No, That Anxious Feeling You Get At The Doctor’s Office Isn’t All In Your Head

white coat syndrome

Unsplash/Remy Loz

You fasted overnight so you’re starving. You’re sitting in the waiting room full of coughing, sneezing and sniffling patients who undoubtedly have the flu, which is enough to send a shiver down your spine. And you’re already late for work, so you’re incredibly antsy and just want to GTFO. Yet here you are, in the doctor’s office, awaiting your turn.

So when it finally comes time to measure your blood pressure or check your heart rate, does it really come as a surprise that your results seem a little skewed from what you’d expect on a typical day? Well, it shouldn’t. These circumstances aren’t typical, nor are your anxiety levels that they provoke.

This, friends, is called white coat syndrome.

Also referred to as white coat hypertension, this reaction is simple yet incredibly frustrating. Your blood pressure reads entirely normal in any other scenario, but those anxious doctor’s office vibes make it look abnormally high in your formal reading, potentially raising health red flags to your physician. And while it’s not a true medical problem you need to worry about, you do need to be able to have accurate BP reports on your health records.

Blood Pressure Chart with Latest Blood Pressure Guidelines

Image via: AHealthBlog

So what can you do about this pesky reaction? Unfortunately, doctor’s office anxiety is pretty common and it can be difficult to control. But there are a few methods you can try.

First, give some deep, meditative breathing a go when you’re sitting in the waiting room. The more you can elongate your inhales and exhales, the more relaxed your sympathetic nervous system will become, thus reducing your blood pressure. If that doesn’t work, look for a distraction instead. If that means reading a low-key book or celebrity gossip magazine, great. If that means chit-chatting with the nurse for a few minutes before she whips out the blood pressure cuff, even better. Whatever helps you chill the eff out, do it.

If all else fails and you still consistently give inaccurate readings at your annual physical to where it’s impacting your doctor’s impression of your overall health, ask if you can purchase your own blood pressure cuff for home use and learn how to use it properly. That way, you can run your numbers yourself whenever you need and you can update your doc at your next appointment — anxiety-free. Phew.


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