A headache is a brain tumor, and indigestion is a life-threatening heart attack.
Health anxiety has a fantastic ability to make you believe all sorts of sinister things.
And it’s not just about you.
Your entire family is at risk. Your kids, grandkids, spouse – they’re all at threat.
Dr. Google has a lot to answer for, too.
As soon as a symptom arises you hit the internet wondering how long you have to live. The answer generally comes back that you don’t have long, and so the panic starts.
You need reassurance, so the doctor’s surgery becomes a second home. You also need constant reassurance from the people around you (if you’ve told them you’re suffering from health anxiety – if you haven’t, it’s worse because you bottle it inside).
You need to know you’re not dying, and you’re sent off for numerous tests – all coming back clear.
How can that be? How can it be these constant headaches aren’t something more sinister? How can I feel this sick and dizzy if there isn’t anything wrong with me?
I don’t believe you doctor. Check me again.
Tests are clear again.
Health anxiety has won again.
Anxiety about your health is a very powerful and persuasive emotion, because it’s focused on our survival (possible death). Seeing as survival and staying alive is our #1 instinct, it becomes our #1 priority, and anything flagged as a potential threat consumes us with fear and worry.
When you overthink, it creates problems that don’t exist, and if you focus on something enough, it will become an issue.
That freckle on your skin will continue to get bigger and look more sinister if you keep looking at it.
That headache will become more frequent and intense if you concentrate on it.
The floor will feel as though it’s jumping up at you if you focus on it enough.
I found that my anxiety related symptoms were all in my head, and the more I focused on them, the more I experienced them.
It’s common sense really – the more you focus on something, the more of it you’re going to get – the more you’re going to attract it to your life.
Focus on your anxiety related symptoms and you get more of them.
Focus on what it is you want, because that’s what you’ll start to attract in your life instead.
When I focused less on my symptoms and more on my day-to-day activities, I found the symptoms subsided. They simply ceased to exist.
Rather than focus on the bad things you’re convinced will happen to your family, focus on what you and your family want and need. A holiday, a day out, or a family sit down and meal perhaps?
Take one day at a time and keep focusing on the things you want. With time and practice, every day will get better.
If there is something that requires genuine medical attention, don’t be afraid to visit your doctor. That’s what they are there for. Nobody is judging you, and your health is the #1 priority.
It’s another issue if you find yourself constantly visiting the doctor or the internet for reassurance. If that’s the case, health anxiety is becoming an issue, and you should look to do something about it.
If realigning your focus is still a struggle and you need extra support, start with a talking therapy (counselling). Speak to your doctor or contact Anxiety UK.
There is always help available, and you don’t have to suffer any longer.
Watch my video on Overcoming Health Anxiety on Facebook and Instagram.
I always get lots of questions about panic attacks, which is understandable – they usually go hand-in-hand with anxiety.
I’ve recorded a quick message for anybody currently suffering from panic attacks.
Download and listen to it below, or watch and listen on YouTube here.
Put it on your phone (or any device you carry around with you), and when you feel the symptoms of panic attack, listen to it and use it to overcome them.
I hope, armed with the knowledge I give you, with a bit of time and practice panic attacks stop bullying you.
You CAN overcome panic attacks. I did it, and so can you.
They did with me, for sure.
Audiobooks have a way of elevating words, and if read by the author, they can give you a deeper understanding of the message.
My intention with Anxiety Rebalance was to give you another level of support you might not get from a book. With audio, you can carry me around with you on a device (like a mobile phone) in your pocket. If you’re struggling with anxiety or panic attacks you can put your headphones in and get instant support – from somebody you know that’s been there and understands. Most importantly, somebody who can talk you through it and help you overcome it.
We’re not all readers and some of us just don’t have time to sit down to read a book - audiobooks can offer the perfect solution. When I go to the gym I pop my headphones in and before I know I’m halfway through a book and ready for a shower (two birds, one stone). I’m not the quickest reader, and it can take me weeks to read one book. With audiobooks, I can do two or three a week – plenty more knowledge and personal growth.
If you’re a regular downloader of audiobooks I have no doubt you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t given them a go yet, I highly recommend you give them a try – you won’t regret it.
Thank you to everybody that has listened to the Anxiety Rebalance audiobook. It’s a bestseller on Audible, and you can find it here
Here’s my full interview with Audible on SoundCloud
It's been a manic few weeks.
Anxiety Rebalance has been signed up by world-leading publisher, Hachette (which is great news because it means we can spread the word internationally), and I've been busy in the studio recording the audio version, which is due for release on 5th May (thank you for all your audio requests!).
When I started writing the book it was my dream to help people across the world, and with your help, the dream is becoming reality.
You and I both know there are so many people out there that need help, and I thank you wholeheartedly for your support, including all the amazing feedback received - I couldn't do this without you.
Here's my recent BBC Radio Northampton interview with John Griff. We talk about my experience with anxiety, why we need to be speaking more about it, and my book, Anxiety Rebalance.
