How do you deal with your health anxiety?
April 14, 2018 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I’m almost 40, have dealt with lifelong health anxiety, it’s pretty well managed for the most part, but it’s still a “low-hanging fruit” for my anxiety machine. How do you deal, especially as you get older?

I’ve always had health anxiety but recently it ramped up when I got PTSD from witnessing a loved one’s medical emergency. Thankfully she is fine now, and I successfully completed trauma-based therapy for the PTSD, but I still get caught up pretty easily into anxiety-land about health stuff.

For example, after the medical emergency I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and put on meds, and although it’s managed well and always within the normal range when I go into the doctor, I had to stop testing at home because any high readings would make me anxious. (And I would be testing all the time, and just out of anxiety - like, what if it’s high Right Now!? and then spiraling into worrying about subsequent death by heart attack or stroke. I am like “Sheesh!” just typing this.)

I am realizing that with age comes health stuff. I have big fibroids that don’t currently cause me any issues but freaked me right out when I was diagnosed, a hiatal hernia with associated GERD which is not super troublesome with diet and medication, and I’m about 80 lbs overweight (and working on it!)

I know we all have something, and that no one has (or is guaranteed) perfect health, but I think I could use some anecdotal assistance. I’m interested in hearing about how you deal with health anxiety, especially in terms of living healthfully while also enjoying life (I have a hard time with that) and not letting health issues or concerns take over. Thank you.
posted by fleecy socks to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
god i just repress everything as much as possible and then have a build-up panic attack like 2x a year. thinking about any of it even slightly has done me absolutely no good and has served no actual valuable purpose in my life.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:50 PM on April 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

The things that seem to help with this are cbt and mindfulness. You could go to a cbt therapist and read feeling good by David burns to get some practicle activities to help with these not helpful or productive thoughts. Mindfulness has also helped me with this sort of thing, I like headspace.
posted by Kalmya at 6:07 PM on April 14, 2018

I have health anxiety that used to leak over into other areas of my life and caused a great deal of stress. I also have a couple of chronic medical conditions that aren’t extremely serious but that do require regular monitoring and medications.

What has helped me most is training myself to stay current with annual exams and tests—regular mammograms, dental exams, blood tests, Paps, annual physicals,etc. This has taken me awhile, but doing this helps me feel so much more in control and that I’m being proactive about my health rather than only worrying about it, and the odds are that by being in regular contact with my doctors, they will most likely discover any issues early.

I’ve also really tried to wean myself away from doing online research about medical issues unless I’ve been formally diagnosed. For me, there’s a big difference between the fear of “What if I have xyz?” and “My doctor has diagnosed me with xyz, there’s a plan in place, and I want to be informed.”

I’ve also learned to be very honest and upfront with my doctors about my health anxiety. Just admitting that I am anxious seems to lower my anxiety—and this type of anxiety is not uncommon. Doctors deal with this type of anxiety all the time.

And lastly, I’ve learned to remind myself that if/when medical issues do come up, I don’t have to deal with them alone. My doctors are the experts and it’s their job—not my job—to figure out and implement a plan.

I hope some of this is helpful. My life has been so different since I’ve been able to work on getting my health anxiety under control. Good luck to you!
posted by bookmammal at 6:38 PM on April 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

YMMV but what's worked for me has been a combo of antidepressants, CBT, and a strict rule of "Don't Google it."
posted by noxperpetua at 6:42 PM on April 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am very very bad about this. When I was in kindergarten I heard about leukemia. That consumed my nights until sixth grade, when I learned of breast cancer. Since then it has been an exhilarating ride of AIDS fears, pancreatic cancers, Alzheimer’s, and slow crawling lung cancer fears, and really that is just the top of my head.

I deal with this through medical marijuana, occasional benzos, and occasional ineventories, like sometimes I just surf from one form of debilitating illness or death to the next. When I line them up, in listicle form, it’s kind of amusing.

Like could I combine a meteor and a tumor.

That would be ideal.

So...try to find the funny?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:10 PM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Relentless logic helps, like I keep reminding myself that if I had actually been having 2 heart attacks a week for the last, oh, thirty years I’d probably be dead by now. Klonopin helps - just knowing I have it if I truly need it is good, although I suspect I should probably take it more often than I do. Writing everything down in horrifying detail is good, because when I read it a week or two later I realize how insane it all sounds. Quitting smoking was a good move. Likewise quitting meat, although I did that more for ethical reasons than health.

But honestly I just live with it. Have for years, always will. My two heart attacks a week aren’t going anywhere. A well meaning friend said to me recently that I couldn’t actually have anxiety because I am always doing “brave” things. She doesn’t get that I have to do “brave” things BECAUSE I have anxiety. If I give in for one minute I will go to bed and never get out. I will not let the anxiety win. I am much too stubborn and angry for that. So I recommend you cultivate your anger and your stubbornness. You just have to keep going and you win.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:13 PM on April 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

I always tell my coaching clients to be more Spock than Kirk, and I definitely take my own advice.
I get down into the data; look at my blood work numbers, then take concrete action each day to make sure they stay in the healthy range. I look at my range of flexibility, and then do some yoga or stretching. I look at my weight and then do my low carb, intermittent fasting thing. I look at how much I can bench press or curl, and go to the gym 3 times a week and keep meticulous records.
I try not to "pre-worry" about things, and just focus on the hour, the day, the week, and the actions within my control to keep my health on track. Everything is connected.
I'm 57 at this time, and I am coming to realize that it's not going to get any easier, some of those data points will begin to slip, and I definitely stay away from Doctor Google and rely on my own GP.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 3:07 AM on April 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

CBT can be a great tool, but it's not for everyone. I tried it and personally was not a fan. However, I know lots of people who swear by it. If you give it a try and find it isn't up your alley, DBT or ACT could be a good alternative. I personally love DBT and have found it especially helpful for my anxiety.
posted by snowysoul at 6:36 AM on April 15, 2018

So I've been dealing with very similar stuff to what you have going on (health anxiety after a health crisis of a loved one). After years of hemming and hawing and not being happy with the situation, I told me doctor about this and they recommended talk therapy (CBT). This has been an absolute game changer for me. I realized a while ago in therapy that I do certain things, similar to your repeated blood pressure checking, because I unconsciously believe(d) that the act of checking somehow magically protects me from horrible health things happening. Does this ring a bell for you? Just understanding that some of my health worries have a ritualistic character made things much easier for me to handle. Like, I can notice minor physical symptoms now without going full "I will die from XXX horrible disease", basically I can notice symptoms, think "If I still feel this way tomorrow I'll go to the doctor", and continue with my day.
posted by CompanionCube at 7:14 AM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

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