TW: Health anxiety, hypochondria, self harming // Information in this post should not be taken as medical advice. If you're concerned about anything I talk about in this post, contact your GP.
In the Summer of 2019, I suffered from the worst bout of health anxiety I’ve ever had. I spent WEEKS unable to focus or concentrate, laying in bed staring at the ceiling, convincing myself of the worst and even physically harming myself from prodding and poking so much. I wrote a more detailed post about my own experience with health anxiety last year but today I’m going to go into much more detail about how to deal with hypochondria.
I’ve suffered from a lot of anxiety for a lot of years around a lot of different things. It’s been exhausting and I feel like I need a decade to hibernate and rest from it tbh! But now, in Summer of 2020, after almost a decade of a severe anxiety disorder, I’m feeling *almost* normal. But what the heck even IS normal anymore?
I’m in a really good place with my anxiety now and I want to mention this because years ago, I never thought it was possible. I never thought I’d be able to lead even a shred of a normal life ever again. But in December of 2019, I was officially un-diagosed with anxiety. So it IS possible.
And that goes for Generalised Anxiety Disorder (what I had) and hypochondria. I’ve successfully managed to beat them both. And that’s probably my proudest achievement to date. But I know how debilitating hypochondria can be. If you read my previous post about my health anxiety, you’ll be able to see how it affected me.
So let’s talk about how to deal with hypochondria and some effective coping tips:
Don’t be ashamed of your hypochondria
First things first, your hypochondria is nothing to be ashamed about. Like any other mental illness. We want to break the stigma around mental illness and whilst hypochondria is looked upon with really negative connotations attached to it, it is a mental illness and it is common. And it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed about. So first things first, is try to accept where you are with your hypochondria and go from there.
Visit your GP or bring it up at your next appointment
Bringing it up with my nurse is what started the ball rolling for me to actually deal with my health anxiety. If you have an appointment booked for something else, bring it up and talk it out. Sometimes, medication can help. It did for me. And you might be offered that option. Or perhaps a course of CBT or therapy to help get to the root cause of your hypochondria might be a better fit. Talking to a professional is ALWAYS the best option.
Visit a therapist as a way to deal with hypochondria
If you’re able to financially and circumstantially, then visiting a therapist for hypochondria is a great option. Of course you might be referred to CBT or choose to take that route yourself. Or opt for talking therapy instead. Whatever you choose, it’s a personal decision but actually your hypochondria – as with a lot of anxiety disorders – might run much deeper than you think and it’s worth exploring that.
Stay off the internet – especially forums
When I had a colposcopy at the hospital after they found abnormal cells during my first smear test, the first thing the nurse said to me was, “stay off of forums – the only people on them are the ones who have got something bad to say. Everyone else is just getting on with their lives”. And that’s stuck with me ever since. DO. NOT. GO. ON. FORUMS. However tempting it might be. Get a loved one to confiscate your phone if you have to.
Do activities to help you deal with hypochondria
By activities, I mean certain things that you can do when you’re feeling particularly bad to try and calm your monkey mind. Similar to the type of techniques they teach you in CBT. The first technique is to grab a notebook and keep track of all the days and times you find yourself checking something (on your body) or asking for reassurance about something.
Once you’re able to see the frequency in which you’re doing this, you’ll then be able to whittle down the amount of time you spend checking things. If you check 5 times a day, try checking 4 times the following day and so on. The next technique is creating a chart of two columns, the first column is for your worries (however silly they seem) and the second column is for your rational thoughts. For example:
Column 1: I’m worried about my headaches
Column 2: Headaches can be a sign of stress plus I’m not drinking enough water
Look after your body
If your health is the thing you’re so nervous about, it ALWAYS helps to be conscious about your own body. I’m not about diet culture and I never ever preach weight loss or dieting but having a healthier diet and exercising never hurt anybody. Check out these 32 Yoga With Adriene practices for every mood if you need a little boost! Yoga is also amazing at helping you get more in tune with your body.
Practice self care, relaxation and distraction techniques
I think self care and relaxation are good things to practice ALL the time. Whether you have hypochondria or a mental illness or not. Everyone needs to look after their basic self care and slotting self care into their day whenever possible – even if you only have 10 minutes for self care! Also try some relaxation techniques, such as meditation and trying to distract yourself when you feel the urge to check or look something up online.
Don’t compare your experience of hypochondria to someone else’s
Just like all mental illnesses, no two are the same. Your experience with hypochondria might be ENTIRELY different from someone else’s, even if they have the same basic traits. This particularly applies to when you’re reading things online. We know by now you shouldn’t be on forums but if you DO find yourself on a forum and stumble across a negative story, remember that it isn’t YOUR story.
Fact check and only get your information from reliable sources
If you do want to check symptoms, then ensure you’re only using reliable sources, such as the NHS website. I know we said to try and stay offline as much as possible as a way to deal with hypochondria but the NHS website is a really good resource and definitely has it’s benefits. It’s just about finding that healthy balance.
Go straight to your doctor with any health worries
I shouldn’t need to tell you this but I will anyway. If you DO notice anything that alarms you – book an appointment with your GP. And if its absolutely nothing and you just worried unnecessarily – so what. You’re not wasting the doctors time and you know the saying – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
I hope these tips helped you if you suffer with hypochondria. Do you have any other tips to add here? Do you have your own story of hypochondria to tell? Let me know and share in the comments!