A big reason I searched for answers as long as I did is because of the rubbish I kept being told, mainly due to the fact they were after my money and more concerned about telling me what I wanted to hear, rather than giving me information that would help.
It became apparent, if I wanted change, I’d have to go and find the answers myself.
Along that journey I came across facts I didn't want to hear. But, I realised if I wanted to overcome anxiety and experience lifetime change, I had to accept the rough with the smooth, which sometimes meant dealing with things I didn’t want to.
Here are four things that others won’t tell you about anxiety.
1. You Have to Face Your Fears
I was once told that I’d never have to face my fears. I’m sure you agree, this sounds nice, but it’s complete rubbish. If you want to overcome anxiety one of the first things you need to do is face up to it, otherwise it will rule your life for however long you let it.
I’ve been lying to my family and pretending to go to work, but I’ve not been going for the past few weeks because I’m too anxious. I’m getting harassed and bullied and I’m having spells where I get dizzy which gives me panic attacks.
Things have never been this bad and I don’t know what’s going to happen, especially when my wages don’t come in as usual to pay the bills. I feel like I’m letting my family down. I want to be strong but I just feel depressed and want to stay in bed which is making things worse.
You need to get back to a level playing field so anxiety can’t dictate your thinking. When you’re feeling stressed and anxious it will cloud your judgement and make you believe there’s no way out. It’s very easy to get into a spiral, and although you might not think it right now, there is a way to change your situation as quickly as it happened.
Hiding the truth from your family isn’t doing you any good. The first step is to be honest. You might feel like you’re letting them down, but you’re not. You’re going through a challenging period that everybody at some time faces, and a supportive family will understand and recognise that. It takes bravery to open up and be honest, but no more bravery than having to face what you’re currently going through.
Once the truth is in the open you can move forward and deal with it. Including your family will help you appreciate you’re not dealing with the situation on your own. This will give you the strength and belief you need to move forward in a different direction.
If you feel like you need to talk to somebody outside of your family unit, find a good counsellor who will help talk through the things that need to be brought to surface. To deal with the panic attacks and anxiety at work there will be underlying fears that need to be tackled, and a good counsellor will help you do it.
Nobody deserves to be bullied, and bullies only do what they do because of the reaction they get. When you’re brave enough to get the truth out there and start speaking about whats really on your mind by exposing your fears, the bullying will stop - both internally (panic attacks) and externally (at work).
The cycle of being overstressed and becoming ill became too obvious to ignore.
I’d let things build up, hold things inside, not talk to anybody, and pretend I was coping just fine. It always led to me being ill.
My illnesses consistently followed the same pattern, revolving around my throat. It would start with a sore throat, which progressed onto a throat infection (tonsillitis), which caused lots of other physical symptoms (cold sweats, fever, headache, neck ache, nausea, lack of energy) leaving me completely bed bound, normally for weeks at a time.
Not uncommon. I’ve known anxiety sufferers who have spent months at a time in bed. In an effort to protect themselves from the stress they’re trying to bury their bodies completely shut-down.
Some of them recognised their symptoms as being stress / anxiety related, and others lived in denial, like I used to - probably because like me, they saw being ill as a weakness, and didn’t want to face up to the reality that being bed bound was caused by anxiety / stress.
Why can’t I cope with the stress that life throws at me? Everybody else seems to manage it.
(Obviously not true, but that’s what you believe when you’re not feeling great.)
It’s a horrible cycle to be trapped in, but is it breakable. The key to breaking the cycle lies in regaining your balance.
Important question - because the answer is the key to a life with much less anxiety. A life where depression doesn’t count.
It’s easy to busy ourselves with big questions like ‘what makes me happy?’. Trouble is, we rarely know the answer.
A nice car?
It doesn’t take long before these things don’t count for much. The short-term fix of happiness they produce soon runs out.
Instead, a better, more focused question to ask yourself is ‘why do I do what I do?’. If you allow yourself to stop and think about the answer it will lead to the things that create true happiness.
True happiness comes with a lot less anxiety and stress, and depression will never make the equation.
What does BALANCE mean to you? How do you know when you’ve achieved it, and what’s the end goal?
These are all important questions, and to help answer them I’ve put together the Rebalance Scale.
SCALE 7: Panic
Panic – my best friend for many years! Obviously, I’m being sarcastic – there is nothing about panic that would ever make me class it as a friend. As a high-anxiety sufferer, I have no doubt you’ll know all about it. You’ll know that it sits at the top of the scale because it represents the most extreme form of anxiety and causes an array of unwanted symptoms, typically including sweating, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, shaking, numbness, tingling, chest pain and discomfort, loss of breath, a smothering or choking sensation, a dry mouth, a churning stomach, chills and hot flushes … and any other symptom the mind can muster.
At the height of my high anxiety, panic attacks were a daily occurrence. Some were caused by obvious triggers, such as going to the supermarket. (The supermarket was a particular struggle for me, and always induced panic.) At other times, a panic attack would creep up on me without warning. I could be doing something as trivial as watching TV, when all of sudden I’d start to feel disorientated and uncomfortable. Because nothing obvious was causing these feelings, I’d panic because I didn’t know what was going on.
