As all of my readers are aware I am a hypochondriac. I don’t like to use the word “health anxiety” because it plays a little too much into a label – that pharmaceutical companies capitalise on. I prefer the term “Hypochondriac” It sounds latin and more romantic. A lot less severe than health anxiety. The word hypochondria is almost charming in a woody allen uptight neurotic kind of way. Doesn’t the word melancholy sound way better than depression. I vote we go back to those days.
But whatever name you want to give the monsters in your head to make them a little less scary is all right with me. Because they can be scary. They can keep you up at night. Or play like a record over and over in your head. I think we all carry a little crazy with us. But I have learnt and am still learning it’s what you do with this crazy that matters most. My top tips for overcoming hypochondria are things I have learnt along the way.
1. DO NOT GOOGLE. I love the internet even more than a millennial but do not google. I have been guilty of doing this many times. I often joke that I have a MD from the university of google. Just do not google because all searches end in cancer. I could google right now “I have a ridge in my pinky fingernail?” and I swear pancreatic lymphoma malignant stage 5 cancer will pop up as the first hit. If you must google do so wisely. Never google when you are in panic mode. Wait a few hours or days when your more rational mind is switched on. Then google softly using gentle search words like “common causes” “mild” & “usual”. A great way if you are suffering with health anxiety and feel the need to turn to the internet – is to search for home remedies websites. It can create a feeling of control and most home remedies are natural and usually harmless.
2.Distraction is key. Your innocently looking at your arm and notice a new freckle. Instead of panicking or obsessing about melanoma. Do something to distract you. Like watching teen mom, go shopping or meet a friend. Try meditation or perhaps some yoga. Get some work done you have been putting off. Chances are you will forget entirely about that freckle.
3. Reassurance. Do not ask for reassurance from people around you to make you feel better. Other people generally don’t want to peer in your ears even if they are ringing. Or examine your gums for signs of gingivitis. It’s annoying to others and you’re pushing your crazy on to them which is never a pleasant experience. And how long does that reassurance last anyway? The end goal is to be able to reassure and trust yourself.
4.The wait & see method. You are getting in the shower and notice a mild rash. Immediate thoughts pop into your head. Maybe an over working thyroid. Or maybe an under working thyroid. Possible long-term eczema with a side dish of diabetes. Stop the thoughts right there. And tell yourself “I won’t allow myself to worry about this for approx 1 week” That gives most common ailments time to heal And 9 times out of 10 whatever symptom/ rash/ problem you had has disappeared within the week. If the week is over is over and it’s still bothering you than you can take the next step. PS- that does not obviously apply to emergency situations.
5.Affirmations. Affirmations have been very powerful for me in overcoming my hypochondria. Because apparently in psychological terms these behaviours and thoughts occur also in our subconscious. Our brains get in a nasty habit of repeating negative thought patterns way more than thinking positive or good thoughts. Your “monkey mind” or internal chatter isn’t often telling yourself over and over “Gee I am bloody magnificent” or saying “Man I looked so good today”. NO. It’s saying “You need to call your mother you are a horrible daughter” or “I shouldnt have eaten that slice of pizza”. Or in a hypochondriac’s case “I am dying” or “This heartburn is a heart attack” . Flip these thoughts around immediately and replace them with “I am healthy” or “My body is working fine”. You don’t have to say it aloud because people might start to worry. But repeating positive statements will completely flip your hypochondria on its head. The more you say these statements to yourself the better and stronger and in more control you will think and begin to feel.
6.Make a list. If you are going through a rough patch of heightened health anxiety. Get your phone and write down the name of every illness you have imagined yourself to possibly have over the length of a week. Or two weeks or even a month. When your anxiety has lightened. Look at that list and see how ridiculous that long list of diseases is. It may read like a medical dictionary. But you can see objectively how nonsensical these thoughts are. And if you were to have all this imagined illnesses you would be dead already or at least on morphine in palliative care. But you’re not. You are reading a ridiculous list of unwarranted worries instead.
7.Have a sense of humour. Comedy is such a powerful tool in healing yourself and having a healthy sense of self-awareness. It makes the monster not so scary but something to laugh at and to mock instead. Ways in which I use comedy – is by writing here. Joking with friends and family. Have a sense of humour and try to see the funny side of things.
8.Meditation. Is also a powerful tool I use to cope with anxiety. For me it slows down my mind and helps me to see more clearly. I carry a lot of my tension in my muscles. Using progressive body relaxation helps me to release this tension. It also works in changing my energy. Meditation is a great way to pull your mind away from catastrophising the future and simply just being present in the moment.
9.Avoid obsessing. As much as possible. If some part of your body is in physical pain focusing on that and only that will only intensify the feeling of pain. Over thinking pain will also prolong pain. As hypochondriac’s we are hyper aware of our bodies. And when something goes wrong we tend to fixate on that and that alone. Obsessing can throw your pain scale out of whack completely. If you are in pain allow yourself to feel the pain and move through it. Realise it’s just pain and it’s not going to kill you. Or focus on another body part like your big toe or fingernail to shift your minds attention.
10. Logic. No one has ever accused me of being a logical person. I don’t often go from A to B. I go from A to maybe M and then circle back to the letter c. Then check out X on the way to Z. But logic is key to overcoming health anxiety. It’s about accessing that rational part of the brain that non hypochondriac’s do so naturally. Scenario 1- your leg has gone unusually numb and instantly you think this may signify a brain tumour or early onset MS. But then ask your rational brain “why is my leg numb? And it will come up with the amazing answer “hey dummy your leg is numb because you were sitting on it for half an hour while pinning things on pinterest”. No need to worry. Or scenario 2 – You notice a slight shake in your fingers. Hypochondria non logic brain screams Parkinson’s. Your non hypochondriac logical brain thinks “That probably has something to do with the 3 cups of coffee you drank in the last hour” You get the point. Try to access the logic and rational side of yourself. Sometimes its hiding but it’s really there waiting.
I hate to give advice because the only thing I am an expert on is the real housewives franchise and candy.
But if any of these tips or tricks may help even one person that is suffering with anxiety and panic I am glad to have shared with the whole internet my personal crazy .
Last but not least. Remember everything is going to be