Understanding Health Anxiety
So here's the thing, I've always been a 'worrier', but around eight years ago, I experienced what we in the business call, 'Real-deal, keep-you-up-at-night, swear-you-can-feel-your-heartbeat-in-your-eyeballs' anxiety. In my case, my mind focused on health worries. If my heart skipped a beat, I was sure it was a premonition I was on the brink of a heart attack. Got a tummy ache after gobbling up half a chocolate cake, which by the way Angus insisted that I share? Mesenteric ischemia! It's funny now, but back then, it was not! I was constantly worried about diseases, checking my body, running to the doctor and even staying awake at night scared of what might happen. This, my dear reader, is health anxiety.
The Impact of Health Anxiety
With health anxiety, you don't just believe, you 'know' that every body twinge, tummy rumble, or offbeat heartbeat is a sign of some terrible, life-threatening condition. And the internet? Oh, you're not helping! When you're already afraid, it's so easy to get lost in a Google rabbit hole. Hey, I've been there, refreshing the search page for 'symptoms of meningitis', at 3am, convinced by every listicle out there.
You know how they say know your enemy? Well, self-diagnosis based on Internet might cause more worries than healing. Though you might think you're just being careful, rather you're feeding your fears. Not to mention the fact that you're denying yourself the joy of living in the present because, well, oh no, that's a new mole! So, the implication of health anxiety are both psychological and physical, with one feeding into the other.
Health Anxiety and Mental Health
The criminal association between health anxiety and mental health is not to be understated. Health anxiety is more than just 'worrying too much'. It's chronic, and disruptive and if you let it, consumes both thought and action. Living with health anxiety is like being in a room with a big red panic button that shrieks 'Danger, danger!' at every turn. Honestly, it's emotionally exhausting and can have a significant impact on your mental wellness.
The Cycle of Health Anxiety
Repeat after me: Our bodies are WONDERFUL, but they are NOT perfect. So, yes it's bound to have ups and downs. And how do we master health anxiety? By understanding it! Health anxiety is a vicious cycle. It's a feedback loop of worry, physical symptoms, more worry, more symptoms. You worry about a symptom, and the very act of worrying causes more symptoms which you then worry about. And round and round we go. The key lies in breaking this cycle.
Breaking the Cycle
First things first, there's no glory in 'toughing it out'. If you're dealing with health anxiety, it's time to invite a mental health professional onto your wellness team. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an excellent way to shake up those established patterns of thought.
Together, you and your therapist can untangle the web of anxiety, find more constructive ways to deal with worries, and help you regain some much-needed peace of mind. And there is no shame in seeking help. Angus encouraged me to reach out when I was dealing with it and I thank myself everyday for listening to him
The Path to Wellness
Remember, though anxiety might be part of your journey, it does NOT define you. One of the things I found most helpful was a daily practice of mindfulness and meditation.
Connecting with your body in a positive, non-judgemental way can help counteract some of the negative internal narratives that accompany health anxiety. Above all, remember that each step on the path to wellness, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.
And ah, remember, no one's health is perfect, because guess what, no one is perfect! And that's perfectly okay.
Take it from me; life is more than a series of symptoms to be fretted over. It's a glorious, messy, beautiful journey and health anxiety doesn't have to be your travel companion. With a bit of work, understanding, and the right support, you can dismantle the power that health anxiety holds over you. So let's get cracking, shall we?