: If you’re likely to get a bit anxious in the waiting room, learn and practice some breathing techniques that you can go to if you feel anxiety coming on. The 7/11 technique is useful for this:
– Breathe in for 7 counts
– Hold the breath for a count or two
– Breathe out for 11 counts
Of course if this is too much you can reduce the counts to what’s comfortable. But the point of the exercise is to get you to focus on your breath, slow down your breathing and ultimately make you feel calmer and more relaxed.
Listen to calming music: There’s nothing wrong with taking your iPod with you and having some relaxing music on in the waiting room. As long as you have your headphones in, aren’t bothering anyone else and can hear your name being called.
Tell the nurse / doctor that you’re nervous: They will understand and they will have heard it before – there’s absolutely no reason to be ashamed of being nervous about your screening. It will help them determine how to proceed and might offer to take things slower to make you feel more at ease.
Ask for a smaller speculum: Most (if not all) GP surgeries should have 2 speculum sizes to use during cervical screenings (the speculum is the plastic duck beak shaped device they insert into your vagina in order to open it up so they can access the cervix). You’re well within your right to ask for the smaller one. If that doesn’t work, then your practitioner may suggest moving up to the larger one if they can’t get a sample.
Take your time: Your practitioner is unlikely to rush you throughout your appointment anyway (if they do, I’d highly consider sending a letter of complaint!) but make sure you take your time. Cervical screenings can feel uncomfortable and make you feel vulnerable. Do what you need to do.