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Health Worrying

I have recently come to the stark realization that having a chronic disease for nearly 20 years has caused me to adopt a level of “health worrying” that I need to confront. I think it has been a part of my life for many of these 20 years, and perhaps, even before. That said, I know that I likely worry about symptoms that may not be as dire as I think in the moment. I find myself, time and again, considering the worst possible outcomes. The result? Anxiety to the max!

I wonder if the fact it often takes years to diagnose RA is not partially to blame. The years I spent trying to sort out the symptoms before it was clinically diagnosed were hideous. I was tested for numerous conditions, some of which were far worse and immediately life-threatening than RA. The fear and anxiety from that period of my life still induces a cold sweat to this day. Add to that the comorbidity aspect of RA and you have a serious recipe for “health worrying.”

What is health worrying?

It’s different from hypochondria

Some folks may wonder why I do not just use the term hypochondria to describe this. Well, I differentiate “health worrying” from hypochondria for a couple of reasons. First, the actual definition of hypochondria, according to the dictionary, is “an abnormal anxiety about one’s health, especially with an unwarranted fear that one has a serious disease.” Well, we DO have a serious disease so that means there is a real foundation for our worry.

Secondly, we have to be more vigilant about our health than someone who does not have a chronic disease. Knowing the comorbidities that accompany RA, we have to pay attention to our heart health, our skin, our vision, our digestive systems, our liver, and kidneys and on and on.

Finding a balance in worrying about health

The key is finding that perfect balance between being alert to symptoms that are in need of attention and obsessing over every ache, pain, or sensation we feel. I have to admit; I struggle with this. I am currently experiencing some digestive issues that concern me because of a paraoesophageal hiatal hernia I had surgically repaired 5 years ago. Let me just say that it is keeping me awake at night. I have an appointment with my PCP in a couple of weeks and I have no doubt we will get this resolved. Now that is my rational brain speaking. 

It’s hard to keep irrational thoughts away

The irrational one is saying, “What if the hernia has returned? How will we deal with this? Will it mean another surgery? The first one was difficult, to say the least. Or is this something deadly? Do my symptoms indicate something far worse?” And soon, my thoughts spin to the point I cannot calm down, sleep or function very well.

To say I HATE THIS is a vast understatement. I know when my thoughts are heading to this point that it is not good. It is out of control. The question is how to cope with it? How do we reel in these emotions? Is that even possible?

How I try to cope with health worrying

Share your fears with people who can offer comfort

I think the answer is multifaceted. First, do not hold this inside, upspoken. Share these fears with friends and family, as that can be so comforting. They often offer us calming responses and bring us back around to the more rational way to approach the issue.

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider

Secondly, call your doctor and arrange an appointment to review the symptoms and determine what is going on. While calm and rational, decide how soon you need to see him/her. It may be necessary to see them sooner than later just to relieve your mind of the “health worry” and that is just as good a reason as any to set up an appointment promptly. Once that appointment is set, you can step back, knowing that you have proactively responded.

Find positive or healthy distractions

I also know that it is often when I am stressed that I react too acutely to symptoms. So, I try to counter that with meditation, massage, exercise, time with family and friends, and other positive and healthy distractions.

If none of this works, you may need to see your doctor sooner than later, if for no other reason than to deal with this anxiety. I have come to understand that this is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. Given what we deal with day in and day out, it is just another aspect of RA that needs our attention.

Nan

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Mary Sophia Hawks moderator
    3 months ago

    Good article, Nan. It’s important to stop that “worry script” that runs constantly in our brains. Putting good messages into our brains helps counteract the bad messages. My faith has helped me keep the positive in my brain.
    Before I was diagnosed with RD, my family went through some truly horrific times. Finally one day, I truly realized that I didn’t have control over anything. And once I accepted that, the relief was overwhelming. We do not normally discuss faith on this site, but mine has enabled me to let go of worry. I am able to face whatever RD throws my way, knowing that I am never alone.
    I hope that writing this article has allowed you (Nan) to get some of that worry out of your brain. Hang in there!
    Blessings,
    Mary Sophia

  • RHPass
    3 months ago

    Nan, thank you for sharing this! I also have had RA 20+ yrs. I also tend to blame EVERY ‘wrong’ thing on the RA. Or I freak out over it. I am dealing with anxiety like never before. It seems to come on in that small, gray area just before coming fully awake. Just reading your post has given me some helpful pointers.

