Health Anxiety Help: 

Last week I headed over to an appointment with a physiotherapist about my long standing leg injury that has kept me out of running for about a year now (thank goodness for bootcamp or I think I'd have lost the plot by now without any form of exercise!). 

Anyway, he checked out my movement, flexibility, leg strength and all the usual stuff and has given me some exercises to practice. Interestingly enough I often use the example of a physio when explaining how hypnotherapy works to clients, in that, in order to get results you need to go away and actually apply the strategies and techniques and take some action towards your goals. After all, if would be a bit pointless to go to the physio and then come away, do nothing and hope it changes all by itself - wouldn't it?!

Anyway I digress, because one thing that the physio asked me (that I've never been asked by physios before) was, 'have you googled your injury?' (oh how the times they are a-changing as Dylan might sing!).

Now these days I won't go near Doctor Google with my symptoms, whether it's a running niggle or anything else health related, for the simple reason that it's a sure fire way to drive up health anxiety. It could almost come with a guarantee of increased anxiety. Like many others I learnt this the harder way.

health anxiety

Increasing Health Anxiety  

I can still remember the niggle I had just under my left knee. Sometimes it was ok and sometimes It felt quite sore. Like most runners I've ever met, I decided that it would probably just sort itself out so I could just carry on running in my usual merry way. I was a lot younger then so this was back in the day when I was at least an average club runner and the thought of not running was more anxiety-provoking than the thought of my knee pain getting worse.

Anyway, that niggle kept progressively getting more and more persistent until it did (eventually) persuade me that i needed to do something about it because it was now too sore to run with. So rather than go and seek professional help form a physiotherapist I decided to look online for help and support. After all, perhaps there were a few stretches or self help things I could do that would soon sort out that discomfort. So I started googling my symptoms.

As anyone who has ever googled their symptoms (whether running related or not) will know, the descriptions of ailments are so broad and overlapping that it took no time at all for me to 'discover' that my knee injury was so bad that I would need an operation (I've never had an operation so there was plenty of anxiety there) and I would need about 6-12 months of rehabilitation before I could even think about running two more steps (cue health anxiety times a thousand: I'm going to lose my favourite pastime, lose all my fitness, be unable to walk for months and get fat). Either that or it was cancer, because just about every illness or health symptom on google will indicate cancer (just about every health anxiety client ends up at this anxiety-filled thought).

Expecting the worst I then went to a physio only to discover that I was landing on my foot in a way that put pressure on my knee so I needed to alter that. It took learning, practice and consistency yet within a couple of months I was back running 10ks again. So much for the doom that comes from googling symptoms.

So when the physio asked me last week whether I had been checking out my symptoms, it was an easy response of 'no way' from me.

health anxiety hypnotherapy ely newmarket skype

Health Anxiety Help

Recently I was working with a health anxiety client who, every time he had a chest twinge, thought he was having a heart attack or it was a sign of cancer. With health anxiety, such worst case scenarios are fairly common, along with the 'what if it is (e.g. cancer)' thoughts.  

Now I'm pleased to say, after our sessions, he isn't plagued by the health anxiety that used to lead him to A&E and stop him from planning to do things in the future (he used to think he would be too anxious to do things, or even dead by then, so didn't ever plan far in advance).

In order to deal with anxiety, including health anxiety, you have to deal with the anxious feelings and the anxious thoughts. Just trying to tackle the thoughts will mean that the anxiety feelings are still there and will just find something else for you to worry about. Just tackling the feeling of anxiety, will mean that those habitual and unhelpful thinking patterns can still run and will likely start to increase anxious feelings. 

That said, there are many things that can be done including cutting down the caffeine (which is a stressor), getting moving by going walking daily or exercising (to give the feelings an outlet and mentally have some time off), learning how to relax and calm emotions effectively (e.g. breathing techniques and/or you can use my free audio), interrupting unhelpful thought patterns (e.g. by counting or other ways of shifting focus quickly) and much more besides.

Earlier today I watched a vlog on you tube by someone who suffers with health anxiety and it is almost heart breaking to see the devastating impact it has had on her life. She is currently undergoing therapy (great!) and has developed some effective distraction techniques and strategies (again, great!) yet her therapy is only focussed on interrupting the health anxiety thoughts. That is certainly part of the solution yet not only is it hard (if not impossible ) to interrupt irrational thoughts when anxiety has taken hold, but if that anxiety is left to flow freely, it will always find some other thing to attach to and so you can end up chasing the thoughts yet never being free of them. 

So if your health anxiety is limiting your life, ditch 'Doctor Google' and get professional advice and support if you need it.  Be sure to take action on reducing those anxious feelings, as well as challenging those anxious thoughts, and you may soon find yourself feeling and being more calm and in control. And that's something that feels like a healthy place to be.

To your success,

Dan Regan

Anxiety Hypnotherapy Ely, Newmarket, Skype

Looking to overcome your health anxiety? You can find out more and book your free strategy session here. Before you do that, you may want to read what other people have said after overcoming their anxiety with my help.