Mindful Journeys: Am I sick or just anxious?

Since I was a little kid, I’ve never liked going to the doctor. 

One of my earliest medical memories was getting shots in my chubby, little knees. As I got older, the idea of getting shots, nasty-tasting medicines and getting my finger pricked were enough to make me dread going to the doctor for weeks on end. 

Eventually, my health anxiety weakened after I had to go to my orthopedic doctor for my scoliosis for several years. Annual checkups were not something I had to fear and the COVID-19 pandemic made me adjust to my fear of needles. It wasn’t until last spring that I believe my health anxiety got planted. 

When my anxiety grew to be almost unbearable, I thought I was coming down with the stomach flu. Before I went to see the doctor, I suffered from nausea, lightheadedness, chills and heart palpitations — pretty much all the basic symptoms of any cold or flu virus. At the time, I thought I was dying of some unknown disease. I wasn’t aware anxiety and depression could manifest itself into physical symptoms; I always thought it would just be a spiral of horrific thoughts. 

Thankfully, once I got the help and medication I needed, a lot of the physical symptoms subsided or vanished. After feeling like I was sick for months on end, I finally felt like I was returning to my old self. There were times when a lot was on my plate and my stomach churned or I found it hard to focus, but it usually went away after a day. 

In years past, cold and flu season never had an effect on me. I just got a flu shot and stayed away from sick people. However, this winter any and every virus has been infecting everyone. COVID, stomach bugs, strep and a plethora of other viruses. Four people at our office over the first weeks of the semester each got different illnesses and spent a few days at home. During this time, my mind spiraled.

My subconscious seemed to be focused on getting sick. It was thinking about all the illnesses going around and researching ways I could prevent myself from getting ill. I thought about missing classes considering most of them are attendance-based due to class discussions and losing easy participation points. I analyzed any small off-feeling in my body. I took my temperature each morning to make sure I hadn’t gotten a fever overnight. I wiped down my desk with sanitizing wipes and washed my hands so frequently my hands turned brittle. It’s also hard when a lot of your PMS and anxiety symptoms feel a lot like the symptoms going around. 

After messaging my therapist on how to stop these compulsions, she reminded me about some of the exercises she’d given to me to prevent my mind from spiraling further which I utilized. She also reminded me that there’s only so much I can do to prevent myself from getting sick. I was eating and sleeping well, drinking lots of water, staying active, trying to reduce my stress levels around me, staying away from those who were sick and washing my hands. 
Am I going around licking doorknobs trying to get sick? No. My health anxiety has subsided for now and I plan on talking with my therapist about it further the next time I see her. Until then, I’m going about my day, thankful for my health (and using an extra spray of hand sanitizer when someone’s not looking.)

Courtesy Emma Johnson

Write to Emma Johnson at Emma.johnson.5@mnsu.edu

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