  • Cynthia Ventura moderator
    4 months ago

    I truly appreciate your articles Nan. You always hit upon a subject that I’ve struggled or am currently struggling with. I too, “health worry.” As you said, it’s difficult not to worry with so much to worry about. Who knows what serious issue might be lurking in a symptom? It took years for me to also be correctly dx’d with RA/RD. But as you say that’s only part of it.

    I suffer from costochondritis. It is an extremely painful condition and can mimic a heart attack. I’ve been to the ER numerous times because of it. Each time my heart was put through every test and nothing awry was found. It was costochondritis not a heart attack. But each time I experience that pain I still fear I’m having a heart attack. But I can’t go to the ER each time. It’s financially impossible for me. So I worry. I see my cardiologist twice a year and thankfully my heart is healthy. But I’ve known other people who’ve been told that who have had heart attacks. Plus my mother died from heart disease. Will there be a time when it is a heart attack and not costochondritis?

    There are other fears I have when odd symptoms appear. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone in this. I’ve been thinking of asking my dr for an anxiety medication for those times. I hesitate because I already take so many meds I don’t relish adding another though I could use a little peace of mind. Thank you DPM for sharing your experience.

    I appreciate your recommendations Nan especially the one to talk over your fears with friends and family. I talk with my husband when my fears get too powerful. He doesn’t laugh off my worries or tell me I’m being irrational. He listens and then we talk. He helps me see the fears and symptoms realistically. If he agrees I need to have the symptoms examined I make a drs appointment. Just the act of talking things out helps me as talk therapy helps with psychological issues.

    Thanks again Nan for zeroing in on this issue. There are so many facets of this disease many outside our community do not recognize. And some even we ourselves don’t realize are shared among other RA warriors. This community is so precious to me. Your articles and the comments I read are so helpful and inspiring. They make a difficult situation easier to bear.

  • Daniel Malito moderator
    4 months ago

    @nmhart14 I also have irrational fear that I can’t control. It started happening after my RA-induced heart attack. One night I just woke up in tears scared because my heart was doing a weird thing and even though half of my brain KNOWS I’m being irrational, I can’t stop the other half from freaking out. I know nothing is really wrong, but it still is going crazy upstairs. So now I have anxiety pills when I need them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not as if we don’t have a lot to worry about at times, but it shouldn’t cripple us either. It happens now when I start to get sick, and don’t know why. I have to keep reminding myself that if it’s something serious they will eventually fix it and that it’s not easy to just get seriously ill overnight with no warning. RA, the daily battle continues, you’re not alone Nan, trust me. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • NPEOttawa
    4 months ago

    I hear ya.
    I’ve always worried a lot about changes in how my body feels, and wait anxiously to see if something gets worse or just goes away. And I am negative for every lab test I’ve had, so there will always be a nagging thought that this is not RD, but something else (worse). Can I just say it? Cancer. Scares me to write it even! but maybe I’ll feel better for admitting it.
    Six yrs ago I retired, and though I hope to live to a ripe old age, it’s hard not to feel like this is the last stage of my life. Then 3 years ago, I was diagnosed with RD, and recently I have lost a few friends or co-workers that were not that much older. It all conspires to make me worry more about my mortality.
    I’m trying to cope by living everyday with awareness of all the good things, and to not put off things I want to do. If it’s a choice between people and things, people wins. Even if I have to leave early or lie down for a bit in the middle. But I can’t predict how I’ll feel an hour from now, let alone weeks from now, so I know that sometimes I may have to cancel. But I’m not going to stop accepting invitations or planning things or buying tickets anyway.
    And it’s never too early to start on that bucket list.

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