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How can I overcome all my health anxieties?

Hi Mark,

I stumbled across your advice in desperation. I am a self-diagnosed hypochondriac. My fears and anxieties rule my life.

I have been to the emergency room six times in the past two years and the worst advice I've gotten is that I had a bladder infection. I fear having a brain cancer, glaucoma, pelvic cancer, breast cancer, brain aneurisms, ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts, the list goes on. It really just depends on what I've read on the Internet trying to diagnose myself.

I fear dying before my daughter. I fear never being able to have more children. I fear hitting someone with my car. I fear telling people about this.

I had a pregnancy terminated when I was 17, not something I wanted to do, and ever since then I obsess about everything. It's gotten so bad that I actually feel ill.

I read one of your articles about 'Lilly' and it struck me when you said that Lilly woke up and then felt sick. The illness didn't wake her from her sleep. That's how I am. When I go to the doctor, they pause and scratch their heads. They don't want to tell me that I'm nuts.

My mom said she used to always think she was sick when she was a child. My younger brother often is the same way. I seem to be the worst.

Please, if you have the time to respond, do. Or refer me somewhere. You really struck me as someone who could help. Thanks.

This question was submitted by 'Rachel'

mark tyrrell

Mark says...

Hi Rachel and thank you for writing in.

Life is much harder than it need be at the moment for you and it must be draining, not to say exhausting. And, of course, as you know, on the Internet we can find any symptom to fit any disease.

No one should live entirely without the capacity to have any fear or anxiety, as they are tools for survival. Few people are entirely fearless. And sometimes we need to use the imagination to caution us not to venture down that dark alleyway in the wrong part of town at midnight or not to invest our life's savings in a dubious scheme. Anxiety only becomes a problem when we use or misuse the imagination to keep it switched on way too much of the time. Reading, whether from books or the Internet, fuels the imagination and can produce and prolong anxiety.

The first thing I suggest you do is to have an Internet ban, at least for three days a week. Use email if you have to, but nothing else. No matter how your imagination tries to manipulate your feelings, stand up to it and stay away from online self-scaremongering.

Higher than normal stress levels shape our thoughts. If there is no immediate threat in the environment, then the imagination tries to give shape to the stressed feelings by creating stuff to worry about. You'll have noticed that your thoughts when you feel anxious tend to be extreme and all-or-nothing. So, rather than a headache being a sign that you might be tense or a little bit dehydrated, it becomes a certain indication that a brain tumour is present.

Anxiety makes people think in all-or-nothing totalities and worst-case scenarios. As you physically relax and diminish those stress levels more, then you'll notice your thoughts becoming less extremist and more moderate and reasonable.

So, the second thing you can do is physically relax for at least ten minutes at least once a day to normalize those stress levels, which in turn will help normalize and make less extreme the workings of the imagination and your thoughts. You can relax by listening to 'Overcome Hypochondria' and/or 'Stop Thinking the Worst'.

The termination when you were 17 may be a factor in this. Ask yourself whether you still have anxious thoughts, 'flashbacks', or dreams about that time. If so, it might be good for you to find someone to help you overcome that time. We might be able to find someone well-trained in dealing with trauma near you if you contact us at the office.

You can move on from this state of mind and you can serve as a great example to your younger brother and daughter of how it's possible for someone to grow beyond these kind of fears to live a more relaxed and stronger life. You'll also give your doctor the opportunity to miss you a little bit. : )

All the best for your future,


watch icon Published by Mark Tyrrell - May 18th, 2015 in

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