Managing health anxiety
"There must be something wrong with me, there must be – why else would I be feeling all these strange feelings within my body?"
If you resonate with this, you may be experiencing the regular repetitive thoughts that align with health anxiety. Sometimes brought on by a physical symptom that causes anxiety, and becomes a vicious circle as you perceive every physical symptom of anxiety as another ailment.
It is frustrating to spend another night in hospital hooked up to all the monitors, only to be told that there is nothing wrong. You have had all the tests and still, they find nothing. Surely, they must be missing something. So, you Google, regularly to try and find the answers yourself.
If your health anxiety is negatively affecting your life, there are some things you can do. With information so widely available, stories that would previously have been a once in a lifetime hearing, are now a common occurrence. Twenty years ago, adults were somewhat like innocent children with regards to health horror stories. Nowadays it is like taking a child to a playground and making them watch 10 people fall off the high climbing frame. Awareness has moved from a vague understanding to an in your face experience that leaves you feeling you are next.
Techniques to manage health anxiety
If you have concerns about your health, a doctor should be the first point of call. I urge you to insist on tests if your doctor is reluctant to perform them. When the tests show everything is good the following techniques can help you to accept that you are healthy and strong.
1. Turn off the screen
It is no secret that the thoughts in our head are manipulated by app algorithms. When you read information, your screen will send you more of the same. If you regularly click on articles about a person’s experience with a particular illness, you will see more related articles. This gives a warped representation of the virulence of the ailment. Alongside this, your brain cannot differentiate between real and imagined experiences. As you become emotionally involved in someone else’s experience your brain can take on the belief that it is your experience.
Make the choice to stop reading about it and take control of your thoughts. As a result, you will find that you are no longer targeted with health-related articles and the anxiety weakens.
2. Live mindfully and explore the feelings without judgement
You are a human animal with a wide array of emotions and physical feelings. Designed to take on some of our jobs, robots are unable to feel. Having feelings is what makes you human. Next time you feel something that would ordinarily concern you, allow it to be there and imagine (positively) what is happening inside of your body.
Your body does some fascinating things – is it peristalsis for example? The movements of the long circular muscles, primarily the digestive ones that move food through you without any conscious thought. Sometimes that same progressive wavelike movement occurs in other hollow tubes of your body. Perhaps you feel a muscle contracting or your heart beating. When we cannot feel movements within it is more distraction than anything else.
A distracted mind will not notice the internal goings-on, other times they will be your focus. Spend time getting to know your internal body in an accepting way. Some of the feelings will need remedying, just as you ease a rumbling hungry stomach with some nutritious food, a racing heart (that has been checked and found to be in good order) can be eased with a twenty-minute meditation.
3. Thought stopping and positive thinking
A few years ago, I was having dinner with a friend. She was telling me about a cancerous patch that she had removed from her face. My good friend is a stoic character, she appeared calm. As she was talking, I started to panic, I became very aware of myself rubbing a lump on my neck. While she continued to speak my entire focus moved to the lump on my neck as I realised that me rubbing it was a habit, something I regularly did without noticing. In fact, until that moment, I was not consciously aware I even had the lump or that I rubbed it. I became convinced that it was a problem.
The fear prevented me from booking a doctor’s appointment for a long time, but when I did, the doctor (who could barely feel the lump) told me it was not something I needed to feel concerned about however she booked me a blood test to make sure. The blood test results were spot on healthy.
Over the next year or two, I continued to “check” the lump. Make sure it was not growing, checked the internet to make sure I knew exactly what a cancerous lump feels like so I could check whether mine matched and so on…
I felt convinced the doctor did not perform enough checks, surely, she should have sent me for a scan, done more, checked more, not been so blasé. Health anxiety in its finest. Despite my hypnotherapy work, I am also human, and it can take me a while to process things too. Once I recognised what I was doing I made the conscious decision to stop.
I accepted that a blood test would have shown abnormalities and chose to take the belief that I am perfectly healthy. Every time I felt my hand go up towards my neck, I made the choice to put it back down. At first, it took some time to change the habit but choosing to take control of myself changed everything. The anxiety is no longer there, I know that I am healthy, and would you believe it – the lump is gone! I imagine my constant checking had created the lump in the first place.
When you make the choice to stop specific thoughts you are taking control. Therefore, you must be in control. The first step is to recognise yourself as healthy. Make the decision to trust the judgement of the doctor, your body, and its workings. Align this decision with your actions. You are healthy therefore you no longer need to research the ailment. Alongside stopping the research, scroll past any articles that are shown to you by the previously mentioned algorithms.
When you notice the physical feeling that you attributed to the ailment, accept it as a normal part of a working functioning body. Consider whether it is your body trying to tell you something, are you hungry, thirsty, tired, overwhelmed, overstimulated, burnt out etc or is your body performing a normal internal function.
Choose fascination above fear. Your body is a wonder. It functions in a miraculous way and it is functioning. Notice the difference between a machine, a robotic body, and you. Know that nothing within us is computer operated, we cannot input a function and have an identical output every time. You will feel different feelings within your body, choose to experience the feelings in the wonderful way a child might a release of wind!