Dear 100 Hour Board,
Do any of you deal with health anxiety? How do you stop worrying that you are dying of some disease or another all the time?
-so many worries
I haven't received any official diagnosis, but I think I might have a generalized anxiety disorder. I feel a constant level of anxiety and my mind will take the overall stress and find random things to assign the anxiety to. I don't typically stress about getting sick like the flu... but I do definitely stress about health. Lately, my health anxiety has been about infertility. I really want to have children someday, and I am CONSTANTLY over monitoring my menstrual cycle for abnormalities and then looking up whether what I see are symptoms of PCOS or something like that (my mom developed PCOS after 6 kids). Most of my fears don't revolve around death, just around having lots of unfortunate things happen to me, having to pay for it, having to be in the hospital, or helping people around me cope with the deaths of their loved ones. I also stress about my genetic profile and what kinds of health issues I'll experience in the future.
Even though I'm also a worrier, I'm also a realist. The best way I deal with any anxiety is by writing out what I have control over, and what I don't. Then when I start to stress about the uncontrollables, I talk myself through the facts. I acknowledge the physical, emotional, and financial supports that are available to me if things go wrong. I also try to connect with Heavenly Mother and Father for peace if it's just too overwhelming.
Lately, I've tried my best to really put effort into the things I *can* control. As long as I take care of myself by exercising and eating as healthy as is possible for me right now, then the rest of life just... is what it is. I don't like it, but seeing death and disease as facts of life that I am not responsible to "fix" makes me feel at least a little bit better.
I don't think I have health anxiety exactly, but this has been an interesting year for me health-wise. For several years I've been exhibiting symptoms, none of which were particularly serious, but which made life a lot more frustrating.
Then about six months ago, I got a diagnosis that explained literally every symptom I'd been having, and getting appropriate treatment for that has alleviated a lot of the issues I've been dealing with.
That being said, I'm 26 years old, and being diagnosed with a medical condition that I'll have for the rest of my life was an anxiety-inducing experience. I'm very grateful to have health insurance and the ability to pay for treatment, but prior to now it was never important to me to have regular doctor appointments or to monitor my health. And now, with this diagnosis, life and health feel more fragile. Thankfully it's an easily treatable condition, but I do feel more anxiety related to my health than I've ever felt before.
My best advice is just to live a healthy lifestyle. Control the things you can control, like eating well, exercising, and having regular check-ups. And if anything is bothering you, bring it up with your health care provider. I find that looking things up and doing research on my own is only more anxiety-inducing. So keep track of any symptoms or problems, and check in with your health care provider when necessary.
My experience with anxiety has long been pretty generalized or limited to social triggers, but last year it coalesced into something quite close to health anxiety towards the end of the Winter 2020 semester, when I had a caffeine overdose coupled with severe anxiety that gave me intense chest pain. The feeling was so foreign and frightening that I developed anxiety about having a cardiac issue of some kind, especially something sudden and life-threatening. Unfortunately, strong anxiety for me tends to manifest as more chest pain, which exacerbated the fear about heart trouble in a vicious circle. It entirely debilitated me for a while during this past summer, despite the fact that I appear to be the peak of cardiac health. Ultimately, the anxiety for me only became manageable once I was prescribed medication. It took some months to figure out what worked and what didn't, but now I feel almost back to normal, if more easily fatigued than usual.
I really hope your experiences with health anxiety aren't anything like mine, and that comparatively you're just worrying a little too much. But if they are, and your worries start to become really disruptive, it might be worth looking into counseling and/or anti-anxiety medication.
I might? I've had anxiety since I was 10 and unfortunately for me, that anxiety manifests itself with physical symptoms. It initially started out with really bad stomachaches. I was in 5th grade at the time and I actually ended up missing most of the year because I was always sick. My mom would go to my teacher periodically to pick up work packets so I could keep up with the material. No one knew the cause of my illness. The pain from my stomach would get so bad that occasionally I wished I would just die so the agony would stop. I could hardly eat thanks to constant nausea. My parents took me in to the hospital multiple times, but all the various tests they tried showed I was perfectly healthy except for the fact I was in too much pain to attend school and was losing a dangerous amount of weight (most children will no longer have their clothes fit because they've grown out of them; my clothes fit wrong because they were much too big for my suddenly and drastically thinner frame).
After nearly a year of this, it was determined that the cause of my stomachaches had to be psychological. My parents did bring me in to see a psychologist to try and help me get better but this did not end well. The psychologist treated me as a child (which to be fair I was), but I despised what I perceived as condescension. Due to my deep hatred of that whole experience I resolved I would just get better by myself. To make matters worse I was convinced at the time that 'psychological' meant 'not real' and could/should simply be overcome by sheer force of will. And so I willed myself to health. Through the awful sickness, I would repeat a mantra in my head that I wasn't sick and felt perfectly fine. Because, you see, the crux of my anxiety was that I was sick all the time and nothing the doctors did made me better. I was stuck in an endless loop where I was in terrible pain, thus producing anxiety, thus inducing more pain.
While I did eventually get to the point where I wasn't in constant agony from my stomach (through essentially lying to myself with that mantra), and was able to keep down more than a couple of saltines per day (seriously--I had to carry around a ziploc baggie of cheese, saltines, and jerky with me because I couldn't eat more than a couple of bites at any one time), this is still an ongoing struggle for me. It's scary to be wracked with pain from my stomach, coupled with headaches, sudden physical weakness, and bloody noses (all other symptoms I've accrued over the years). Simply getting anxious over something then becomes its own source of anxiety for me. And whenever I legitimately get sick with something that I'm not used to dealing with (so beyond normal colds, stomach flu, etc.), it can throw me into a panic attack.
As I've gotten older, the thing that helps the most when I get super anxious is mindfulness and breathing. Focusing on my breath helps so much in the moment and can keep me from spiraling into an anxiety feedback loop. Mindfulness and taking stock of where I am, taking a step back to observe my worries and anxieties maintains better mental health.
I wish I could offer better advice, but to be honest, this is something I'm still plagued by. But hopefully by writing this I'll at least provide some consolidarity.