I talk a lot about eliminating negative “What if?” questions from your life, and for the most part I think its pretty black and white.
You ask a “What if?” question, then you use logic and reasoning…or a “Silly Statement”…..to talk your way through it until the urge to dwell on it passes.
However, I know that “What if’s?” about health concerns can be a bit tricky. I know that it is hard to downplay and make light of a fear that you might be having a stroke or a heart attack, or that you might have cancer, because if you don’t take it seriously….then it could potentially lead to a bad situation.
A lot of us have ended up in the ER at least once due to thoughts such as “What if I am having a heart attack?” and that is because the symptoms can be so intense and overwhelming sometimes, that there really seems to be no way to be sure that what we are feeling isn’t something life threatening.
We think, “Why chance it? I better go to the hospital.”
And that is the smart thing to do.
If you genuinely aren’t sure if you are having a heart attack, and if you are having some symptoms that are a little “iffy”…its best to go and get looked at, especially if it’s the first time you are experiencing the particular type of symptoms that are causing you concern at that moment.
These types of vague “iffy” symptoms are one reason why it is SO important to get a medical check up when your anxiety symptoms first break out, and then to maintain regular check ups.
You need to know from the get-go what kind of physical shape you are in, so that you can then reason with yourself when you are in the middle of a health scare. If you have been to the doctor and he tells you that you appear to be all clear, then it makes it easier to talk yourself through those times when you are having “vague” symptoms and aren’t sure if you should be concerned or not. This is especially true if you are open and honest with your doctor about all your anxiety related concerns and fears and ask specifically about the symptoms you need to take seriously.
If you haven’t done so already, make an appointment, get a physical and explain your situation with your doctor and tell him or her that your anxiety symptoms can be tough to interpret and you need some general guidelines to follow.
I would say that most general practitioners are very experienced at dealing with patients who have anxiety, and would be able to give you some reassurance, and let you know when its time to be concerned and when it’s not.
And of course, if your doctor says you are having some medical issues, then you can ask for those symptoms that you need to watch out for, and also, for those symptoms that its okay to take a “wait and see” approach.
The minds of those of us with anxiety can become so quickly cluttered, and our thinking all jumbled up…especially when we are mentally tired and under stress…. and I have found that it helps knowing I have a plan in place….a system of sorts….that I can refer to and follow when my own judgement seems to be spinning around like a compass needle gone haywire. If this happens…then this is what I do. Just leaving my own thoughts completely out of it can make all the difference.
I have learned to manage my fears of having “immediate” health issues such as a heart attack or an aneurysm. Over the years I have learned to trust my instincts as to what is adrenaline related and what isn’t. But I still live with a lot of health related anxieties involving longer term illnesses such as cancer.
As with most people with anxiety, my sense of self-preservation is very strong. I want to live. I like living. Living is good. And if I sense that something is threatening my living….I have a problem with that. I have spent many, many hours of my life sitting in front of a computer, Googling symptoms, certain that I was about to click on an article that confirmed I was terminally ill.
My hypochondria might not be so bad except that I find it hard to know what is a “real” concern and what is not when it comes to my health.
In non-health related matters, usually my gut instincts will tell me when I am just being ridiculous and when I have a valid reason for concern, and I can usually talk my way through whatever fear I am having. But it isn’t so simple for me when it comes to my hypochondria. In my family, I have seen some cases of the “unusual”, when it comes to health and I am always wondering if I am going to be the next one that some rare illness happens to.
For instance, my mother died of mesothelioma when she was 57. Mesothelioma….that rare asbestos cancer that is often presumed to only affect blue-collar males, and most people only know about from the commercials on TV, killed my mom. And now I have a great concern that it may have affected me as well.
“What if this pain in my chest means mesothelioma?” is a thought i have quite often.
When I get dehydrated, especially first thing in the morning, I tend to get a little short of breath until I get a big drink of water in me. This happens to me almost daily, so you would think I would be used to it by now, yet when it does, for a few seconds I always think “Is this it? Is this the shortness of breath that is the signal to my mesothelioma?” That was my mom’s first symptom so I am always a little wary of anything being “off” with my breathing. Then I always get my drink of water and end up feeling fine shortly after and then the cycle repeats itself the next day.
Is this rational? The doctors tell me no, that this is not a rational concern. They say mesothelioma is rare and that my mom got it because she was exposed to asbestos and THAT is responsible for what happened to her and the chances of it happening to me are very slim.
But rational thinking has never exactly been my forte.
In my mind, I think “We THINK we know how she was exposed to asbestos, but how do we REALLY know if or how she was exposed to asbestos? What if it wasn’t asbestos at all, but she just had some rare kind of mesothelioma that is strictly genetic and I end up getting it too? ”
Or I think “What if I was exposed to asbestos too, and it is only a matter of time before the cancer reveals itself in my body?”
I have done a lot of reading on mesothelioma and I know that it isn’t very common, but there are many incidences of family clusters of mesothelioma so how do I know that my mom’s wasn’t genetically related and that I don’t have the same cancer causing genes that she had?
Plus I lived with her half of her life. I was born on an Air Force Base and lived in military housing which I think it is safe to say was probably dripping in asbestos. So if she was exposed, I easily could have been exposed too.
