Health anxiety. If ever there was a more pointless experience your lovely little brain could conjure up, this would be it.
What is particularly fascinating is that, all it really is, is a fear of the idea of fear.
Think about it for a moment. There is no real-life danger. Through the marvel of imagination, your brain creates a potential threat, and you imagine what life might be like if that threat were real.
THEN what happens? Well, it is such an alluring concept, that your brain says, ‘We must have more of this.’ It packs it up in its bag, and brings those ghastly feelings back to the current day… all so that you can experience them in their full glory. Lucky you.
Now in the current time, health anxiety is, of course, on the rise; triggered by the uncertainty of this national health pandemic we find ourselves in.
But this is another fascinating thing. The very nature of human existence is uncertain. We live life under this pretence that we have security and certainty, but that’s a load of c*** to put it bluntly.
We will never have certainty for as long as we live, but we CREATE the feelings that we do.
Reality is irrelevant
What’s interesting, is that this shows us that feelings of ‘certainty’ and ‘security’ are not dependent on reality, but instead on how we use our minds.
I’m not going to go into the murky details of what health anxiety is and how it works, because if you have been operating from this place you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
The thing we really want to know is, how can we sort it?
How do we move from a space of “Arghhhhh, everything is going to go wrong” to “Ahhhh, it’s all okay”?
The recipe for health anxiety and what to do about it
There are three key factors in producing health anxiety to a high level, and as a result, there are three ways you can tackle it. First of all, you want to look at where you are ‘editing’…
Imagine J K Rowling has just written a magical new fiction with the most wonderful plot line and intriguing characters. She submits the draft to the publishers and they pass it over for editing.
Now, instead of getting rid of all of the typos and bits that don’t quite make sense, the editor decides he is going to keep all the typos and crappy bits, and remove all the juicy bits.
How is this relevant? Well. When we focus on all the things that our body is not doing well, we are ‘editing’ out all the bits that are working beautifully – completely out of our awareness.
- What about the fact that our eyes and the visual cortex of our brain work in conjunction to recognise faces and places?
- What about the fact we can move our bodies in wonderful ways? I might not be a very good dancer, but if I want to dance whilst no one’s watching, I can (and I do).
- If I’m hungry, I can eat a banana and know that my trusty body will process it – it will mulch it down, extract the nutrients, absorb what it wants and remove the rest.
There are thousands of jobs our bodies take on, on a daily basis and we don’t even realise it.
So that’s your first job – look at which bits your brain has been attending to, and decide which bits you would like it to focus on instead.
Assuming you want to look at the good bits, there are a couple of exercises I would recommend:
- Make a list of the top five things you are grateful to your body for each day – a body gratitude journal if you like. Neurologically, you are training your brain to look for, and subsequently find more of the things it is doing well. Nerves that fire together wire together, so the more you do this, the more quickly it will become automatic.
- Do a meditation on the feelings of satisfaction and appreciation – take yourself back to a memory where you felt really satisfied or appreciative of something and then imagine pouring those feelings into the feelings you have for your body. Keep practicing!
2) Fast forwarding
The other thing your lovely little brain will be doing is fast forwarding to the future. It does like to travel after all.
Now there are some rather handy tools you can use here. One is the very well-known practice of meditation. Bringing yourself into the now.
When you think about it, why be anywhere else? Even simple things like reaffirming the phrase “I am here, now” can remind your brain to stay rooted in the present moment. And when you do that, there is no need for any future fear mongering. Because everything is okay – right now.
Another option- every time you notice your brain taking you into these future scenarios, is to say “Yes brain, I hear you, I know you are trying to look out for me, but you can kick back and relax – we’re doing good right now and we’re all okay.”
As strange as this may seem, it gets results. Because what you are doing, is creating a sense of separation between the ‘story of fear’ and yourself. You recognise it is just your brain doing this, and when you acknowledge that, it gives you the space you need to see it for what it is.
So give it a go. Next time your brain pipes up, just say those words, with genuineness, and notice the difference.
3) Your own best friend or your own worst enemy?
For the final part of this wonderful recipe and how to turn it around, you want to look at the relationship you have with your body. When people go into feelings of health anxiety, they go into a rather self-destructive mindspace of being fearful of their own body.
They can view their body as some other being that cannot be trusted, and is working against them rather than for them.
Now, this may or may not resonate with you. But consider this. If your body, was to become your own best friend, how differently would you treat it? How differently, would you think about it? How differently, might you talk to it? And no eye rolling on that last point please. We all talk to ourselves, and that’s you included.
A lot of the conversations we have with ourselves are completely unconscious. Verbal thoughts that have become so automatic, they are no longer verbal. They are simply programmes running in the background. And the way we change this, is through conscious intervention.
So go on, have a think about it. Think about how you feel about one of your best friends, or those closest to you. Imagine what it would be like to feel this way about your body. Rather lovely I imagine.
When you keep ‘practising’ this feeling, therein lies your path to change.
I shall leave you on that warm and fuzzy note.
Just remember, if you can access feelings of certainty and security in other areas of your life, you have the capabilities to do it with your health. Your brain is an amazing machine, and when it’s given a nudge in the right direction, it will make life easier for you, in all the right ways.