Why My Health Anxiety Isn't Something to Laugh About
Illness anxiety disorder, previously diagnosed as hypochondria or health anxiety, is the preoccupation with a belief that one has, or is in danger of developing, a serious illness. For me, this illness has been debilitating for most of my life. It comes in waves. Sometimes, I can let the thoughts come in and let them go. Other times, I lay in bed for hours, unable to function or think about anything else, convinced that I have a certain type of cancer. I spend days, and sometimes weeks, obsessing about these thoughts, convinced that every single pain in my body is because of “hypothetical cancer.”
These fears have caused me to go through periods of eating a fully raw vegan diet so I wouldn’t consume any preservatives — the irrational, anxious part of my brain told me they would cause cancer. When I am having a bad episode of anxiety around my health, the only way I find any relief is reassurance from family and medical professionals that my fears are truly irrational. I am working every day on developing new coping skills so the anxiety episodes are less severe. I am trying to spend less time looking up triggering illnesses and not body checking for “symptoms.”
So when you see popular TV shows that make jokes about people that struggle with illness anxiety disorder; or when your friend says they are worried about their health because of a headache and you respond by saying, “Stop being such a hypochondriac,” — I challenge you to take the time to think about the toll this disorder takes on someone struggling with it. And if you think someone you know may be struggling, let them know they are not alone and help them get the support they need and deserve.
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Thinkstock photo via Maria Kuznetsova