Originally published January 27th, 2019
Today, friends, we’re going to talk about a little something called health anxiety. Well, I say “a little something”; it’s actually a big part of my life, unfortunately. I’ve written about my experiences with health anxiety before on the wonderful Ellie Segall’s blog Be Ur Own Light. However, since my health anxiety has been playing up so catastrophically lately, I figured it was time to write about it on my own site.
As you might have guessed from its name, health anxiety is anxiety that focuses on your health. Revolutionary, right? You might also know this condition as “hypochondria”, although I’m not a fan of the term myself as it’s frequently used to mock people. Trust me; health anxiety is no joke.
When you have health anxiety, you continually and obsessively worry about your health. There might be a particular condition or disease that you’re terrified of getting; cancer, multiple sclerosis, and strokes are regular culprits. In your mind, every single symptom that you experience – no matter how seemingly minor it might be – is evidence that you’re dying. A little twinge in your head? It’s a brain tumour. Pins and needles in your hands? You’re definitely having a stroke. Had a few digestive issues lately? Better make a will, because bowel cancer is coming for you.
That last situation is the one I’m in now. I feel dreadful and guilty even typing this, especially since I know people with family members going through this exact disease right now, but yeah. I’ve been having scary symptoms for a month now that COULD be a sign of bowel cancer. They also could be a sign of around five other conditions, but with health anxiety, that doesn’t matter. Your mind immediately assumes the worst, and fear and worry start to consume you. You can’t sleep, you can’t focus on anything, and you certainly can’t just “forget about it”.
Trying to rationalise the situation is pointless; the anxiety overrides all reason. It doesn’t matter that my GP has told me it almost certainly isn’t anything serious: they could be wrong, right? Sure, nearly 90% of cases of this illness are in people over the age of 60, but I’m probably just in the younger 10%.
Health anxiety is exhausting, it’s emotionally draining, and it’s even a bit embarrassing. I don’t want to be so caught up in what seems like such a ridiculous worry cycle. However, whenever I try to tell myself that my fears are unjustified, an insidious little voice in my head whispers that I might be right… And the whole worrying process begins anew.
To be honest, I don’t have a positive way to end to this post. I don’t really know what to do to make this any better! Even getting definitive medical evidence that I am not, in fact, dying wouldn’t solve it. Sure, I may not be dying of cancer now… But what if I am in the future?
I guess I just needed to get how I’m feeling out in words, and raise awareness of the fact that this form of anxiety is a thing. If anyone else has been through this and has any advice or tips on how to cope, please, send them my way: I’m all ears. For now, I’ll just nervously await my GP appointment on Wednesday and try to stop Googling my symptoms. Easier said than done…