If you are reading this then it is for you.
Whether you stumbled upon it on Google or found it through my Instagram stories or through email, it doesn’t matter.
I am a firm believer in things finding us at the right time, and considering that you almost certainly have health anxiety and are more than likely struggling right now as a result, let’s trust that this is just for you, okay?
And let’s stop and take a deep breath together before we go any further.
Slowly in through your nose…
Hold for a count of 1…2…3
And exhale out through your mouth, with your lips pursed as if you are exhaling through a straw to really draw out that exhale and calm down your nervous system.
Do this once, twice, as many times as you need to before continuing to read and just know that this is a tool you can access at absolutely anytime you need it.
Our breath is always with us, it is our anchor to the present moment.
So we are officially in a new year.
Take a moment to check in with yourself, see how you are feeling.
I think there’s these big expectations we put on ourselves to have to feel a certain way the minute the clock strikes midnight on new year’s eve.
To immediately put into motion these goals we may have set for ourselves.
One thing I have been hearing frequently over the past few days is “I need to control my health anxiety this year!”
If you have health anxiety then you live in a nightmare.
Maybe it’s an ongoing nightmare that rules your days and nights constantly, or perhaps it’s there lurking, ready to strike at any moment and propel you back into a health anxiety spiral that can last anywhere from days to weeks to months, if not years.
Regardless, you are always on edge.
You are either obsessing non-stop as fear consumes you and your brain tells you that you are dying on a daily basis or you have moments, or even long stretches, where health anxiety releases its grip on you, yet you still feel on edge just anticipating when it could come back.
That anticipation, be it from health anxiety or that sick knot of dread from my old friend Gad (generalized anxiety), means that you are never truly relaxed, ever.
How can you be when you feel like something is coming and like you always need to be on guard and prepared?
One thing I always tell people when I talk to them one on one is that if you weren’t feeling this way, then you wouldn’t have anxiety.
That alone kinda proves that yes, this is anxiety.
One thing anxiety will always make us question is whether or not we even have anxiety or if this is actually something really serious and we need to pay attention.
Another thing I always notice, and this was me too during my worst years, is that everyone I talk to just wants reassurance about a specific symptom.
Health anxiety isn’t the topic of discussion, the specific symptom is, be it heart palpitations, muscle twitching, shortness of breath, tingling, numbness, you get the point.
The focus is on the symptom and how to stop it or find relief.
Trust me, as someone who has had pretty much every symptom under the sun and experienced major panic from symptoms alone, whether it was thinking I had a disease or some medical emergency that was going to cause me to drop dead in minutes, I know how easy it is to focus primarily on the symptoms versus health anxiety that is actually causing all this distress to begin with.
Someone without health anxiety may experience a random twitch or tingle and one, either not even notice it as they are not hyper-focused on their body and every single sensation or 2, notice it briefly and just move on and not even think of it again.
Now let’s flip this onto someone who has health anxiety, yourself perhaps.
You are already on edge, already hyper-focused on even the tiniest and most normal sensations so, as a result, when you experience ANYTHING, your brain immediately sees it as danger and you end up in a complete state of panic.
I have to be honest with you here, but you already know this and may just need this reminder again.
You can focus all you want on trying to rid yourself of a symptom, but it will keep coming back or a new one will always be waiting for its time in the spotlight.
If we desperately want something gone, it usually tends to hold on more tightly.
It’s like when I was having severe and daily, multiple panic attacks a day. I so badly wanted them gone, and the more I wished for them to be gone, the more I got in return.
The minute I stopped fearing them so much and was like “eh, whatever, if I have a panic attack then so be it” (this was when I was at the end of my rope and beyond fed up of panic ruling my life) then suddenly they eased up.
Think of someone taunting you and trying to get a reaction out of you.
The minute you react the worse it gets and suddenly it’s this huge blow up, right?
However, if you walk away or don’t react, even if this person is fuming and having a massive reaction right in front of you, suddenly they run out of steam as you are not fueling their anger with your response.
It’s the same with anxiety and that panic that comes with health anxiety.
How are you reacting?
Are you panicking and telling your brain things like “omg, I am having a heart attack!” or “I am definitely sick, I just know it!” or the top one “I will never get better!”
Try to keep in mind that our response is important.
I know how incredibly difficult it is to not react when you see a terrifying video with your exact symptoms or you think you feel a lump or a mole looks weird, trust me, I truly do know, because I have been there.
And I am in no way going to tell you to just not feel anxious, because that is plain stupid and unrealistic; we cannot help how we feel or the emotions that rise up when we are absolutely terrified.
But…and read this carefully okay?
We can control our response.
What do you normally do when panic flares and what can you start to do instead?
Make this your intention for better managing health anxiety in 2024 versus being harsh with yourself and saying things like “I need to be more positive and stop letting it rule my life!”
Sure, I understand that you want to live a life free from paralyzing fear and crippling symptoms that make life very hard, but you need to break down how you are going to do this in steps.
In teeny tiny baby steps.
Because living with health anxiety means that your nervous system is shot and being harsh or frustrated with yourself is only going to make everything worse.
If Googling is something you immediately do when your health anxiety is triggered, could you try to replace it with something else instead?
Read through the comments on one of my health anxiety posts maybe or, if the compulsion to Google wins this time, can you add “anxiety” after your search term so that you can see how anxiety may be contributing rather than stumble upon a page listing out some terrifying disease that isn’t going to educate you about health anxiety at all.
I wrote my Anxiety A to Z Encyclopedia as a way to avoid google completely so let that be an option too.
If you constantly seek reassurance by going straight to the doctor or calling up someone close to you hoping that they can be a stand-in doctor, what can you do instead?
Can you sit for a few minutes and take a few deep breaths and wait for that initial panic to subside?
Once it does, if you still feel like you absolutely need to contact them then go ahead, but be proud that you tried to do things a little differently this time.
You could also try to journal rather than talk to someone who may not understand and who may make you feel worse if they have never been where you are.
Journaling can be done however feels right for you. Take a piece of paper or grab a notebook and just write or doodle or let whatever happens just happen.
So my point is that rather than setting these huge end goals without steps to get there, set your goals by all means, but then break them all the way down.
Simply ask yourself how you can slowly start doing things differently.
It may not even feel like anything is changing, but with awareness and consistency, you won’t believe how far you can get in just one year.
In fact, you may be in a completely different space mentally by this time next year.
If you are truly ready to move forward then I recommend my book, Health Anxiety is Ruining my Life, where I share my darkest days and all my health anxiety stories with you, as well as absolutely everything that helped me then and still helps me now.
I also recommend listening to my health anxiety podcast episodes, starting with episode 11.
I know it feels overwhelming and you don’t know where to start or what to do, but honestly, you don’t have to do anything right now.
You have to first acknowledge that you have health anxiety and accept where you are.
Awareness and acceptance is the first step.
Stop fighting, start accepting.
Yes, it sucks where you are now, but that’s okay.
Feel it, let the emotions of how fed up you are wash over you.
Let my advice be a light guiding you and trust that things get better, even if you can’t feel it right now.
I believe in you and I can’t wait to see you move through this, because you will.
All you need is a desire to feel better and I know you do.
I have your back, always.