Before I begin this article I want to tell you exactly what happened in my life around February time last year. Within a few weeks, I was going through the tail end of a divorce; I lost my job and my dog died. It was a pretty horrid time to say the least, and I started to feel anxious on a daily basis, struggled with insomnia and was having night sweats. This was the trigger that started my ‘health anxiety’.
A typical day in early April, 2016:
7.30 am – Got up to get my children ready for school. It was a massive effort to get out of bed, as I felt without a job my life was pointless. Came home and started getting pains in my shoulder and chest. Started to panic and rang the doctors’ surgery. I went for the appointment and had a thorough examination and an ‘ECG’ to put my mind at rest. I was not having a heart attack, but was suffering from a panic attack and my heart was perfectly healthy.
12.30 pm – Went back to bed until 3 pm. I then went to pick my children up from school.
4 pm – Felt exhausted. Started to disbelieve the doctor and wondered whether he was telling me fibs to put my mind at rest or he had missed something.
6 pm – Rang my mum for reassurance and felt a bit better.
9 pm – Put my children to bed and started checking the internet for symptoms of a heart attack. Had a headache and neck tension. Rang my best friend for reassurance and felt a little better.
11 pm – Went to bed very tired. I was worrying about my chest pains again and I hadn’t eaten a thing all day.
NEXT DAY…More or less the same as the day before. Had different symptoms, couldn’t sleep, panicking, feeling giddy, worrying etc etc etc
NEXT DAY… More of less the same as before
NEXT DAY..As above
NEXT DAY..As above
and so on for the next 3 months……………………..
It was a horrible time, but I can finally say that I overcame it. I was suffering from a medical condition called ‘Health Anxiety’. It’s a very real debilitating condition that made my life hell for those 3 months. It is actually surprisingly common. Sometimes we can feel that we are the only ones going through something, but of course, it’s not true. Many people visit their doctors surgery with imagined illnesses only to be checked over and told that they are in fact perfectly healthy, physically.
Is it normal to worry about your health?
Yes. We may worry if we need to go to hospital or we are awaiting test results. It can enable us to improve our lifestyle by cutting back on unhealthy food and taking some form of exercise. However, it can become a problem when it gets in the way of a normal life and causes us unnecessary worry when there is no real reason to do so.
What are the signs of having health anxiety?
You may worry about your health a lot of the time and your life becomes affected by it. You may seek reassurance from health professionals on a regular basis and feel the need to ask friends and family if everything is actually ok. (I did this a lot!).
You also feel the need to constantly check your body for symptoms such as strange sensations, lumps and rashes. It can make you feel overly aware of the slightest twinge, say, for example, a stomach pain, and then you think the worst.
There is also a tendency to check the internet and books for signs of your supposed illness. This doesn’t put your mind at rest, it just makes you imagine that you have the most serious illness possible and it makes you centre too much on your health so that your day is consumed by it. On the other hand, some people with health anxiety avoid any sort of strenuous activity in case it interferes with their health in general; they may have unfounded ideas of having heart disease, for instance.
How it can make you feel
Exhausted, stressed, frightened, strange, panicky and detached.
“This tingling I feel could be the sign of a stroke”
“The Doctor has probably missed something”
“This is not a normal headache, I must have something seriously wrong with me”
“If I worry it will prepare me for the worst if something really bad happens to me”
“I must check my body for signs of a serious disease”
You may also feel the need to keep consulting your doctor but may be worried in case you are seen as a time waster.
Things you do:
Go to the doctors more often
Ask for reassurance from people you know
Check your body for pain, lumps and tingling
Constantly look for symptoms of illness on the Internet or avoid any medical information.
What happens to you physically?
You feel odd sensations in various parts of your body
Tingling and numbness in face, toes, fingers or arms.
Heart pounds and skips a beat
Dizziness and so on…..
I experienced all of the above.
There can be many reasons why a person worries excessively about their health. They may have a friend or a family member that has health problems; or they may have experienced the death of someone that was close to them. Or, they may be going through a great amount of stress. So, even though a person would have had reassurance that there is nothing wrong with their health from their doctor, they still worry.
If we focus on symptoms too much we can notice things that we haven’t noticed before; it’s like we become hyper-sensitive. The normal aches and pains that occur in our bodies on a daily basis become worrying and cause us to check more frequently.
How I overcame my health anxiety
Firstly, after many doctor consultations and tests I had to take control of my feelings. I knew that I had to trust my doctor and trust the tests. I decided to take a mild form of an anti-depressant as this would lift my mood, and this has worked very well for me. Some people choose not to go down this path and that’s fine too. We are all different.
The main part of the problem had to be dealt with and that was the constant worrying. If I started to have negative thoughts, I would go for a walk, run, or do something completely different. It worked, because it moved my attention away from myself. I had to keep myself busy. (if that makes you tired at the end of the day then good. It will make you sleep better!)
The constant checking was distressing me to the point where I couldn’t relax. I made myself stop! Just like that! I took control. I also asked the people I was close to, to tell me to stop when I asked for reassurance; that worked too.
It is good to remember that we all have body changes and symptoms all the time. It is normal and is rarely a sign of serious illness. If we experience a headache, it’s often a sign of stress (I had a headache for 3 weeks and it felt like I had a tight band around my head). After a while, it began to dawn on me that the physical symptoms were in fact signs of my stress and anxiety. When I began to take control of the anxiety, my symptoms started to fade away.
If you feel that you are not getting a grip on your health anxiety, go to your GP, get some reassurance, get your health checked and believe what they tell you. Trust them. After that, try to begin to take control. Try the techniques I used, they may help. It has been proven that if a person receives ‘CBT’ or ‘Cognitive Behaviour Therapy’ this will alleviate the problem and you will feel a whole lot better. I’m planning an article on this in the near future, but do ask your doctor for advice.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I have overcome this horrible condition. I do get the odd day of feeling anxious and stressed but I have developed ways to cope. Relaxation techniques have really worked for me and I will share them in the next article. I am sharing this great little video too .. I hope it helps.
www.anxietycare.org.uk – Information and support for those suffering from anxiety.
www.rethink.org – Helpline 0300 500 0927 -Information and helpline for anxiety sufferers.
www.bacp.co.uk – Tel: 01455 883316 – British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – An information service providing contacts for counselling in England and Wales.