This is part of a series of posts on healing health anxiety. This is something I've been trying to do for a while, it's an ongoing process for me. I was originally planning to do just one post but it was turning into a really long one, so I decided to do a series instead. :)
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, just someone who has health anxiety, so please seek medical help in addition to reading this. :)
What is health anxiety?
As I've mentioned before I have health anxiety. If you're not familiar with it, it's anxiety centred specifically on your health. Another name for it is hypochondria but they may not be exactly the same thing, because with health anxiety (HA) you often experience physical symptoms. For more on the subject you can read this article: http://www.nomorepanic.co.uk/articles/healthanxiety
My HA started when I was in my teens, about 16. Before that I was depressed but I started getting bad OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and health anxiety around 15/16. I worried about cancer mostly, about lumps and moles and brain tumours because I went through a phase of having headaches. (I've had them since I was about 10 but sometimes I have them more than others). Later on I worried about my eyes, that there was something wrong with my eyesight. I also worried that I was losing my mind, that I had some form of dementia. This worry got very bad 8 years ago; it was actually at its worst 8 years ago this month. Despite being young I was convinced there was something wrong with me because I was forgetting things. Anxiety can make your memory worse but when you have anxiety it becomes really hard to rationalise things.
As I said above, a lot of the time you do get physical symptoms, like a headache and if you have health anxiety then instead of thinking, "It's only a headache", you jump straight to the conclusion of "It's a brain tumour! I'm going to die!" Once you get into that panic mode it's hard to think straight. (Note: I don't mean any offence by putting it in this way; this is typical of how I personally think). :)
I have had eye symptoms such as flashes and floaters and had my eyes checked multiple times (both by opticians and doctors at the eye hospital) and been told they're fine. In one case a doctor said it was visual migraines causing my symptoms. When you worry about your health you can be hyper focused on things that you might ignore or just vaguely notice otherwise.
Health anxiety is associated with going to the doctor all the time and demanding tests but some of us don't necessarily want the tests. For me I have been to the doctor more than once about the same thing or a different doctor, but I find it very stressful going (especially going to the hospital) and I'd really rather not have tests unless the doctor thinks I need them. I'd rather not put myself through them. I seek reassurance that there's nothing wrong and hope that I won't have to have tests.
The condition is linked to OCD which isn't that surprising considering that with HA you can get stuck in repetitive thoughts patterns, just like with OCD. The Anxiety UK link below mentions checking your body for symptoms and that's where I think the OCD link is strongest because you can get stuck in patterns of checking your body obsessively.
OCD has been made into a bit of a joke in recent years but it's really not; it's a serious mental condition that can severely affect people's lives. I remember years ago I went to a dental sedation clinic (I had a lot of problems with my teeth and was anxious about going to the dentist) and when I told the dentist that I had OCD he actually seemed to laugh! :( I didn't go back there after that. So if you're reading this and you have OCD and/anxiety please don't feel embarrassed about it, you have nothing to be ashamed of. :)
Here are a few more links on health anxiety:
Some links on anxiety and Generalised/Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):
Update 8/9/20: The Moodjuice site now redirects to this one: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mental-health/mental-health-self-help-guides/anxiety-self-help-guide
Update 2- 5/11/20: The original link appears to be working again, so I've just left both up. :)
Note: I have health anxiety and general anxiety, also a bit of a social anxiety. While I go to belly dance classes, I find it harder to socialise with people one on one and get nervous doing things like paying for things in shops and talking to strangers. It was only earlier this year that I managed to go on the bus on my own. (I usually go with my mum or friends).
And links on OCD:
What causes HA?
An obvious reason would be if you were diagnosed with an actual illness or had a health scare. That would understandably cause you to be more vigilant about your health. Another reason is if someone around you was ill (a friend, relative, neighbour etc). In my case I knew two people at my school who died of cancer. I think that someone came into my middle school once to do a talk on cancer. Later on my grandparents' neighbour died of cancer and my grandad died of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma when I was 13. (It's actually 19 years today since he died). :) I believe I absorbed all this and it later manifested as health anxiety.
Stress can also cause you to worry more about your health and if you're an anxious person in general you may start to focus on your health specifically. Anxiety UK says that having a close family member with HA can also trigger you to start worrying about your own health. When you get triggered it's sometimes called a "spike". I've seen this on anxiety forums where the poster warns readers that their post may spike them (set them off worrying).
If you have health anxiety (or think you might) you should try to go to your GP aka general practitioner (or available doctor depending on your country) first of all to get some help. They will be able to decide how best they can help you. It's really important to find an understanding doctor. When I was a teenager I had one GP who I'd seen for years and she was good when it came to physical illness, but not so good with mental illness. I switched to another one who I still see now. So if you feel that your doctor isn't helpful/doesn't understand, it's absolutely fine to try another one. :) I think it's easier these days when you can see more than one GP. The current system at my surgery is that you can book an appointment with any doctor who's available.
Health anxiety is usually treated by therapy and sometimes medication. In the past I've taken Prozac for depression but my OCD was worse. I currently take Trazadone hydrochloride and that suits me better. I've seen a few therapists in the past but I find it really hard talking about myself. It's much easier for me to express myself through writing. When I was a teenager I had a psychologist who helped me, but then she went back to Australia and I couldn't cope with seeing someone new after that. I last saw someone during the time I was worried I was losing my mind.
A technique widely used to help with anxiety and depression and OCD as well is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It's basically about changing the way you think, swapping negative thoughts for positive ones. If you follow the Law of Attraction you'll notice that that is also about changing the way you think. So they have similar ideas but different approaches!
Here are some links to more info on CBT:
Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT): http://www.abct.org
British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (BACP): http://www.babcp.com/Default.aspx
This link mentions NLP (Neuro Lingustic Programming) and EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy) as well: http://www.nomorepanic.co.uk/articles/therapy
Usually your therapist gives you CBT exercises to do but there are also self help techniques you can use yourself. A good place to start is the NHS (National Health Service) health anxiety leaflet which you can download here (under Self-help for health anxiety):
Update 26/11/20: The link above now redirects to the NHS main health anxiety page: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/health-anxiety/
Also go here for more self help leaflets: http://www.ntw.nhs.uk/pic/selfhelp/
This website is very useful, it provides downloadable modules for helping you deal with HA:
I came across it when someone posted it in the Anxiety Zone forums. I have worked through the modules but I need to do them more consistently.
Here are a couple more sites which are helpful:
Also I've found the website No More Panic and its forums invaluable. You can visit it here: www.nomorepanic.co.uk or click on the NMP links above.
And here are a couple of anxiety/OCD forums:
You might also find these posts useful:
And you can access the Resources and Helpful Articles Library pages by clicking directly on these links or in the sidebar on the right of the blog.
I hope this post was helpful. :) Next time I'll write about anxiety from more of a spiritual perspective.
If you have health anxiety or another anxiety disorder, how have you coped with it?
Photo: Worthing Beach. Copyright Moonsparkle 2016.