Coping with stressful or painful tests or procedures

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Teen boy playing video game

You are probably familiar with the tests and procedures in hospital that will cause you pain or discomfort. If you are having a new test or procedure, ask the doctor or nurse what the procedure involves, how it will feel and if there will be pain.

Finding out as much as you can about an unfamiliar test or procedure allows you to plan the best way to cope with it.

If you are still anxious about it, you can use some or all of the methods below to get you through.

“Breathing and blowing”

This is the simplest way to cope with a short but painful or uncomfortable procedure. You take a deep breath in and blow it out slowly, then repeat several times. Slow, rhythmic breathing and blowing helps you relax and gives you some control in a situation that may be painful and scary.

It is important to practise this exercise before you are about to face the painful experience. Here are some tips.

  • Pretend that you are a big balloon and you are slowly letting all the air out of the balloon.
  • Pretend that there is a birthday cake in front of you with lots of candles. Your job is to blow out all the candles very slowly.
  • Hold a tissue in front of your face, about 10 to 12 inches away. Then see how long you can keep the tissue blowing in the air as you slowly blow out.


We already covered some distraction tips​, but if you are in a situation where you find it hard to focus your attention or use imagery, you can simply try:

  • listening to music
  • reading a book
  • playing a game on your phone or other device
  • chatting with a friend or one of your parents.

Depending on what you are having done, you may be able to use these techniques during the test or procedure as well as before it.

Belly breathing

Belly breathing is one of the best and easiest ways to relax. It is also called abdominal breathing because you are using muscles in your belly at the bottom of your lungs to breathe deeply. By breathing slowly and deeply, your body will receive enough oxygen and you can start to relax.

Belly Breathing

To learn how to do belly breathing, check out the animation below.

Remember, the best way to become good at belly breathing is to keep practising. After you have learned to do belly breathing while lying down, practise it the next few times while sitting up in a chair. Then practise it standing up with your eyes open. If you practise one to three times a day, you will learn it quickly.

Other tips

  • Have one of your parents or close friends gently massage a painful area.
  • Ask the child life therapist for suggestions on what might help.
  • Make sure you tell your doctor or nurse exactly how much pain you are experiencing. Describe your pain on a scale of 0-10. This will help your team give you the right amount of pain medicine after a kidney or liver transplant.
Last updated: November 30th 2017