Over the years one of the most debilitating manifestations of my stress and anxiety has been hypochondria. Each ache and pain was suddenly a sure case of cancer, a blood clot, or a heart attack. These scary thoughts would take residence in my head until I could finally overcome them with positive thoughts. I’ve had these episodes in my life for the past ten years. They come and go but I can usually count on them being there when I am dealing with something in my life that naturally brings on anxiety. I’m hoping that some of the ways I have dealt with my own hypochondria can help you as well.
Without really knowing it would help, this was one of my earliest techniques to reduce the impact of hypochondria. It started with me just jotting down the symptoms I was experiencing. After my first go around and when I was experiencing it again I looked back on my first list and knew the process was repeating itself and I shouldn’t be worried. Of course I still was. It just wasn’t as bad. I think journaling is also a good way of releasing those negative thoughts out of your head either before you start your day or before you get ready for bed.
Create A Cooling Off Period (Calendar Entries)
Unless I felt like my symptoms were severe enough to require immediate attention I would try this technique. Upon the onset of my symptoms I would record that date on a calendar and set a reminder for two weeks out. My intention was to create a cooling off period in which I would not let myself worry. In some cases by the end of those two weeks my mystery pain was gone and I was back to life as usual.
Google Searching Your Symptoms
I know this goes against most professional advice and I think it can only apply in certain situations. To me, this would depend on the mindset of the person. If you know you are only going assume the worst no matter what you read this would not work for you. If you feel like you can objectively handle anything you may see online then you might want to try this. If you aren’t sure I would say it’s best to avoid searching your symptoms. I’ve found solace in reading that some symptoms I’ve had in the past were common in others experiencing anxiety. If you frame your search around anxiety you can usually find out pretty quickly if there is a connection. Obviously this is no substitute for advice from a doctor.
If you don’t feel like brushing off your symptoms as anxiety related is the right thing to do (even if they are), your best bet is to make an appointment with your doctor. Chances are the doctor will either diagnose you based on your symptoms or they will send you for tests. I’ve had both situations come up in the past and I always felt better after seeing the doctor.
Adopt A Healthy Lifestyle
If you already haven’t, it may be time to adopt all of those healthy habits you know are good for you. Use this anxiety to your advantage! It will give you a boost in willpower to make these habits stick. In my opinion the two best things you can focus on here are eating more whole foods (avoiding processed foods) and getting more exercise. Start slow. You can add a 5 or 10 minute walk into your routine very easily, and work up from there. Start with one of your meals or snacks by substituting a healthier option. If you would normally have a candy bar as a snack, choose raw almonds instead. These changes will be appreciated by your mind and body.
Join A Support Group
For long term sufferers this would be a huge benefit. You can choose to join an online support group like this Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ADSGfellowship/) or the many other online forums and sites you can join. You could also look for a group that meets locally in your area. The local groups are going to give you more accountability and perhaps some friendships with others going through a similar situation.
Take Up A New Hobby
I think this is one of my favorite methods of distraction. For myself, I’ve always found that new things, especially those I enjoy, are great at getting me over the hump. When I move my thoughts away from the negative and more towards the excitement of something new I am in a much better mental state. A few hobbies that have helped me have been growing bonsai trees, photography, and now blogging! The world is ripe for discovery! Think about something you’ve always wanted to do or learn and jump in head first!
This is a must and will certainly help get you out of your rut. If I had an especially hard day or was feeling particularly anxious I would turn on an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos. I found this show worked well for me because the clips were so quick and short I didn’t have to lend a lot of mental energy toward understanding the plot of a movie or sitcom. Another way I could make myself laugh was to get on YouTube or Netflix and watch some comedy specials. Do whatever it takes to lighten your mood. When you are feeling better you can go back to your documentaries or true crime tv shows.
Focus On Good Sleep
Getting enough sleep was a real chore when I would go through these episodes. It got so bad at one point that I was not only anxious about health issues but I was getting very anxious about not being able to sleep. At the time I had a long commute and was afraid I would be too exhausted to drive safely. My advice would be to find what works for you and do your best to give your body the rest it needs. I found what worked best for me was enjoying some night time blended tea, shutting off my electronic devices earlier than usual, and reading a book for an hour or so before the lights went off.
I am confident that using some of these techniques will help you win the battle against your anxiety and hypochondria. Even so, it is important to note that I am not a doctor and my advice should not take the place of one. Always consult your doctor if you feel like you need medical attention.
photo credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/135445048@N07/