Frustration and Other Common Feelings While Waiting for a Diagnosis

Waiting for a diagnosis can be one of the most difficult things a person experiences. Getting a diagnosis can involve waiting to see a specialist, waiting for a test to be scheduled, or waiting for lab results to come back.

Sometimes the uncertainty leaves you seemingly without an anchor. And you might have to deal with symptoms—such as dizziness, nausea, or pain—while you're waiting for an answer.

If you’re facing a possible life-changing diagnosis, the waiting can be especially stressful. This article describes the common emotions you might face when waiting for a diagnosis and provides some suggestions for coping with these feelings.

Woman with her arm around a family member
Obencem / Getty Images

Typical Emotions You May Experience When Waiting for a Medical Diagnosis

It's important for you to know that the feelings you might face are all completely normal. Each person can experience some or all of them, and you might experience some at different times than others. Be kind to yourself and don't blame yourself for having your feelings. But think about ways you might cope to help yourself achieve some degree of comfort and peace of mind while you're waiting.

Impatience

Impatience is perhaps the first emotion many people feel when awaiting a diagnosis. Sometimes it can be satisfying to take charge of a situation, solve a problem, and move forward. But waiting for diagnosis delays that process since you don't even know what you can do to solve the problem.

Waiting for an appointment, a procedure, or a consultation may give you the feeling of “hurry up and wait.”

Impatience can work its way beyond your diagnosis and enter other parts of your life as well. You may feel impatient with the line to get out of the parking ramp at the store. You may feel impatient with your spouse or friends. You may even become impatient with yourself, wondering why it takes so long to do some of the activities you have always done.

Frustration

Frustration refers to the feeling of having your purpose or action blocked. When you are told you cannot get an appointment with a specialist for three months, that the results of a specialized test takes six weeks, or that after seeing four doctors they still don’t know what’s wrong with you, you may feel very frustrated.

As with impatience, frustration with your medical issue can carry over to other parts of your life. You may feel frustrated if there are mix-ups with your insurance or with test results that come back inconclusive.

Sometimes this frustration can erupt. After all, it may not feel "safe" to release your frustration with the clinic where you are receiving care (you might want to be seen as a "nice patient"), so you may finally let it go when your spouse forgets to pick up milk at the grocery store.

Anger

Many people may feel angry at times while waiting for an answer. This anger is often directed at the medical system that is making you wait for your diagnosis. Sometimes the angry feelings can be channeled into something productive, like advocating for yourself or a loved one.

However, sometimes the angry feelings burst out inappropriately, like on the lab technician who’s trying to take your blood sample for a test. Nurses often say that they've witnessed many patients and families yelling at medical staff—and at each other.

You may feel fed up with the entire process of diagnosis and feel like just walking away from the whole thing.

Anxiety

Waiting a long time for a diagnosis that has serious implications can lead to feelings of having no control over things or being overwhelmed. You may feel uneasy and apprehensive. You may feel tense and your mind may be troubled with how this diagnosis may affect you and your loved ones. Once you begin that train of thought, it can go on and on. You may have trouble sleeping at night, find yourself being nervous, or be preoccupied with thinking about the diagnosis.

Anxiety is a normal response to the feeling of being threatened. It is part of the fight or flight reaction designed to protect us from danger. Yet when the danger we are considering comes from our thoughts, rather than an acute and readily apparent danger in our midst (such as a lion attacking) the reaction can lead to further anxiety and stress, causing physical responses such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and more.

Anxiety, as with these other emotions, can carry over into other areas of your life. People with serious health issues on their minds may feel unable to make simple decisions, even decisions as simple as what outfit to wear.

Sadness and Depression

You may feel hopeless about your situation. Having the medical system constantly making you wait for things—appointments, tests, consultations, results—can make you feel like throwing in the towel and just giving up. You may cry for no reason and not feel like doing much of anything.

It can be very difficult, at times, to know whether you are dealing with situational sadness or depression. Don't be afraid to ask for help.

How to Cope

With uncertainty about your health issues, you are left in limbo, not knowing exactly how you should feel because you don't know what you're facing. There are people who have even been relieved to get a bad diagnosis, because at least then you can start doing something to face the diagnosis.

There are some things you can do while you wait:

  • For some people, talking with friends, family, a clergy person, and/or a counselor can help in dealing with these feelings while waiting for a diagnosis.
  • Some people find it helpful to connect with a support group (or an online community, especially with rare diseases) which offers the opportunity for you to talk with others who have experienced the same situation that you are going through. Often, just being able to hear from someone who has felt the same things is an enormous help, reminding you that you are not alone.
  • Make sure you are being your own advocate in your care. If you do not feel that you are on the right track or if you feel your healthcare providers are not communicating well, speak up.
  • See if there's anything that can be done to help control your symptoms, even if the interventions are only temporary until you find out what treatments you will need for the long term.
  • Think about practical strategies to simplify your life. Do you need to hire a part-time nanny to help with the kids? Do you need to allow people to help you with things like cooking, cleaning, or errands?
  • Choose the people you spend time with carefully. Do you have good friends who help you be hopeful that you can spend more time with? On the other hand, do you have "toxic friends" who you may need to bid goodbye?

If you are living with chronic pain, make sure you discuss it with your healthcare providers. Sometimes a consult with a pain doctor is needed to help manage pain.

Support for the Loved Ones of Patients

It's important to note that your friends and family members may also experience many of these emotions while waiting for your diagnosis. In fact, the helplessness that loved ones often experience can magnify your feelings even further.

You or your loved ones might fear burdening each other and may not always feel comfortable expressing frustration, impatience, or anxiety. There are many online communities dedicated to family caregivers, and this might be helpful for your loved ones.

A Word From Verywell

It's normal to have a range of emotions when you're waiting for a diagnosis. The longer you have to wait, the more you may have ups and downs, and the more intense your feelings may become. First, don't be hard on yourself. Consider talking to someone who is willing to listen and to be compassionate, like a friend, counselor, a clergyperson, or a peer in a support group. It can help to learn about the condition you might be facing—but don't rush that process—you will be ready to know more when the time is right for you.

Was this page helpful?
1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Psychological Association. Stress effects on the body: Nervous system.