Do you spend a lot of time convincing yourself that there is something terribly wrong with you? Maybe I have cancer… Maybe there’s something wrong with my heart… That sensation isn’t normal, there’s definitely something wrong… These symptoms must mean there’s something wrong with me… Maybe I should Google them…
Then all of this leads to…
Many not so fun emotions
Calling your doctor or going to the ER
Obsessing over needing testing just to confirm that you are okay
Checking your body just to make sure you can’t feel anything concerning
Seeking reassurance from anywhere you can get it
Health anxiety was mostly triggered for me during and after panic attacks and in moments of calm (like right before going to bed). During really bad panic attacks, I would have symptoms like numbness, tingling, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, muffled noise in my ears, and feeling as though I was going to faint (and sometimes I did). I’ve always been extremely in tune with what’s going on in my body, and so any time I felt a little bit off, it would make my mind race.
I would convince myself that there was something terribly wrong with me. I would think things like, ‘I have to be dying. Maybe I have cancer or some terrible disease. I’m sure all of these tests aren’t going to actually find what’s wrong with me and I’ll just end up dying.’ And in moments of calm, like right before going to sleep, my mind would think of every possible thing that could be wrong with me. All of this would cause my fear of dying to strengthen.
Whether it’s health anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or agoraphobia, it’s extremely important to know what is contributing to your struggle (aka your anxiety triggers).
For me, my contributors of health anxiety were:
- Unhealthy, unproductive, and negative thoughts
My struggle with health anxiety was at its worst a couple of years or so after my parents divorced and I entered a toxic relationship. At the time, I was also in school and working part-time. I definitely hadn’t processed my parents divorce and I was just trying to run from the pain. My father wasn’t an active part of my life and that was really hard.
The toxic relationship that I was in was extremely stressful and unhealthy. He was verbally, mentally, and emotionally abusive, and at the end of our relationship he was physically abusive. I ultimately lost all of my self-confidence and self-worth. This relationship caused me so much mental and emotional harm. And physically, I weighed less than 100 pounds and was very sick.
All of this was traumatic and stressful. I never realized that stress could leave your mind and body in such a scary state. I was experiencing panic attacks on a daily basis and my body was incredibly weak. And on top of it all, I wasn’t making healthy lifestyle choices because I was just trying to run from the pain. I drank a lot of alcohol and made many not so smart choices.
And the worst part was, I had trained my brain to think so many unproductive, unhealthy, and negative thoughts. Thoughts that were guaranteed to cause a panic attack and/or make me question all of the things that could actually be wrong with me. Any time I felt the slightest bit anxious, scared, uncomfortable, or vulnerable, my brain would go straight to all of the what-if thoughts. What if I’m dying.. What if something is actually wrong with me..
So what did I do?
I healed from my traumas and the pain. I talked about them. I went to therapy. I faced all of the scary things that I always tried so hard to run from. I accepted what was and made the decision to move forward.
I made a promise to myself to reduce the stress in my life. I eliminated many toxic relationships. I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to do it all. I started saying “no.” I started to put me and my mental health first, always.
I started to challenge my thoughts. I started asking myself if what I was worried about or scared of had actually ever happened. I asked myself what the probability of it happening was. And if it had happened, I would ask myself if I had always worked through it. The answer to that question was always YES.
Then I worked to change my thoughts to productive, healthy, and positive ones. I used positive self-talk and I started being kind to myself. I gave myself productive, healthy, and positive messages every single day. I told myself things like, “I am healthy and I choose to live in this moment, otherwise I am not living. I am capable. I will overcome anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia”
I started to share my struggle with people rather than hold it all in. I shared the thoughts, fears, and experiences. The scary ones, the embarrassing ones, the hard ones… I shared it all because saying these things out loud released the power they had over me. And I also needed to be honest with myself about my thoughts and fears for my own well-being, and also for the people that were doing their best to support me so that they could fully help me to learn and grow.
I made all of these practices a habit because habits rewire your brain and eliminate anxiety and panic.
I know it’s hard, but you have to make a conscious decision to live in the right now. You are in control of your thoughts, which means you control your feelings and you can prevent the symptoms!
If you'd like even more helpful resources on health anxiety, check out these two podcast episodes: