As I woke up one Thursday morning in a full blown sweat, I was almost certain I was going to die.
In roughly 10 hours, if I was lucky, I may have managed to squeeze out three hours of sleep.
All night I had been kept awake by a persistent and wretched cough, coupled with a duet of heatwaves and massive chills.
It must have been two years since I had the ‘man cold’.
Earlier during the week my suspicion I was catching a cold became confirmed by splitting headaches and rather bad nasal congestion.
For the first day I stayed home with no concern and took the time to rest and catch up on some Netflix.
By day three there was a little voice in my head convincing me I was terminally ill.
My History With Health Anxiety
If you know my story, you probably know my past has been riddled with health problems, the greatest of which was Leukemia (cancer of the blood) when I was younger.
As I grew older and developed anxiety, much of my anxiety began to focus on my health.
Ironically, all of this worrying never did my health any benefits, but the gravity of it was still extremely hard to escape.
I have always been capable of turning a common cold into lung cancer, a headache to a brain tumor, or a slight pain in my side to liver failure.
You could almost say I am like the opposite of Jesus, capable of performing miracles in reverse (inside my head at least).
My Recent Heart Scare
Despite having Leukemia, and some mild family history of heart problems, my heart has never been something that has concerned me.
After all, I am active, I rarely drink, I don’t smoke, and realistically my only vice is the occasional indulgence of fast food.
The times in which I encounter physical anxiety are the only times I am ever aware of my heart. My heartbeat becomes rapid, and my breathing shallow.
I must say it would be very frightening if I did not recognize it for anxiety and would likely result in me panicking further.
Note: Recognizing symptoms for the smaller things they are is a key to overcoming health anxiety.
Fast forward to a month ago:
It was an epic return to the gym after months off due to an intense injury I had been dealing with.
For the first time in months I could finally train with my old gym partner again.
Of course like any males in their mid 20’s would do, we went straight to the bench press and followed it up with a massive chest day.
The following night I noticed the pulsing of my heart right under my chest.
For once in my lifetime I actually approached it with logic and evaluated the circumstances.
I figured I had done chest the night before and it was in my nature to tweak muscles, especially since it had been so long since I had worked out.
However, after two weeks I was still experiencing the same symptoms, and naturally my health anxiety began to grow.
By the third week I was nervous to eat anything that wasn’t greener than the hulk for fear it was going to clog my arteries and give me a heart attack!
My girlfriend would ask if I want take out for dinner and I would shout back in despair “I’m too young to die!”. (This is an exaggeration)
My health anxiety was driving me to the brink of insanity.
After three weeks of living with concern and feeling my energy deteriorate from anxiety and stress, I finally went in to see a doctor.
Guess what he said:
Your heart sounds fine, it looks like you just tweaked a muscle in your chest causing you to be aware of the local area.
There I was thinking I knew that…
The medical term for an unusual amount of health anxiety is called Hypochondria.
Personally I am not sure if it is an anxiety disorder in its own right, or a result of other underlying anxiety disorders.
However, I do know from frequenting this forum, that I am not the only one who deals with this issue.
In fact, I would be so bold to say that roughly 50% of people with anxiety have some form of hypochondria.
We are humans, we are wired to survive. Why would we not be concerned with our health?
Defenses Against Hypochondria
So how do we stop something that is quite literally wired into our DNA?
Before I give any tips, I must let you in on some news…You will never rewire your DNA and your health will always be of concern to you. As it should be.
However with a few simple suggestions, you can make more educated assumptions and save yourself any additional stress.
I am not a doctor, I am just mentioning what has helped me.
I feel like google can convince the average Buddhist Monk to worry about a disease that doesn’t exist if he searches for long enough.
As someone who likely already suffers from anxiety, your defenses are down and google is here to hijack your mind.
If you have ever google searched symptoms for something, you likely know what I am talking about.
I am not sure how many health conditions are out there, but there are certainly more conditions than there are possible side effects.
This leaves a list of only maybe 25 possible side effects and 1000+ physical and mental ailments.
To put it simply this creates a HUGE overlap of side effects.
Sure frequent headaches may be a sign of a brain tumor but headaches are also a side effect of the common cold, mild dehydration, adrenal fatigue, or even stress.
In fact, stressing about headaches being a brain tumor may very well be what is giving you the headaches!
If I had google searched about my heart scare it wouldn’t have taken me three weeks to start worrying.
My stress levels probably would have killed me before I made it to the second week.
Visit A Medical Professional ASAP
Now that we have revoked the prestigious Dr. Google of its authority in your health matters, it is time you saw a real medical professional.
I myself am not one*
Should anything health related consistently stress you out, rather than let it continue to burden you or actually develop into something, go to the doctor immediately and get it figured out right away.
Take the weight off of your mind.
When I was four years old my mother had health anxiety about her little boy.
One weekend I had a cough
possibly worse than the one I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
My mom took me to the doctor almost immediately, only to find out I had early stage cancer.
Had she waited, who knows what could have happened. Instead it was (relatively) easy to treat and I live to tell you the story today.
I realize this story is entirely counter-productive to the message I am trying to convey but then again, you can never be too careful.
Recognize And Identify
At the end of the day, you know your body best.
When undergoing a health scare do a realistic body survey.
Is this something you have experienced before? How many times have you worried about this same problem before?
Recognizing my racing heart as anxiety prevents me from worrying about a possible heart condition.
Recognizing specific muscle pains or spasms prevents me from worrying about something internal.
If a problem is alien to you, do yourself a favor: Skip Google, and go straight to the doctor!
It may sound obvious but the best way to prevent health anxiety is to stay in good health.
Eat properly, stay sober, stop smoking, exercise, etc. I am not here to lecture you, I am sure you understand what a healthy lifestyle looks like.
When confronted with health concerns always remember the three steps listed here: Identify and Recognize, Avoid Google, Visit a Doctor ASAP.