Health Anxiety

Anxiety is a pretty awful thing to go through.  Some people throw the word around quite casually, they are a bit anxious about something and think they have anxiety.  I don’t want to take away the seriousness of their worries but actually having anxiety as a mental health condition is a different thing entirely. It can be deliberating, can wreak havoc with the individuals and their families lives and can take years to mentally overcome.

There are many different types of anxiety and as I am not a trained psychologist I’m going to do what I do best and that is talk about my own anxiety and what that feels like and suggestions I can put forward that may help you if you are in the same boat.

Firstly, why do we get anxiety?  I believe that we have a predisposition for it in our genes, or a bit of a personality trait that means that we have to be in control, all the time. The control thing is massive when it comes to anxiety because anxiety is another word for worry.

I also feel that we would have learned some behaviour from a parent that may or may not have realised that they are worry heads.  They may have wrapped us up in cotton wall because of their own self restricting fears.  Growing up there may have been one or both parents that are negative in nature and would tend to “catastrophise” things with no logical rationale behind it.

Anxiety can lay dormant for years and come out after a traumatic or life-changing event.  It can also manifest into different mental health conditions like depression and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – which I will blog about another time). For today’s’ post I want to focus on my own personal favourite topic of anxiety: health anxiety.  Honestly, I don’t think it was a thing until Google was invented (jokes).  I also don’t think it’s the same as Munchausen Syndrome (a factitious disorder in which a person deliberately acts as he or she is physically or mentally unwell when he or she is not really sick).  I do think however that it bubbles on the surface of hypochondria if anything.

Health anxiety is when you worry constantly at not only your own state of health but of those around you that you care deeply about.  Slight pain in the forehead?  That will be the onset of a stroke.  A left flank twinge?  Cervical cancer for sure.  The numbness in your right foot will be the stomach tumour that is pressing on your spinal column, absolutely nothing to do with the fact that you have worn slider sandals for the past three months due to the unprecedented heatwave……..ok I’m making this funny but if you have this disorder, it’s pretty damn awful.  You will utterly convince yourself that you are dying, all the time.

You will have a compulsion to symptom check every little ailment you “feel”. You will seek out statistics of cancer rates and risk factors and because your anxiety is a sneaky little bugger, it will deliberately on purpose home in on all the things you are experiencing. The compulsion is to actually find evidence that you do in fact have a life-threatening illness.  This is all irrational and completely fear driven.  Of course, it is.  But try telling that to your anxiety.

Stories in the newspaper, of particularly young people dying of cancer (cancer is a massive theme for the person with this type of anxiety), will be what you are drawn too.  “If it happened to them, then it could very well happen to me……..there is so much cancer these days, why is that…………its like cancer is out to get me, my family and friends………”

So, as you may have worked out from the above, I have experienced this type of anxiety first hand.  However, I haven’t got it as bad as some.  When I feel good, I feel on top of the world, with no worries what so ever.  But as soon as I get an odd symptom…it starts to creep in.

I have had a recent “health scare”.  After months (years!) of awful heavy and painful periods, I decided to go and get an internal scan done.

At the scan, the lovely female sonographer probably didn’t mean to scare the crap out of me, but she did.  To be honest, when you are the health worrier, you will look for every little sign to see if a health professional is lying to you and in fact covering up the fact they have just discovered you actually do have a terminal illness.

“Oh!  Endometriosis, can see it straight away” she said as she peered at the scan screen that was pointing toward her and not me (what’s she trying to hide?).  Oh my days….I’ve just been diagnosed with Endometriosis!!  From a scan…….ok, not life-threatening, will also explain why I have felt like I want to die each and every month……..wait is there more?

“Oh!!  I see two growths”…….wait “growth??” OK – real legitimate worry time about to commence……….

“These are called Polyps.  They are quite common (thank the lord) and are tissue growths in the uterine wall (stop saying growths!) and you need them out as one is growing, it’s very large (large growth, growing – wtf???) you need an operation”.

Jeeze.  Let’s fast forward to now – the day I write this blog.  It’s about ten days since my scan.  My consultant appointment with the Gynea is this evening and the fact that (thank the lord twice) I have private medical insurance, I reckon this operation will be done and dusted by May (here’s praying).  This is the good news, they have identified my problem.  The bad news is my anxiety has skyrocketed.

Remember, that I am a Holistic Therapist who helps others deal with stress, depression, anxiety…..I promote the law of attraction and the positive mental attitude required to hit difficult times in life, head on.

But when you start looking internally at your own life, at those that love and depend on you and the fact that you may have a very real, potentially very serious health condition, it changes everything in an instant for you. All those years I’ve spent worrying about having cancer and the awful truth is, I don’t know if I have it or not. Am I over-reacting?  Some women with uterine polyps have them removed and biopsied to find out that they have cancer.  This is rare. But it does happen.

The difference between me and someone without health anxiety is this:

The person without this anxiety will be rational.  They will take what the sonographer said as the truth and not think that actually, she lied to them and really she saw cancer but didn’t want to worry them.

They will not think that every phone call from the scan until the consultant appointment is the gynaecologist herself, calling to get them in “URGENTLY” as it appears they have cancer and need a lifesaving operation within hours.

They will not start thinking about the future with them not in it and how that will affect the lives of those they hold dearest……a thought that is too painful to put into words.

Of course they will be concerned, that goes without saying.  But they will be rational and objective, not irrational and subjective.  They would also say, well even in the very unlikely event that I have cancer, it doesn’t mean I am dead, it just means I need a different course of treatment….and a different perspective.

See, how did we get from uterine polyps to cancer in one blog post?  No one has even mentioned this word to me……but I Dr Googled my symptoms……it turns out that endometriosis and polyps have the same symptoms as womb cancer.

In my heart of heart, do I think I have it?  No.  But I do think this is a big old lesson for me, in terms of putting my health anxiety to bed, for good!  Yes, it is. Here is why.  For the first seven days of the ten day wait period between scan and consultant, I kept crying and totally freaking out.  This is the most I’ve worried in a very long time.  But then, during a Reiki treatment, I heard a voice in my head. I felt like it was Blue, my guide. This is what he said:

“You are absolutely fine.  You don’t have cancer, you know that.  You will KNOW when your time has reached its end on this life journey.  But, just because you have these abilities, the deep sense of intuition that not every person has, that doesn’t mean that you get off Scott free…..you will have many ups and downs that you need to learn and grow from….this is one of those down times but we are going to manage it and move past it”.

Since this moment I have felt so much better, even today, a few hours before my appointment.  It’s like someone is standing behind me, they have got my back and I feel it too.

I’m hoping this whole experience will put to bed my worries, as there is no point.  What is important is now, today, right this second, anything before that is just our imagination.

But what if health anxiety affects you?  Well, like with any type of anxiety, I want you to know that I feel your pain – I really really do.  There are ways to manage it though:

  • Write stuff down, all about what you are worried about. In fact write two columns, one with your irrational fears and the other one with the more logical rational thinking.   Anxiety and stress cause symptoms, headaches and stomach ache. So that is what the problem is more likely to be!
  • Keep busy, focussed and fulfilled. This will help you immensely.
  • Relax and manage your thoughts with techniques such as exercise, mindful meditation and doing something creative.
  • Talk to people to unload your worries but try not to seek constant reassurance, be your own therapist.
  • If you are undergoing tests for a legitimate health issue, DO NOT search on Google, especially on forums. You are not the same as the people on the forums.  Your body and condition are unique to you.
  • Speak to your GP or look on the Mind website if you do feel you need external support: https://www.mind.org.uk

Until next time,

Tanya

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