This is where a person’s focus is dominated by worries about their health or those that they love becoming ill.
Medical reassurance doesn’t ease the concerns for very long and soon after having the ‘all clear’ confirmed then new or resurgent worries come to the fore again forming a vicious cycle.
A degree of concern about our bodies and minds is perfectly normal and helps us improve our lifestyles if things need changing, in order to optimise our health.
It becomes problematic when these worries are overwhelming and start to affect our day to day functioning and our thoughts about declining health become unfounded, such as knowing your dehydrated for example but thinking your headache must be symptomatic of something far worse. You begin to jump to conclusions by taking every-day passing symptoms as the start of a crisis or catastrophe. If your daily life is then impacted by these thoughts, such as not going out, resting too much, not remaining active, withdrawing from friends and family etc. then these behaviours are limiting your life.
You may also find that you develop checking behaviours such as self-examination or asking people their opinion, you can often revert to self-diagnosis via Google or medical journals finding you’re becoming an ‘expert.’ Not only is this unhelpful it is also potentially dangerous as you begin to convince yourself you have something life-threatening without any medical evidence to base this on.
Thoughts (I’m not well, I don’t feel right, it must be serious, it’s terminal, the Drs are wrong, funeral concerns)
Emotions (scared, frightened, nervous, on edge, withdrawn, detached, worried)
Behaviour (avoidance, checking behaviours, isolation, seeking reassurance, multiple GP visits, researching, acting ill)
Physiology (nervous sensations, dizziness, palpitations, nausea, aches, sweating)
- Recent losses;
- Recent prolonged stressful periods;
- A spate of stress-related symptoms that haven’t faded or been addressed;
- Interaction with loss, even if it wasn’t personal to you;
- Your own ill-health, such as medical conditions;
- Traumatic events in hospital or hearing about them third party; or
- Being around others who worry excessively about health issues
- Triggers lead to feeling of threat, tension and concern
- This leads to anxiety symptoms rising and continuing
- Meanwhile, negative thoughts and worse case scenarios build-up
- Meaning you check for symptoms, stay off work, focus excessively on your body and see your GP repeatedly. These behaviours only reduce the symptoms in the short-term though.
We can only be moderately accurate in assessing the health of our bodies so trying to become and expert without training is futile.
You’ll notice that the worrying about your health takes up a great deal of time, if you’ve found no evidence between you and your GP then what could that time have been used for if you’d been able to switch your mind set?
- What could you have achieved?
- Who could you have seen?
- What good things could you have initiated?
If you focus on parts of your body then you will notice what’s going on with them, such as if you poke at your arm long enough it will hurt and bruise, if you swallow 3 times then it becomes a bit harder to swallow a fourth time.
What are the advantages to worrying in this way?
What are the disadvantages?
You can begin to move away from seeking reassurance and starting to trust yourself. Reassurance and validation feel good, but they aren’t feelings that last.
Consider why your find yourself doubting professionals as well as yourself?
This may be down to self-esteem, low confidence, a desire to be recognised or notice, or linked to greater concerns about mortality, death, and knowledge about previous medical failings. You might not know the answers at first about how this came about for you, but it is worth having a think about this and reflecting on when this all started for you.
Helpful tools and strategies:
- Count how many times you’ve asked for reassurance and researched symptoms; you might be surprised about how much it’s happening. A visual fact may help you connect with this now being a problem.
- Count how many checks you’re carrying out each day and again, the total number may be surprising. Work towards reducing the number of checks slowly over a few weeks.
- Delaying checking and reassurance can also assist, if you can wait 5 minutes then see if the desire is still there to do these things- if it’s not then it was a passing impulse, if it sticks around then this delaying strategy will need some practice. You can increase the delays as the weeks progress to retrain your behaviours.
- If you found yourself acting ill or indulging in avoidance strategies, then make a list of all the activities you missed out on and create a schedule to allow yourself to get back into at least one activity a day, to help you adjust to including them in your routine again.
- Address negative worrying thoughts by using hard evidence to check to quality and rationality of the thought, then come up with a balanced thought that takes the evidence into account. Here’s a template to help you:
It’s about recognising there is a problem, looking at your triggers, how it’s impacting upon you and taking a first step to addressing these problems with one or more of the above tools. Reflection will be key and your first step into dealing with health anxiety.