It didn’t matter how many times I experienced panic attacks and got through them, each time I was convinced there was something more sinister going on. I really believed I was ill and had a serious medical condition. It was incredibly frustrating. I’d plead with the doctor: ‘Please diagnose me with something – anything – so I can stop this torment and move on.’ But, as in so many other cases of panic, that diagnosis never came.
Examples of panic
SCALE 6: High anxiety
High anxiety is best explained using the analogy of a swimming duck. Everything above water (on the outside) might appear calm, but underneath the water (on the inside) you’re frantically paddling, trying to hold things together. I spent most of the fifteen years I suffered living like this. I’d be sitting on my sofa watching TV, yet feel like I was at war on the frontline. From opening my eyes in the morning to going to bed at night, high anxiety ruled my life, and all my decisions were based around it.
Examples of high anxiety
SCALE 5: Above-normal anxiety
These symptoms are similar to those of high anxiety, but are less pervasive. You’re able to operate and cope in everyday life without anxiety dominating your decisions, but it still plays its part, manifesting itself through mild forms of anxiety-related disorders.
Examples of above-normal anxiety
SCALE 4: BALANCE
Sitting comfortably within normal levels of anxiety and energy, BALANCE is the optimal place to be. You’re living an active and healthy lifestyle without anxiety and depression dictating your decisions and actions. Anxiety isn’t present in your immediate thoughts, and it only presents itself when genuinely needed. Until then, it sits quietly as your life companion, keeping you away from danger and helping you make sensible decisions (doing its job properly). You don’t feel tired or drained, and have enough mental and physical energy to cope with life’s usual daily challenges.
It’s likely you’ll be able to recall a time you felt like this, but if it’s been a while, let me remind you what it feels like.
What BALANCE feels like
Most importantly, BALANCE means FREEDOM. No hang-ups, no emotional ties, no psychological baggage – just you, living how you want to live.
SCALE 3: Below-normal energy
Because anxiety goes hand in hand with depression, it’s present at both ends of the scale. It will zap your positivity and happiness, and work with depression to lower your energy. The lower your energy, the greater your depression. Scale 3 represents lower than normal energy, which could be the early signs of a deeper depression.
Examples of below-normal energy
SCALE 2: Low energy
Scale 2 represents a deeper anxiety-induced depression and a lower level of unhappiness; you experience the same symptoms as with below-normal energy, but to a greater extent.
Examples of low energy
SCALE 1: Sleep
At the very bottom of the scale, sleep represents extreme depression, just as panic represents an extreme form of anxiety. I went through long periods of both. When I was deeply depressed, all I wanted to do was sleep all day. It felt as though my body was shutting down (like when you reboot your computer), and sleep was my only escape from the clutches of anxiety. On average, I would sleep sixteen hours a day – twice as long as the average adult needs. In the few hours I was awake, anxiety had a way of sucking any remaining bit of life out of me. My energy became non-existent, and I felt mentally and physically exhausted every waking second of every day. It made breaking the anxiety and depression cycle very difficult, because all I wanted to do was (you guessed it) sleep more.
At the other extreme, sleep deprivation (caused by high anxiety) was the worst symptom I experienced. I know exactly what it feels like to be a zombie on The Walking Dead. Three days of not sleeping properly, red-eyed with dribble running down my chin, unable to talk, was as bad as it got for me. This is a typical example of the continuous rigmarole I went through on a nightly basis:
As soon as my head hit the pillow I have racing thoughts about all the bills that need to be paid this month and the work I have left to do. I’m exhausted, but it doesn’t matter how tired I am, I just can’t fall asleep.
I lie there with my eyes wide open, just staring at the ceiling, until I’m so frustrated I decide to get up. I make myself a drink. I know going back to bed will be a waste of time so I lie down on the couch and put the television on. It keeps me company so I don’t feel so alone.
My eyes are heavy. I look at the clock. It’s the early hours of the morning and I start to panic – I’m desperate to sleep because I know I’m going to feel like a zombie at work the next day.
Eventually, panic subsides, and through pure exhaustion I fall asleep at around 4am. After a few hours I wake up on the couch, feeling like I haven’t slept at all. I immediately start to feel anxious, and I’m already worrying about how I’m going to get through the day.
I dread going to bed because I know it’s all going to happen again.
Eventually, with time and practice, I sorted my sleep out. If I hadn’t done this, I had no chance of overcoming anxiety and depression. That’s why I can’t stress enough how important it is to get it right. A strong pattern of sleep combined with the ability to relax is essential for achieving BALANCE.
If sleep is a problem for you (and I’m guessing it is), rest assured – we’ll look at how to combat it within Part 4, Ten Actions to Achieve BALANCE.
This was an excerpt taken from the book, Anxiety Rebalance by Carl Vernon.
The best way to connect with Carl and join the discussion is on his Facebook page