A Hypochondriac’s Guide to Hypochondria

by thethreepennyguignol

So, a few months ago, I wrote An Insomniac’s Guide to Insomnia. And, with everything going in the world right now, I figured that it’s only time that I come down from on high to deliver to you my Hypochondriac’s Guide to Hypochondria.

Well, actually, it’s referred to as health anxiety these days, but hypochondria just has such a glamorous, fainting-couch, smelling-salts feel to it, right? I’ve written about my own struggles with health anxiety a couple of times over the last few years; I can honestly say that, at one point, it felt like the worst thing that ever happened to me, and it took months of hard work to remotely get it under control. If you ever ran into me desperately feeling my boobs for lumps while crying in a public bathroom, well, now you know why.

With the major health crisis sweeping the world right now, I’ve seen a lot of people talking in a way that reminds me pretty undeniably of what living life with awful health anxiety was like. Which makes perfect sense: right now, our health isn’t just a matter of our lives, but of the people around us, the people we love, the people we care about most. And that’s doubly scary. If you’re prone to anxiety, and even if you’re not, these last few months might have stirred up a hyper-awareness about your health that feels like it’s getting in the way of you living your life.

And that’s where I come in! Sort of. I’m sharing some of the tips and actions that made my health anxiety manageable again, the ones that I’m using now to keep from keeping my doctor on permanent speakerphone. If you have any of your own tricks to keep your health anxiety at bay, please do share in the comments below – I know that I would sure as hell like to read them. Anyway, without further ado!

  1. Follow the Thought Through

This might sound like really fucking strange advice – after all, isn’t this meant to be about improving your anxiety and not entertaining every little bit of useless advice it tries to inject into your brain? I know that my instinct is to jam my fingers into my inner-ears and start belting Ave Maria when the irritating health anxiety thoughts start, so I get it, I do. But I have found the most instantly useful thing is accepting the thought and going “well, then what?”.

So, my brain is telling me that I’m sick. If I am, then here are the ways that I know I will deal with it. Here is what would actually come next. Allowing just the initial thought allows for that spike of anxiety without any logic to temper it, but following through on the thought can help couch it in something that isn’t just screeching, incoherent terror. Even if following it through leads to something that you find scary, at least you’re injecting some reality into the middle of the anxiety brain.

2. Symptom Tracking

I know that, when I’m in full health anxiety party mode, most of my day is spent consumed by constantly checking and re-checking symptoms that I am certain that I have. I’ve found it really helpful to put aside a rational amount of time – say, five minutes – to do a body scan once a day and check what the situation is with everything that’s going on in my body.

If you find yourself dealing with the compulsion to check again outside of that window, remind yourself that there is a time and place for this, and that it isn’t fucking now. It’s incredibly difficult to get out of the habit of this, I get that, but for me, it was the most physically time-consuming of everything that I did, and focusing on limiting that time freed up so much space in my head and in my life.

3. Curate Your Internet Usage

Get the fuck off Doctor Google. Get the fuck off it. I’m going to kick your ass if I catch you looking up symptoms one more time, you bastard. I mean it. If you’re a dumbass like me, and can’t stop looking shit up, block those medical websites from your devices. You are literally only going to make things worse. If you only take one thing away from this article, let it be this. Alright? Alright.

Beyond that, curating your social media is a small but handy thing I focus on when I’m getting bad health anxiety flare-ups. Filtering specific words or tags or phrases connected to things that send you into a tailspin seems small and kind of silly, but if it causes one less anxiety attack each day, it’s worth it.

If you’ve dealt with health anxiety, and specifically trying to overcome it, I would love to hear about what’s worked for you – please drop them in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or Tumblr. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting me on Patreon for exclusive perks. Oh, and, as always, buy my fucking book!