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Health anxiety - having a panic attack

(32 Posts)
Wenchelda Tue 21-Feb-17 14:58:04

Hi, I have health anxiety so generally avoid the health topic for fear of triggering a panic attack but I find myself in the middle of one right now and could do with someone to talk some sense into me please.

Bit of background - not sure if relevant. I had cbt when my anxiety got really bad a couple of years ago - finally finished 12 months worth of sessions in April last year and have been pretty much in control of it since then, except one episode in sept/oct time.

I recently found out a family friend had a tumour on his pancreas and has had to have surgery to remove part of his stomach before starting chemotherapy. Cancer is my biggest anxiety trigger and something that I previously couldn't even read/see/talk about without setting my heart racing. I thought I was on top of this but since hearing this news about family friend, I am feeling very anxious that I will have the same. For the last week or 2 (so probably started not long after I heard the news) I have had an odd uncomfortable feeling just below my left bottom rib. It's not a pain as such, hard to describe but feels sort of like the area is squashed, yet also feeling "stretched" at the same time. Sometimes feels like my rib could be bruised, other times it feels like it's under my rib rather than the bone itself. I've poked around and there are no lumps or anything I can feel, nor is there anything visibly different from the outside. Of course I am convinced that it is cancer of my liver / pancreas / stomach or whatever else is in that area.

I know this is completely irrational. I have no other symptoms of anything. Logically I know it's only on my mind due to news about friend. I know this. But I just can't believe that there is any simpler explanation than cancer.

I've booked an appointment with my GP for 3 weeks time (this far ahead partly because that was the soonest convenient appointment that could be booked in advance without phoning on the day for an emergency appointment, and partly to give it a chance to go away before I see doctor). I know that anxiety itself can cause actual physical symptoms so there could even be no real reason for it other than me worrying. So I really want to try and stop thinking about it.

But then my mind runs away with the "what if's". I know there are many things it could be that would be far more likely than cancer but the "what if" is always there and that's when my mind goes off and all I can think of is me dying and my children growing up without me.

DH is trying to be supportive but I know doesn't really understand the anxiety. My mum helped me a lot when I was suffering badly last time but I haven't mentioned it to her yet. I feel silly and stupid admitting I feel like this again, when I know how irrational I am being.

Sorry this is so long. I think I needed to get it all out. I'm being stupid, aren't I? angrysad

whirlygirly Tue 21-Feb-17 17:17:17

No you're not. I've recently experienced similar although it's been breast pain - started after 2 close friends were diagnosed with breast cancer. I've never had anxiety this bad in my life before, I don't normally experience it much at all.

I'm sure this can't be an uncommon reaction to people we know well becoming ill. It's very easy to develop "symptoms" once they're in your consciousness.

I hope you can get some peace of mind soon.

Wenchelda Tue 21-Feb-17 17:39:10

Thank you for replying whirly. I've experienced breast pain quite a bit before (checked by gp several times and found nothing sinister) and I think this is connected to cancer - particularly breast cancer - being my biggest anxiety trigger. It is always at the back of my mind so therefore the symptoms are too. Pacreatic cancer and liver problems are something I've never even thought about but now I know someone diagnosed with it, it's at the forefront of my mind.

Logically i know all this so why can't my brain accept it? I hate feeling so scared and out of control. I am trying to hold myself together in front of the children but really just want to curl up in a ball and cry.

LilBatFacedGirl Tue 21-Feb-17 20:13:29

Yeah you're being stupid but if you are then do am I

HA is a pain in the arse. And yes like you, my trigger is cancer. Both my parents have it and I know this has been the cause of my HA

I don't trouble the doctor though. That pain in my side, the aching left breast, the odd spot which MUST mean my immune system has broken down .. I KNOW it's in my head. I maybe differ from other HA sufferers in that I don't need a reassurance about a symptom. I've accepted that won't help me and ultimately only works for a short time

I'd keep your dr appointment but make sure it's for your HA and not any pains etc. I sympathise as I'm so fed up with this myself. I'm normal, I'm sane I KNOW ITS HA

