What Is "Health Anxiety?"

Many people think of generalized stress or panic attacks when hearing the word "anxiety." But there's a new definition of hypochondria, which is called, "health anxiety." It basically defines itself: anxiety over health issues. I'm no stranger when it comes to going to the ER because I'm experiencing chest pain. For me, it's a valid concern. For most people who don't have anxiety, they'd be in the ER right away. But for people like me, who are constantly aware of their health, it can become a pattern. Throughout my experience of having met my share of EMTs, nurses and doctors, there are specific types of pain that I can identify as anxiety now.

Here are things I do before it becomes an emergency:
  • If the pain is sharp---that means it's usually muscle/skeletal and can be relieved by taking Tylenol or ibuprofen. 
  • If you can somehow recreate the pain by moving your arms around, then it's also muscle/skeletal, or what's called, "costochondritis" --which is inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum). Pain caused by costochondritis might mimic that of a heart attack or other heart conditions. 
  • Take a minute to sit, and breathe in 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale out for 8 seconds. Do this a few times. If the pain subsides, then it's not a heart attack. Heart attack pain does not stop. It's a dull and heavy feeling in the chest that does not go away.
There are other types of health anxiety that seem foreign to me, like automatically thinking you have cancer just because there's a blemish on your arm. I've seen quite a few support groups panic when they see an imperfection on their skin. Although I don't understand the automatic "I have cancer" assumption---I am in no way downgrading their concerns. All in all, when in doubt, check it out, but checking it out all the time can become pretty pricey. I'm paying off my medical visits as well speak. 

I'm not a huge fan of people making fun of those who suffer with anxiety. Let's face it---everybody has stress, but every kind of stressful sensation can be different for everyone. I know some people who self medicate to the point where they're walking zombies. And then I know some people who are so afraid to take medication or herbal remedies, that they're a walking nerve. So I don't know which is worse. What I do know is, we should never judge others for what they go through and experience. 

What I have found to be extremely helpful was delving into my faith and praying every single morning---even before I shower. Find time to reconnect with your source and let God work in His mysterious ways. I remember for the longest time, I could not find a therapist that could help me. And today, my therapist has gotten me to the point where when I walk out of her office, or end a video chat, I feel like I can do anything for the rest of the week. I found a therapist that knows different types of anxiety relieving techniques that truly help. She's also taught me how to stimulate the vagus nerve with a simple practice, which promotes a deep sigh or yawn when you are short of breath. There are other interesting techniques that have to deal with pressure points and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.) A few weeks back, I was driving up to her. She's about 30 minutes out of my comfort zone. As I was sitting in traffic (which is one of my worst fears) -- I remembered her advice and turned up my radio and sang while everyone else was slamming their horns and cursing each other off. I remained calm. But that doesn't always happen. I have to keep going. And I have to pray without ceasing. So prayer and therapy has done wonders. When I walked into her office after waiting an hour in traffic, I ended up having a panic attack right in front of her. She smiled, then guided me into this meditative deep breathing exercise, and when I opened my eyes, my heart rate sunk from 150 to 75bpm. 

Is it worth $100 a week for therapy? YES. Without it, I'd pay even more for ER visits, cardiologist bills or perhaps even an ambulance ride for a mere $500 bucks. So yes, it is worth it! But you really have to find a therapist who you feel calm with---where there is no tension or negative energy. You have to find someone like my girl who actually has studied beyond her given duties in order to help others. She's constantly learning about new techniques to calm people with anxiety and depression. She doesn't just sit there and ask, "Well, how does that make you feel?" It's not "textbook psychology." She'll even do yoga with you if you're into that sort of thing. Due to my faith, I can't perform yoga. It goes against my religion. But for others, they find it helpful. 

One you figure out why your 'fight or flight' cap is a little flimsy, you'll start to incorporate your own favorite relaxation technique. And if for whatever reason it doesn't work, try and find something new that will. God says He will never give us more than we can handle. He also tells us to cast all of our anxieties to Him. And while it may be hard to stop and pray to God while your heart is in your throat, the best thing you can say is His name. There is power in the name of Jesus. Even if you just say, "Jesus" a few times, watch how you calm down, this is if you have complete faith in Him. 

Feel better, and just know that you an do ALL things in Jesus' name which will strengthen you! 

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