Lately my focus has been on “curing” my “health anxiety.” I’ll imprecisely call it hypochondria since that’s more well known, but it is more a general anxiety than the defined somatic disorder. Ever since being diagnosed with hyperaldosteronism and subsequent surgery eight years ago I’ve essentially been in regular fear that my heart could give out at any time. It waxes and wanes, originally it was kind of like a mosquito that bit me from time to time. I would worry for a little bit then it faded. In more recent years it merged with other traumas to culminate in 911 calls and doctor visits, with days of body checking and Google searches. At times this fear has created other faux illnesses.
I’ve been applying the question and answer techniques to my fears in order to fully understand and face the underlying reasons these thoughts keep occurring. Doing so could present its own problems by creating more worry but I think the status quo of unrooted worry is less desirable. If you Google “worry worksheet” you’ll get plenty of great worksheets out there that all serve the same purpose to question and experience your thoughts to discover the real fears.
Worry Worksheet Example
A good worksheet will go from difficult questions to more helpful questions. Face your fear, distill it, then present new perspectives on it.
- What am I worried about right now?
- Why is it helpful to worry about it?
- What if it is true?
- What actions have you taken in the past?
- Did they help?
- What has helped?
So I ask the questions and in each answer I ask for all the feelings that come up.
- What am I worried about right now? My heart and passing out. I am scared, I feel uncomfortable, I am feeling sensations.
- Why is it helpful to worry about it? I am alone and scared no one will find me. I want there to be someone here in case.
- What if it is true? Then I will die and everyone will be sad. No one will be here to pick up the pieces of my life.
- What’s the better outcome? The doctors will save me and I will end up recovering but it will disrupt my life.
- What actions have you taken in the past that did not help? Calling 911 and visiting and emailing the doctor.
- What actions did help? Talking to a friend, talking to my therapist, meditation, going for exercise.
This is a very abbreviated example as I could go on and on. But essentially now you have to assume the objective scientist role and pick apart your responses. Our language is really telling as to what we actually are concerned about.
- I am not actually concerned about my heart, I’m concerned about dying. Death is a natural fear.
- It’s helpful because I want to survive. I value life and value staying alive! I also may want someone around because I value people and perhaps I am lacking connection in my life because it doesn’t make sense given how long I’ve lived independently alone.
- If I am dead then game over. But a ha, I am more concerned about what will happen to my things than I am about myself. That’s telling!
- I can envision a good outcome, I survive whatever this mysterious illness is, and yet I still find reason to find worry. It points to worry as the actual problem!
- I already know what actions don’t result in satisfaction.
- What has worked is ironically the very thing we doubt.
From here, I’d probably take some pieces out to explore on. For example is my fear actually loneliness manifesting through being knocked out? Certainly with COVID, we are very alone, then why in the good times do we fiercely value independence and alone time. An underlying fear could also just be death and likely spurred by grandparents or loved ones who have died in our presence. My sudden grappling with my earthly possessions also points to something there.
Applying raw logic to our emotions can be uncomfortable and disturbing. Unfortunately that’s the human condition we have to accept. I think of worry as a helper on our journey in life. It can be used for a lot of good things to obtain benefits and help others. But the problem is that it can takeover our entire perspective on something and force us to solve in the moment.
A thing that makes worry problematic for me is my quick ability to project that entire thought into my being. Just as we can imagine being on a beautiful beach and viscerally experiencing that in our bodies, so too can we imagine the worst case scenario. Doing a worry worksheet is one technique at knocking the mind-body back to reality.