Anxiety or Something Worse?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I am constantly worrying about my health. I am focused on my heartbeat all the time; there’s rarely a time when I’m unaware of it. Same goes for breathing. I worry about having a heart attack, having cancer, a brain tumor, pulmonary embolism, you name it, at one point I’m sure I thought I had it. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not just anxiety. My father and his mother both suffer with anxiety, and I’ve had panic attacks before, but I haven’t had one in a while. However recently I’ve had some major stressors in my life: moving across the state for school (driving that distance and being away from anyone I know), school in general, I didn’t have a job through the semester so I was worried about money, my dad got laid off and my mom only has a part time job… The lists goes on and on. And then worrying about my health constantly stresses me out like crazy. I feel stupid when I try to talk to other people about this, like they’ll think I’m really crazy. I try to rationalize it and tell myself I’m 22, so it’s very uncommon that I’d have some of the more serious conditions but I still worry. Please help me.

A. You may be experiencing a specific type of health-related anxiety, known as hypochondriasis. This type of health anxiety involves a preoccupation with having a severe physical illness. Individuals with health anxiety are overly concerned about having possible physical symptoms, often in spite of a positive medical evaluation and reassurance. Hypochondriasis can significantly interfere with one’s life causing significant distress.

The recent major stressors in your life are likely exacerbating your health anxiety. The fact that your family also has a long history of anxiety increases the possibility that anxiety is the problem.

My recommendation would be to seek mental health treatment, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy. Antidepressants may also decrease your overall anxiety which could assist with the therapeutic process. Anxiety disorders tend to follow a common course: if left untreated, they often become worse. Without treatment the probability of your symptoms remaining the same or becoming worse is high.

You mentioned that you “feel stupid” when trying to talk to other people about these issues. There’s nothing to “feel stupid” about. You may be talking to the wrong people. Laypersons are not trained to treat or to understand mental health problems and thus may not know how to respond when you tell them about your anxiety. The solution is to see a specialist, a mental health professional who received rigorous training in treating anxiety disorders. I hope that my letter convinces you to seek treatment. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Feb 2014

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2014). Anxiety or Something Worse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2014/02/05/anxiety-or-something-worse/