When I received a message with this idea for a post about health anxiety, I was so intrigued. Not only was it something I had never written about before specifically, but, secretly, it is something I struggle with on a day to day basis.
Do you find yourself worrying unnecessarily about your health? Do you lie awake at night thinking about diseases you may or may not (and probably don’t) have? Or, that you will die young from an incurable disease?
I don’t talk about it a lot, because I think it’s one of the most common ways to get gaslighted. People are very quick to label hypochondriacs as crazy and invalidate their feelings. To be clear, I think mental illness we need to talk about mental illness, always, even if you are worried about what people will say. But I hate talking about health anxiety.
I’m working on it, though. This is my first step.
Thank you so much, Kelly, from State of Mental for sharing this. I needed to read it, and I know I am not alone.
What is health anxiety?
Health anxiety is a form of anxiety that people do not often talk about.
It has sometimes been called “Hypochondria” or “Illness Related Anxiety.” Most people that I speak to about it tend to say, “Aww, I know someone who thinks they have all the diseases going,” or ‘“Oh my god, my nan’s a hypochondriac, always claiming she’s ill.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I do read an article and i’ll automatically link some of the symptoms to ways I’ve been feeling. But that doesn’t mean that people with health anxiety think they have ‘every disease going’.
For me, it means that I’ll google symptoms, “reassurance check” with those close to me, catastrophize little things in my life, or lose control of my emotions. And then this tends to lead to a general panic attack. (Related post by Diffusing the Tension- Anxiety: What it is and how you can treat it)
Here’s an example
So that you can understand I’ll give you a scenario that happened to me the other day. Cancer is one of my many triggers. If i see it being discussed on TV, on social media, or out and about, I have a need to listen in. It’s almost like a magnet. My ears hear the word “cancer” and start listening to signs and symptoms. My mind automatically races and tries to connect them to some feeling in my body.
I saw a post a while back. It was just an innocent post on instagram about a woman who was recovering from Cancer. Now, usually I try and avoid these posts but that day was a particularly bad day. (In other words I had no willpower.) So, I read it. The woman was commenting on the fact that she had been having pains in her side and had gone to the doctors, who hadn’t listened. She pushed and pushed and finally they scanned her back and found stage 3 Cancer.
It so happened that that week I had a pain in my side. It wasn’t just a normal pain, it was something that I had for a while. On a good day, I drink a lot of water and the pain goes so I attach it to dehydration. As I said though, this wasn’t the best day so, like a herd of elephants stomping into a room, in came the thoughts. They started small. “I have that kind of pain.” “I need to book a doctor’s appointment.”
And the thoughts very quickly increased. “The doctors have lied to me about this being dehydration.” “I have Cancer, and I’m going to die.” Cue the reassurance seeking. “Babe, I have a bad pain in my side. Can you feel if there’s a lump please?” He checks, and there’s nothing. Either I don’t believe him or I think that it’s probably way too far in for him to feel. Plus, he’s not a doctor, so what does he know?
Then, came palpitations, shortness of breath, tight chest… Full blown panic. It took me around 20 minutes to slowly calm myself down to a point where I could think clearly enough to breathe.
Recovering from a period of anxiety
I still think about that post…a lot. I have been through counselling for the 3rd time for around 9 months now. Although my symptoms are getting better, I’m in no way cured. I’ve had CBT and acceptance theory therapy. I also use theory A or Theory B practice in which you think of all of the possible other things that your pain or thought could be.
For instance, if you’re scared of flying theory A is that the plane crashes, theory B is that you have a lovely flight, theory C that you get taken by aliens and so on. Your mind sees that it’s not just one sided. There are a million other things that could happen. This therapy has helped me loads and I’ve come a long way. However, it’s not for everyone. Not everyone can think of different things. It took me at least 5 tries but I find now if I can sit down and write the theories then it’s easier to visualise.
I can talk myself around a lot faster now too, but I still have very bad weeks where I can barely get out of bed. However, I’m working on being the Warrior that I know I can be! I hope this post will show others that health anxiety is a real thing. It’s not over dramatising an issue. It’s not pretending you’ve got something wrong to get attention. And it’s most definitely not a crazy person’s problem!
There is hope for you
If this is something you are living with, please know things will get better. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. It’s going to be one of the hardest things that you’ll go through. You’ll break and cry and think that things will never get better… BUT THEY WILL. One day you’ll wake up and it will seem the same… but upon reflection you’ve only had 2 bad thoughts that day and then that decreases until you go a whole day without any!
It took a lot for me to seek help and I know how hard it can be, but please reach out. It can be a long process, for instance seeing a doctor who had me go back three times before she referred me. Then, they referred me to the local mental health service, who then referred me to a counselor who called me to arrange an appointment.
It took around 8 months in all to get to the point where I was seeing someone but it’s worth the wait. Just to wake up some days without a feeling of anxiety. There are other charities out there also. I know Mind is a great one in Wales.
I hope this post raises the awareness of health anxiety, and that my posts continue to help support those having to live with being a Health Anxiety Warrior.
If you ever need support or a chat please contact me on Twitter at @stateofmental1 or on Instagram at @stateofmental. I also have an Etsy store called State of Mental where I make badges and accessories to empower those with mental health so please take a visit
If you suffer from health anxiety, you are not alone. I often worry that I have debilitating and life threatening illnesses. In fact, it affects 4-5% of people, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Make sure to see a therapist. They will be able to help you through some of your discomfort and worries.
Just remember: The thought of a tiger is not a tiger.
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Related Posts: 7 Interesting Facts About Anxiety, What is Anxiety?, Eating for Depression and Anxiety, How to Manage Your Anxiety While Traveling, Positive Thinking Every Day: How You Can Find Joy in the Little Things