• Lizzie Astin

Health Anxiety - The Solution and The Problem

When I first became ill, and by ill, I mean, I had headaches and my mental health was no longer ‘healthy’, the one thing I searched for was certainty. I wanted, I needed to be certain what the cause was for headaches. One day I woke up with a headache and a year later I still had it. It started in February 2018.


I googled headaches after having one for about a week, if you google headaches I think you get 78 million hits. In the top 5 is ‘do you have a brain tumour?’. And so, the anxiety begins.


I went to the Doctor, he was very kind, explained that it was likely caused by muscle tension and stress and not to worry. This was, it turns out solid advice, but it didn’t get rid of the pain, I still had the headache and I wanted to know why. Tension Headaches do not respond to painkillers. I had to search long and hard for a way to get rid of them. And eventually they did go away but it was not one thing that helped, it was multifactorial.


I thought the solution would be to know ‘why?’, what was the cause and what was the solution, but it turned out the search for certainty was not the solution, it was the problem. Endless googling, looking for reassurance from the medical profession and anyone else who was willing to listen, only further reinforcing the belief that I did have a physical health issue which was causing the symptoms. The pain was real, but there was no underlying medical cause.


What I really needed to acknowledge was that I had a mental health issue. However, if I acknowledge that and I am not hyper-vigilant about my health and do not take my symptoms seriously and get them checked out I might miss something, and so, the vicious, destructive and self-affirming cycle that is health anxiety continues.


It became possible to get some reassurance about a particular symptom, either it went away, or I was given certainty by someone more certain than me (normally a Doctor) that it was ‘X’ and I would have temporary relief. The headaches went away, they came back, but not for long. And so, in a bid to stay safe, my anxious brain found something else to worry about, I will have to really think about it if I am to remember all the things I have worried about but here are a few;


- Stomach issues including constant nausea and pain (stomach or bowel cancer)

- Lesions on the tongue, patches on the roof of the mouth and persistent sore throat (mouth, throat or tongue cancer)

- Inflamed lymph nodes in the groin (lymphoma, secondary cancer probably cervical)

- Sore big toe (toe cancer)

- Chest pain (heart attack)

- Crushing rib and back pain (lung or bone cancer)

- Bleeding between periods (ovarian or cervical cancer)

- ‘Changing’ mole (skin cancer)

- Lower back pain (kidney cancer)


And what came of all these symptoms? Nothing, not one turned out to be serious, life threatening or even warrant a Doctor’s appointment and yet, each and every one caused me so much fear and turmoil there were times I thought I may as well be ill.


And so, in light of no physical solution to the problem, I accepted ( I say I accepted it, like this is affirmative but I sway from this fairly regularly) it was necessary to look at my mental health, something I had never done before, and the hardest part was accepting that anxiety was a real problem and I HAD to deal with it.

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