The urge to dive into this fear and analyze all the wretched possibilities is so strong that I had to literally force myself to stop typing those words in the previous paragraph because I could feel myself being drawn in like a moth to a flame. My heart is telling me it is very rational to pick this mesothelioma fear apart and examine it microscopically. It tells me to keep searching until I find something or some way to make myself feel better about all of this.
But those of us with anxiety can’t listen to our hearts.
Believe me when I say that our emotional side simply cannot be the one running the show.
We have to listen to our heads…our logical side. While our emotional side is running wild with theories and drama and worst case scenarios…our logical side will stay calm and give it to us straight. It will let us know when its time to be really concerned and when it isn’t.
This doesn’t mean our emotional side won’t be standing behind our logic jumping up and down, waving its arms in a desperate plea to get our attention….but we simply have to turn around and walk away.
I also live with the knowledge that my husband had a heart attack at a very young age….34 years old. After that happened, my panic disorder erupted and I was always scared that I was now having a heart attack too. It took a long time and a few trips to the ER before I finally desensitized myself enough to be able to see things clearly and I was able to determine that yes that WAS an irrational fear and I haven’t had it since.
We all have our own reasons for having the health concerns we have.
And they can certainly be caused/complicated by watching our loved ones as they are sick or dying. But there does come a point where we have to ask ourselves if we have a legitimate reason to worry. If the doctor tells us we are okay, and we have been to the ER 5 times and are told nothing is wrong, and we have been in for an office visit every two weeks and had every blood test and x-ray the doctor can think of, and the results are ALL normal….then its time to move on from it and put the thoughts and statements that I talk about here into play.
What we hypochondriacs are looking for is 100% certainty that we are okay.
I get that. I live that. I know exactly how it feels. But I have to make the choice and we ALL have to make the choice to stop listening to our fearful emotions and start listening to our logic and our bodies and let them tell us when we need to be concerned.
It is a hard thing to do and I know that. It is a hard thing for me to just sit around and “wait” until I start feeling some shortness of breath or develop a cough because I know by then, it’s probably too late to do anything about mesothelioma and I probably only have 6 months to a year to live. And that thought terrifies me to no end. But at the same time, I have to remind myself that I cannot live my life trying to stay one step ahead of mesothelioma. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. All my worrying and all my attempts to micromanage and take control of the situation by being hyper vigilant and overly concerned……none of that is doing anything for me but ruining the time I have now. I have had to make the choice to refuse to indulge these fears until I know I have a real reason to be concerned. It’s the only way to have any kind of life at all.
So when I start having those concerns, I always distract myself.
I never give in to them and allow myself to go on a worry binge. I know there are no answers that are going to satisfy me. I know that there is no available screening, or amount of analyzing in the world that is going to tell me if I am going to get this cancer. So I just do my very best not to take the bait. I immediately go to “No….not thinking about that.”, and then I eventually get my mind on something else. And like I said, I go through my periods where this lurks in my subconscious and it lasts for a week or two but then eventually I forget about it for another few months. If I didn’t make the conscious decision to let it go….I would be obsessed with it all of the time, every single day. Believe me, I want to gnaw on this fear like a dog with a bone….that is how strong my desire is. But while that might satisfy my cravings, I will hate myself when I am done and I will realize what a time waster it was so I just don’t let myself go there.
Sometimes you just have to give it up.
Give up your concerns to God or the Universe or whatever higher power you believe in. You don’t even have to give it up “to” something. You can just drop it, leave it where it lie, dust yourself off and move on.
We have to realize that sometimes there are problems in this world bigger than us. There are potential situations bigger than us and there are things that we simply can’t do anything about. Making peace with that fact is one of the greatest things we can do for our emotional health.
When it comes to our health, we can be as health conscious as possible, do all the right things, and see our doctor regularly….but aside from that, we cannot climb into our bodies and control the workings of every cell. Those cells have the control. They have the power and yes, we just have to sit around and wait for them to tell us when there is something to be concerned about it. All the worrying and dwelling and pondering isn’t going to do anything but give us a false sense of control over something that deep down, we know we can’t do anything about. We need to accept that we can’t do anything about it, and let it go.
The final point that I want to talk about here is that, much like any other anxiety symptom we might have, hypochondria can be the result of a bored mind. Those of us with anxiety are creative people with big imaginations, and if we aren’t feeding that creativity, then our subconscious will feed it for us. But our subconscious tends to be very negative so what it comes up with isn’t usually so pretty. It is usually scary and dramatic and anxiety producing. It would be much better if we would feed our imagination in positive ways through art, music, or hobbies then to give it a chance to start digging through the attic up there trying to come up with something on its own.
The truth is readers, that our subconscious is much like my then 3 year-old son who used to take his dirty diapers off so he could drive his trucks through the “mud” : If you don’t give it something to occupy itself in a healthy and positive way, then there is a good chance its going to get bored and start stirring up a bunch of crap.
Thanks for reading.
Photo Credit: Woman at Computer Bing Free to Use Commercially Images
Photo Credit: Nervous Woman Yahoo Free To Use Commercially Images