After many years of suffering with anxiety related specifically to my health it came as a great reassurance to me to learn I had Health Anxiety. Sounds crazy doesn't it? but the realisation that I was actually suffering from something specific rather than generalised anxiety seemed to sooth my mind.The anxiety came about from having various medical conditions including Crohn's Disease where despite being told I was now 'well' I was still experiencing a pain that persisted every day. I became obsessional about looking for this 'pain' as doctors furiously searched for another explanation.Years later It turns out it was likely to be linked to stress and anxiety (setting off my IBS) and when I calmed myself down or was distracted this pain would disperse into thin air.
The mind is so powerful and I have now gratefully become aware of what triggers me and what sort of behaviours and ways of thinking I gravitate towards when my health anxiety is being poke at. However I am painfully aware that for those of us that experience this type of anxiety the adding in of a deadly virus that is highly contagious surely cannot be ignored as a potential trigger.
For me it has never been about the fear of death (which I know is a common trait in health anxiety) but more the threat to my daily living and how it will change me as a person or overshadow my life. Someone once said to me 'But Anna it's not life threatening so why are you so worried?' and I replied 'no it's not life threatening but it threatens my life and everything I know.' Maybe for you during this pandemic it has been so difficult because it feels like it's robbing your life or if you got it it would lower your chances of happiness in some way?
This is why it is so important to talk through the irrational thoughts that come with all anxiety. They are often thoughts that start with 'what if' or 'what about if' and they are ALL hypothetical because they are based in the future. (which let's be honest we have very little control over and that can feel very scary but it has always been the case.) If this virus has taught us anything its that we only have power over today which will then influence our futures.
So is there a cure for health anxiety? Well... not a cure but an awareness and with knowledge comes power. Here are some tips that I have personally found helpful as well as my clients.
Stay in the here and now. Start to notice how much or your thoughts are 'what if''? and look for a time in your life where you're 'what if' thoughts came completely true?
Don't suffer alone talk to your friends and family or a therapist about your feelings.
Don't get stuck in the reassurance trap where you ask the same questions again and again, it will only last for so long and then return. Instead give yourself some reassuring mantras and when you want to ask the questions repeat them to yourself. My repetitive question was always 'I will get better won't I?' I then had to say to myself 'Yes I will, this will pass it is only temporary. This takes practice but is well worth the effort.
STAY OFF GOOGLE! it is not a trustworthy source and will make you feel better one minute and worse the next.
Limit news and social media.
Stop focusing on your symptoms and looking for the pain, cough, ache whatever it is. Your mind will only focus in more and create more anxiety and more discomfort. When you want to check stop yourself and do something else as a distraction. Live your life as if it isn't there.
Consider anti depressants to give you a leg up during this difficult time.
Chose not to think about it, yes we have a choice but you need to muster the strength not to go there. Ask yourself 'if I follow these thoughts will it take me anywhere good?' What else can I choose to do or think about today?
The best help I got was from close family and friends and an experienced professional therapist. It took time and I still get triggered now- but I know it will pass and I will come through the other-side. You are much more resilient than you realise.
I now have face to face and zoom appointments available please get in touch.