Health Anxiety--or "Why is this rash still here?"
Why is this rash still here? Why have I been feeling light-headed when I lay down the last few days? Why do I have this weird lump on my arm? My husband tells me not to worry, but I can’t shake this feeling that something bad might be happening. I try to get my mind off of it and not worry about it like my doctor said, and I know it’s dumb, but I can’t help but feel scared that something horrible is happening to my body right now!
Does this sound familiar? Do you ever get tired of worrying so much about your health? Ironically, the people who tend to worry most about their health are often the ones who have the least to worry about, and the ones who tend to worry the least should probably worry a little more! It’s normal to pay attention to changes in your body. But some people have more “body vigilance” than others. Some people are very attuned to even the slightest changes in their skin, bowels, and breathing. And some people tend to worry about those changes.
Living with health anxiety is not easy. For those who struggle with the burden of physical symptoms—whether associated with a medical diagnosis or not—much of one’s time, energy, and thoughts are wrapped up in how to make sense of those sensations and feelings. Most people learn to live with their fears and worries, though sometimes, usually during times of significant life stress, those worries may be harder to control and may even become overwhelming. You may end up in your doctor’s office or even the emergency room with increased symptoms or maybe new symptoms, possibly feeling panicked as well. No matter where you are in how you are managing these symptoms, they can take a toll. The daily worries add up over time and end up affecting your mind and body.
Imagine what it might be like to live a life free of excessive worries about your body and physical symptoms you may have. Imagine how freeing it would be not to carry that “somatic symptom burden” around with you every day. Imagine a life free of overworry and baseline distress. How might you get there?
Often the first step to managing health anxiety is to recognize it for what it is—an anxiety problem. Doctors are often ill-equipped, or do not have the time, to help you face your anxiety head on. At the same time, learning from your doctor the diagnoses you have and do not have can be very helpful in managing your health anxiety. There are also medications your doctor may recommend to help you manage your anxious thinking and occasional feelings of overwhelm. The best long-term treatment is a kind of therapy known as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, which targets the behaviors and thoughts that help maintain this negative spiral of fearful thoughts.
Another thing that helps with anxiety is having so much fun that you forget about it. Go do that exercise class you have been thinking about. Get together with your good friend for coffee or tea (but not too much…caffeine can make symptoms worse!) to catch up on all the good and bad life has handed you since you last really talked. Get up to the mountains for a half day. Take your kids somewhere they love. Invest your time and energy in projects and missions that are meaningful to you and impactful to others.
Contact me today to learn more about how I can help you resolve your anxious thinking patterns, and how to survive them in the meantime.