My Struggles With Travel Hypochondria

red and white pills

Anxiety for me goes off and on. My life is like a series of peaks and troughs. Some periods I feel great, everything is fine. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, I’m stressing out about everything in existence.

The annoyance with the troughs in life are that sometimes they seem to be hard to pull yourself out of, eventually it can seem almost impossible.

Your anxiety can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy – never is this more true than when you’re having bouts of hypochondria.

When we’re stressed out, it takes a toll on our body and we get exhausted. This leads to us getting sick, leading to physical symptoms. Symptoms lead to mental stress as we start to think about what’s wrong with us. We get even more stressed because we’re scared about our health. This added stress just adds to the exhaustion, more sickness, more symptoms, more stress. It all keeps building until it’s all too much to take.

Not everybody has these problems. Some people manage to cut off the cycle at some point so that it stops. Maybe a person gets stressed and realises they need to relax a bit, so they take the time to work on themselves a little. Another person may get sick, but won’t think on their symptoms. They will simply stick to the idea that they will get better soon enough, which they do.

Some of us though are more prone to worry than others. I won’t discuss the reasons for this because I think the reasons are numerous, what matters is that it happens.

As an example, I recently started to get pains in my upper teeth. I did the thing I think we’d all do. First, I took some ibuprofen to numb the pain, then I went straight to Google and read about every horrible illness I could possibly have. Could be a tooth infection, could be sinusitis.

The pains started to get worse and I took some more ibuprofen until I had the time to go to the doctor. The doctor told me it was probably sinusitis and she gave me a load of medication to take. Still, I wasn’t going to trust the doctor’s professional opinion, so I headed straight to the dentist and got an x-ray just to be sure. The dentist told me I had no problems, so I assumed it was sinusitis. I swallowed the doctor’s pills.

The next day, I woke up. There was a lump in my throat. Every time I swallowed I could feel this lump. I started to panic some more. Headed straight to Google. Read up about the problem. Convinced myself I had another illness. Soon enough I was also getting pains in my stomach, pains in the chest. More Googling, more panicking.

You can see how this is a cycle. I was spending my days constantly focused on my body. Every twinge or pain that I felt would have me running to Google. Whenever I felt a little tired or light headed I would start to panic. I was convinced I was going to collapse and the thought of that happening was getting to me.

I went through the days on the edge of panic, every spare moment I had would be spent on Google reading about every terrible thing possible. For a few days I was convinced I either had appendicitis (I was just waiting for my appendix to explode) or I had pneumonia. I was on edge waiting for my body to break down. The more I worried, the more I was convinced I was in pain, the more ibuprofen I took.

Adding to the stress was the fact I was in Korea working 9 hour workdays without breaks. I had no time to see a doctor, I felt like I was going crazy. Then I started to stress that I really was going to lose my mind. Oh dear.

Finally I finished my Korea job, and went to stay with a friend in Thailand. After a week of relaxing I started to feel a little better. I could at least see the top of the trough that I was trying to pull my way out of. I started to panic less, only from time to time was I worried. But still I was getting pains in my chest and stomach, the problem just wouldn’t go away.

To put my mind at ease I paid a few hundred dollars for a physical. They did pretty much every test known to man on my body: blood, stool, EKG, x-ray. I even paid extra for an ultrasound of my abdomen. The results–no problems at all. None. Yet, I was still feeling pain. Getting through my days by taking more and more ibuprofen.

I started to fall back into the trough. Worrying that I had a serious illness and it would cost me a lot of money to recover from it. That’d be a real problem since I’m not exactly Mr. Moneybags! Eventually I bit the bullet and headed to a stomach specialist. I explained all the problems I’d been having. He poked me in the chest and stomach a bit, then he asked, “So have you been taking anything? Ibuprofen?” I just nodded, “Yeah, I’ve been taking it to help with the pain.”

He went on to explain that I was getting acid reflux due to medication I’d taken for my sinusitis and I’d irritated my stomach by taking too much ibuprofen. All of a sudden it was like everything made sense. All the pain and suffering had a real reason and it was nowhere near as bad as I’d thought. Ironically he gave me more medication to help me get back to normal and after a few weeks I was getting better–mentally and physically. I eased out of the trough and went back to not worrying every single moment.

There’s about a dozen lessons to take from this. Most important: go see a medical professional if you think something is wrong with you. They can come to a rational conclusion, which most of us are unable to make. They know a lot better than you and your Googling. Think of it this way, if you had a problem with your car would you try to fix it yourself through the Internet, or would you take it to somebody that has studied cars and knows how they work? The latter, I guess. So why insist on trying to diagnose your health problems when you know little about them?

Don’t worry about something when you have no rational basis for it. I know that’s easier said than done though.

For some of us it’s almost impossible to avoid stress and the anxiety that comes with hypochondria. We can’t get the time off work to see a doctor or a moment to ourselves to relax. We can’t afford the doctor’s bill or we simply don’t want to spend the money. It’s worth it though. You’re not paying for the doctor’s time, you’re paying to get the time back that you’d lose through worrying.

I know that the worry isn’t gone forever. It’ll come back soon enough. Maybe it won’t be my health, it’ll be something else.

Anxiety is a battle that many have to go through every day. It’s important to be strong and remember, you can control your brain and you can control your worry. You are in charge of your life and there’s always somebody there to help you if you can’t pull out of that trough.

Do you suffer from hypochondria? How do you deal with it?

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    • Anxious Travelers says

      Thanks, Kat. It really is a struggle. I’m constantly worried about my health, it’s hard not to be!

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