Hypochondriac with a constant anxiety attack

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Every couple of months or weeks…I seem to come up with a new scenario as to how I am dying. I always have this general feeling of malaise. I can’t remember the last time I was ever genuinely happy. I am always down. I have no desire to do anything. Well, recently my self-diagnosis is that something is wrong with my heart. It feels like I am constantly on the verge of a complete panic attack. I feel way overly aware of the organ inside my chest. I feel sick, I just feel it beating the wrong way all the time. I panic to the point where it palpitates and majorly picks up speed…and when it does that, I think about how that is also a sign of something being wrong with my heart. And I can’t decipher what is happening out of panic, or what could be me dying. My chest gets so tight and I’m always thinking about it. It’s always hard to breathe because I am trying so hard to stay calm. But heart problems can cause those exact symptoms as well. I get chest pains, over my entire chest. It feels like they happen mostly when I am breathing very hard. Every time I think about it anymore the worse the panic gets. I keep looking up all these symptoms trying to convince myself it’s all in my head but it’s so hard to tell when anxiety generates the same symptoms. I just had my first literal anxiety attack about it and this is where I need to draw the line. I had to lie on the floor and just breathe. My ears were ringing, my heart was beating so hard I could hear it over the ringing in my ears. I couldn’t really see, everything was echoing…and I was certain I was dying. Then suddenly I snapped back, I got up…took an anxiety pill and got on here to write. It was a lot easier to deal when I was convinced I had any other disease…but this one is so hard to set aside. There is ALWAYS the possibility that something is SERIOUSLY wrong too. And I am far too terrified to go see a doctor to find out if I am right. I’m just going insane. I don’t want to leave this earth just yet. But every day feels like my last because of this panic. I want out of my mind. What am I supposed to do?

A: What you are supposed to do first is see a doctor. Just because something is in your head doesn’t mean that there might not be a real problem. It’s always important to check on the medical facts first. If there is a medical root to your problem, the first step toward a cure is to get a diagnosis – which will lead to a discussion about treatment. But without a diagnosis, you are only making yourself crazy thinking about all the possibilities.

If you are medically clear, then we’re looking at a psychiatric issue. You are probably correct that this is anxiety-based. Where you are not correct is in thinking that an anxiety pill is going to fix what ails you. The medicine will help settle you down, it’s true. But you also need to learn how to calm yourself and interrupt those racing thoughts that lead to a full-blown panic attack. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has been found to be very effective with people like yourself. Take a look at “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by David Burns. The book is very readable and easy to understand. You may find that you are able to use the tools described in it on your own. If not, please consider finding a therapist to coach you. There is no reason to go through life going “out of your mind.”

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Aug 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). Hypochondriac with a constant anxiety attack. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/08/22/hypochondriac-with-a-constant-anxiety-attack/