Someone who loves you have probably given you a hard time about not seeing a doctor at least once in your life. Maybe your mother bothers you to schedule that 6 month dental cleaning. Maybe your husband or wife bugs you to get that mole checked. Maybe your friend gives you a judgmental look when you confess you haven’t been refilling your anti-depressants. While not the case for everyone, many people do not follow up regularly with doctors due to anxiety about the visit. “I don’t want to know if something is wrong” or “Going there reminds me that I’m sick” are common reactions when someone who isn’t following up is pushed on the issue.
Why Do We Avoid Things At All?
Avoiding the doctor is an understandable reaction if you are someone who doesn’t like visiting medical or mental health professionals. Why wouldn’t you defer doing something you don’t like or find aversive? Avoidance is a common coping mechanism for anxiety and even has an evolutionary basis. If the cavemen didn’t listen to their feelings of anxiety and avoid areas where snakes, lions, or other predators were known to prowl, Darwinism would ensure we wouldn’t exist today. In the latter circumstances, they had to listen to their instincts and emotions in order to survive. Avoiding an open prairie full of cougars due to feeling anxious kept them alive.
Unfortunately, nowadays many people don’t just avoid things based on emotions that make sense given the facts of the situation. Think of the person who refuses to go to the top of the Empire State Building due to a fear of heights despite the strong plexi-glass barriers making it nearly impossible to fall off. They are feeling fearful or anxious and their behavior or action is reflective of that. They are acting on their emotions in a way that doesn’t fit the facts of the situation.
Why We Avoid The Doctor
People who avoid the doctor despite medical or mental health professional recommendations otherwise are often acting on emotions of anxiety and fear. They may have had a bad experience in the past with someone in the field or may have received messages growing up that lead to a negative association with seeking medical or mental health care. Whatever the reason, the theme continues that they are acting on emotions that don’t always fit the facts of the situation. Have you seen a bad dentist in the past who tells you that flossing is important in a judgmental tone? Not all dentists are like that. Did your mother always tell you that mental health isn’t real? Nearly all research in the field as well as the experiences of many (possibly including yourself) would argue otherwise.
Why Avoiding The Doctor May Be Harmful
Nothing may be wrong at all. You may be the picture of perfect physical and mental health. Unfortunately, if you are avoiding seeing a professional because of anxiety, fear, or disbelief then you have no way of knowing for sure what is going on with you. You are inhibiting rather than helping your chances to stay well (and sometimes alive, depending on the context). In particular, people who avoid the doctor out of anxiety that something may be wrong are doing themselves a disservice. As I often tell people in my own practice, just because you don’t see a professional does not magically ensure nothing is wrong. If you are sick, you will be sick whether you see a doctor or not. However, if you go to the doctor at least you have a chance to be aware of it and intervene before symptoms or issues get out of hand.
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