I’m someone who’s been very lucky with their mental health.
For most of my life, I’ve sailed by with only brief dips into stress and low mood. But this year, I’ve experienced a significant change for the first time.
Since January, I’ve been experiencing symptoms of health anxiety. It’s more commonly known by the term ‘hypochondria’ – think Melman the giraffe from Madagascar.
There are a lot of misconceptions about health anxiety. It isn’t just worrying about your health (which I’m sure everyone does now and again).
Rather, it falls within the camps of OCD and anxiety at the same time – a two for one bargain if you ask me.
Common symptoms include:
- Checking your body for signs of illness (e.g. lumps).
- Overeducating yourself about illnesses (thanks, Google).
- Overwhelming worry about your health.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but gives a brief glimpse into what health anxiety actually looks like.
For me, it’s checking my body for lumps and looking for abnormalities in the mirror. At my worst, I was Googling symptoms 10-15 times every single day.
Often, I experience worries about my health that dominate and overwhelm my thoughts for days on end.
Like most mental health conditions, the symptoms come and go. I have good days and bad days.
Thanks to the help of Sheffield Mental Health Services, I’m learning to use self-help techniques to reduce the intensity of my anxiety.
I no longer check Google multiple times a day, and I’ve got some good thought processes in place to de-escalate any nasty bouts of worry. But I’m by no means ‘fixed’.
The road to recovery from mental illness is never a straight line. One good week doesn’t guarantee that the next will be anxiety-free.
On the whole, I’m cautiously optimistic about where I’m headed. By properly taking the time to take care of myself, I’m finally starting to see some of my symptoms subside.
I can’t say I know where this condition erupted from.
The pandemic is an obvious scapegoat, but it feels like COVID awakened something that was in me all along.
I’ve never had anyone close to me die. All four grandparents are still alive, with six or so heart attacks between them to date!
My family have their fair share of complex health conditions, but there’s never been any significant illnesses that have had a big impact on me.
I’ve been ignorant to the pain and cruelty of diseases like cancer.
Perhaps finally, as I enter my mid-twenties, I’m starting to reckon with my own frailty. I’ve lived a life ignoring everything that could go wrong in my body, maybe to a fault.
It’s like all of these thoughts have come at once.
I recognise that living a life worrying about my health before I’m ill is counterproductive. As my parter likes to say, “worry when nothing is wrong and you’ll suffer twice.”
I can’t live my life ticking off every illness that could affect me, but I can’t keep ignoring my own fallibility either.
Something might happen. My thoughts of having to tell my loved ones I have cancer might come true. But I can’t live every day thinking the grim reaper is just around the corner.
In short: I’m trying, slowly but surely, to embrace uncertainty.
It’s something I don’t excel at in all areas of life. At work, I plan projects meticulously and get stressed when slight inconveniences blocky my way. On holiday, every hour of the day is pencilled into a calendar, and any change affects me more than it should.
I’m beginning to acknowledge that I might get ill, whilst maintaining a healthy balance that means worries don’t overwhelm me. Life is complicated, messy, unpredictable – as it should be.
I want to end this post by reminding you that your GP is there to help you if you think you’re experiencing health anxiety. You can also contact mental health charities if you’re struggling (here’s a useful list).
If you’d like to learn more, and feel comfortable doing so, this health anxiety guide from the Sheffield IAPT is informative, clear and reassuring.