I wanted to write a blog on health anxiety as it is something very close to my heart. Over the years I have experienced concern about my own health and the health of loved ones, and this has led to some epic anxiety episodes which have had a huge impact on my life.
I know those awful sinking feelings so well, that downward spiral into a pit of dark hopelessness where it feels like there is no hope, no way out. I know this gets worse at night, so your sleep is compromised .. and this just adds to the downward spiral.
In the past, before I was a skilled practitioner, all I could do at these times was sit with the awfulness of the anxious feelings or beg my Doctor for medication. As a practitioner and therapist, Im not immune to health anxiety by any means, but I have learned how to use my skills on myself to manage it.
First let’s clarify what health anxiety actually is. NHS Choices sites health anxiety as the condition which is also known as hypochondria. You can read their useful article by visiting https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/health-anxiety/.
Health Anxiety is when you spend lots of time worrying you’re ill, or about getting ill, and it starts to take over your life.
You may have health anxiety if you:
• constantly worry about your health
• frequently check your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain
• are always asking people for reassurance that you’re not ill
• worry that your doctor or medical tests may have missed something
• obsessively look at health information on the internet or in the media
• avoid anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes
• act as if you were ill (for example, avoiding physical activities)
Anxiety itself can cause symptoms like headaches or a racing heartbeat, and you may mistake these for signs of illness.
Of course, its natural for us to worry about our health isn’t it? Well I would suggest it’s natural for us to show concern if we get symptoms and we need to visit the GP, and its also natural for us to be concerned if we are undergoing investigation for serious health concerns. But there is a huge difference between feeling concerned and having a health anxiety. With a health anxiety, a large part of your day will focus on symptoms, checking for symptoms, reading stuff on the internet and feeling extremely anxious and panicky often. Health anxiety can sometimes be all consuming, meaning that you focus all your attention on illness and symptoms and you just stop having a life.
One of the problems with a health anxiety is that if you focus on looking for symptoms you will certainly find them. When you are in this cycle of checking for symptoms, things which would not normally be a concern, like a minor headache for example, may become a focus for your anxiety and your mind will blow this out of all proportion. Before you know it you have given yourself several horrible diseases which will just go on to fuel your anxiety even further.
There are also ideas and suggestions around that support the concept of ‘what you give out you get back’. This means if you constantly think about symptoms, you will experience them. Even in the scientific world some theorists now believe that we don’t just observe what is around us, but we have a role in creating it. That said, if we can create our symptoms by thinking about them, what would it be like if we could create joy, happiness and wellbeing by thinking about that instead? Well interestingly, we can … and this is one thing I always talk to my clients about. Knowing how to access positive feelings, thoughts and memories is key to wellness and in my sessions we look at powerful and effective ways of doing just that.
Here are my tips for self-help with health anxiety:
- The first thing is always go to your Doctor as soon as you can with your concerns. Tell them all about your symptoms and make sure they have a full picture of what’s going on, and also tell them about how anxious you are. They may be able to help with your anxiety.
- Stop checking for symptoms – if you look for them you will find them.. Our brains are programmed to find the things it expects, or what we tell it to look for. I play a little game with my clients to illustrate this and its amazing how clever our brain is at doing this.
- Do a ‘Thought Stop’ -if you find yourself checking for symptoms, say STOP to yourself in a kind but firm way, and focus your attention on something else .. something which is enjoyable and brings happiness is great .. I choose walking, shopping, craft, music and focusing on my work as great distractors, but yours will be different. Choose what is right for you.
- Make a vision board- add words and pictures which focus on health and wellbeing. Find, cut out and stick pictures onto a large piece of card, draw and write. You can use pictures of people you know are healthy, or pictures of you when you felt really good. Use phrases such as “I am healthy”, “My body and mind are working perfectly” and “I am already healed”. Don’t focus on illness, for example it isn’t helpful to say “I want to get well” … it kind of implies you are ill which defeats the object of making the vision board.
- A great tip for reducing anxiety is the take your first two fingers of any hand and “draw” a figure of 8 across your forehead and repeat, repeat, repeat until you start to feel calm. This little exercise helps to reduce some of the body chemicals at play in anxiety and helps to stimulate chemicals which create calm.
If you would like to talk to me about health anxiety you can give me a call on 07521489791
Have a joyful, peaceful day x