By Duncan Thorpe
As a teenager, I experienced the physical symptoms of anxiety (tension headaches, dizziness and feelings of detachment) quite often, and I remember the exact point that my health anxiety started.
I was around 16, at my girlfriend’s house, and reading a magazine article about a woman who had a brain tumour. Her symptoms were the same as what I was suffering from at the time, and the feeling of dread sucked the life out of me.
The symptoms of my health anxiety are both physical and mental. My main physical symptom is a feeling of detachment (I call this ‘ghost mode’). In my adult years this has also been accompanied by a racing heart, pins and needles and clamminess.
My mental symptoms are more intense. I tend to get morbid thoughts, my ambition and drive decreases and everything looks grey and gloomy.
My health anxiety used to affect my day-to-day life by sucking all the joy and fun out of everything. I would just ‘get by’ but I wasn’t really living.
The turning point came a few years ago. I was convinced that I had stomach cancer so I thought about crashing my car so I would get taken to hospital. Then when I was in the hospital, I’d tell the doctors that my stomach was hurting in the hope that I would get a scan. At the time of me having these thoughts this (stupidly) felt like a feasible option to me, as a shortcut to take away the agony and anguish of waiting for tests and referrals. I was able to tell my wife about this straight away, and my health anxiety has improved massively since.
Giving up alcohol, taking up meditation and exercising daily (a lifestyle change) have been vital.
Another thing that was an absolute game-changer for me was keeping a health anxiety diary. Whenever I get a symptom, I write it in my diary. My rule is that once it’s written in there, I must forget about it. I don’t get obsessed with it; I just get on with my day. If the symptom doesn’t go or improve within two or three weeks, I can then consider making a doctor’s appointment.
What became apparent after a few months of doing this, is how many symptoms disappeared in under a fortnight. This also takes the guess work out of things; I know exactly how long I’ve had a symptom for. Not knowing this used to increase my anxiety, but I now feel in control. I feel so lucky that I’ve found a formula that keeps me at peace.
I still have very bad days, but I am nowhere near as bad as I was, and I’m starting to enjoy life.
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