Ahh the old favourite – health anxiety. This isn’t a topic I’ve written about before, or discussed for that matter, but it is something I often deal with and I wanted to try addressing it here to hopefully help people who may be going through something similar. TRIGGER WARNING – I talk openly and honestly about illness and symptoms so please don’t read if you’ll have a problem with this – it’s not even that good a post, so just don’t risk it.
So how long have I dealt with health anxiety? Well, I’d say around 15 years on and off. I’ve always had the worry that a pain in my chest is a heart attack, the nausea I’m feeling is definitely a stomach ulcer or the headache I have is 100% a stroke. If you suffer health anxiety then this will be all too familiar, in fact you’ve probably got a million things you could add to that list.
So how do I deal with it? Well in all honesty, I’m not sure I do. For me, my health anxiety doesn’t’ really control my life as such. I don’t, for example, avoid running up and down stairs for fear of increasing my heart rate, or I don’t spend my life in the doctors getting checked out because I’m convinced I’m going to die any minute. It does, however, affect my life in a way where worries do tend to stick in my head for a while and can develop into odd behaviours if I don’t address it. For this post, I wanted to offer something I believe many will relate to and may even offer some insight, so below I’ve written about just some of the ways in which my brain functions when it comes to illness and symptoms:
Heart attack or greed?
Indigestion pains for me is the most common one. I get indigestion and acid reflux regularly as part of my anxiety. I know it’s indigestion, I’ve had it for years, so you’d think realistically I could just go with that right? Nope! Naturally, any pains in my chest are a clear indication of a heart attack. If I have the pains over a 12 hour period, in my head I’m having an on/off heart attack that is coming and going (y’know, because heart attacks definitely aren’t instant and devastating and they often take 12 hours to decide if they’re going to set in or not…). It can take a while for me to realise that it is in fact indigestion as it was the 1000 times before.
Stroke or a headache?
Any face tingling what-so-ever means I’m definitely 100% having a stroke. I know this isn’t as common as the above, but I can get these feelings when anxious, or if I’m tired and your eyes are a bit ropey, or even just a headache/migraine. When I get these symptoms, my brain decides that I’m definitely not just tired or worn out and that I must be having a stroke. This has been on and off for the last 3-4 years, so I’ve either had over 100 strokes, or it’s the same feeling I’ve had that comes and goes and is completely harmless. Which is the most likely?
Cancer or over stretching?
I recently suffered a groin injury that caused pains in and around my groin area for over 3 months which was in my lower abdomen, inside of my legs and in other *areas*. Even though I’d done the standard check of the ol’ balls, (which I’m not even a bit embarrassed about, check your balls and boobs guys and gals as it could save your life) my brain was beginning to tell me I definitely had testicular cancer or prostate cancer. I’d made the epic fail of googling my symptoms and it boiled down to 3 things, a water infection that affected other areas, prostate cancer or testicular cancer. So according to that, it was a 2 out of 3 chance of definitely being cancer. So I finally, after another month, plucked up the courage to go to the doctors who did a thorough check, and diagnosed me with a water infection, IBS problems and a groin strain from exercise. After asking loads of questions, he prescribed me 2 weeks of very strong antibiotics. 3 weeks later, the pains are gone bar some small muscular pain. Not cancer at all.
Dying from lack of oxygen
Tight chest! This is a weird one. I’ve had this before and I was convinced I had some kind of breathing problem. After a trip to the doctors he informed me that I in fact had perfect breathing and was actually taking in more oxygen than I needed. What I was experiencing was anxiety and the various symptoms that came along with it. Since then, it pretty much stayed away until recently when I’ve noticed the feeling came back. I’ve been going through quite difficult times recently and noticed it increasing, particularly at work. When I’m not thinking about it I’m absolutely fine, however when I do think about it, it’s all I can think about! Just writing this is making me want to inhale deep to make sure I can in fact breathe which as you can see from my continued typing, I’m breathing quite fine.
The old favourite – nausea
This is the most difficult one for me and something I’m dealing with on a regular basis. One of the symptoms of anxiety that I’m dealing with at the moment is nausea and loss of appetite and I’d say it currently plagues me every day in some way. It has begun to affect my life, such as travel, going out for meals and eating in general and it got to the point where I was worried that because I’d lost appetite and felt sick at the thought of food, that I was beginning to develop an eating disorder. The tricky part is that it is also linked to IBS which I’ve had on and off for 6 years now, so symptoms can be fairly random. I’m working hard on this one because I know that it is just anxiety, it is just a symptom and it is my brain lying to me. I go out for meals, ensure I eat regularly and eat well and try not to worry that sometimes I’m not hungry or feel too anxious to eat. I try to reassure myself that feeling sick doesn’t always mean I am ill, and It’s OK to feel that way.
So yeah, these are just a few of the bizarre things my brain tells me when I feel something. An odd twinge has got to be a stroke, heartburn is actually a heart attack, nausea is definitely a stomach ulcer – all of which when rationalised is clearly part of our bodies and the way we function.
Health anxiety is a tricky one because our brains tend to run away with us and we don’t have a GP on hand every waking minute to keep us in check (side point, how amazing would that be?). I will just keep telling myself that I’m OK and I’m still here, and if it gets so bad, I’ll go to the GP. Chances are though, if I’ve been having pains in my chest for 3 days, it isn’t a slow heart attack and it just means I need to stop inhaling food at an embarrassing rate.