And still I worry

What helps me? Some things. Regular relaxing baths. Shopping. Getting into a good book. My work to an extent. Controlling what I eat so I'm making good choices

I won't have helped you at all but you're not alone

Inmyownlittlecorner Tue 21-Feb-17 20:56:48

I've just finished my CBT too, but I do find that it's still easily triggered, the difference is that I'm more often than not able to rationalise myself out of it.
I find paying attention to eating reasonably healthily & being active is a help. I'm going to sign up for some yoga classes. Reflexology has been helpful too.
I'm in the middle of a very minor & non serious health issue at the moment, which means any niggle/ache/pain is magnified & my ability to catastrophize everything is not helping.
I really feel for you & you are not alone in these feelings at all.

Wenchelda Tue 21-Feb-17 21:02:55

Thanks all. I told my mum how I am feeling and very quickly she has emailed me a link to an anxiety website that clearly describes rib cage pain, tenderness, "bruised" feeling and stitch-like pain all as symptoms of anxiety. So that has helped me relax a bit. I just hate this feeling of being fully aware that I am being irrational but still not believing there is a simple explanation for it. Catastrophizong is exactly right. I wish I could switch off the part of my brain that makes me do it.

applespearsbears Tue 21-Feb-17 21:11:19

I really feel for you having suffered on and off for years with HA. I hope the CBT gave you some tools and techniques to challenge the negative thoughts. I find by challenging each thought , that slowly my brain starts to think more positively and it's a self fulfilling circle, but it does take time. It's teaching your mind to think in a different way. Don't give up and good luckflowers

LittlePaintBox Tue 21-Feb-17 21:16:35

HA is an absolute pain. Glad your mum was able to help. When I was sent for a colonoscopy because of 'unusual bowel activity for 3 weeks or more', I had my funeral all planned out, even though I had no reason to believe I had cancer and it was simply a routine check.

whirlygirly Tue 21-Feb-17 21:44:02

I'd jumped about six stages along too.

I've also got car anxiety at the moment which is a whole other thread but has also been ridiculously and disproportionately stressful. That's a very short term problem though. The two things together left me a total nervous wreck the other day.

This is actually the first evening in a while I haven't felt horrific. smile

lovechocolate123 Tue 21-Feb-17 23:01:15

I have the same. My fear is cancer. Thought I had pancreatic cancer last year too. It started with thinking I had stomach cancer, then bowel cancer. I had colonoscopy and endoscopy with biopsies so now I moved on to i ovarian cancer. For me it is this vicious cycle .. stress/ anxiety makes it worse which give me the physical symptoms then I stress and get anxious about that the physical symptoms! The thing with me is i am convinced all the doctors I saw last year have missed something. I know it all stems back to my mum dying of a brain tumour when I was young. She kept going back to the gp but they kept telling her it was nothing and not to worry it and to take paracetamol. Watching her go through it was just awful. Last year I had counselling and a course of CBT which helped but definitely not cured. Sometimes I wish this awful feeling of doom would just go away. I have no one really to confide in . It helps to see that I am not the only one feeling this way xx

MinesaPinot Wed 22-Feb-17 13:51:13

I can totally understand where you are coming from. I have had health anxiety for years, ever since I was young really, when I was always convinced I had appendicitis. Then I moved onto cancer (predictably) and have had several dreadful episodes over the years culminating in an awful episode this time last year which was the worse yet. I had sciatica, where my toes went numb and it was awkward to move my foot, yet managed to convince myself I had MS. Then pains in my abdomen, so that set me off thinking I had cancer of some sort. I got myself into such a state I ended up on Sertraline for six months along with CBT therapy and seeing a psychiatrist to calm me down. An awful, awful time, especially for my poor DH.

I think the CBT helped and gave me techniques to cope, and my mantra is now "Rationalise not Catastrophize". If it all gets too much I got into our loo at work, lean against the very cool wall and just repeat my mantra in my head until I calm down.

I'm trying to get into a good space now, as I've had lower abdominal pains which feel like period pains (I'm post-menopausal). Even though I've had this on and off for years, had pelvic scans (last one in August 2015) and I also suffer with IBS, I still am worrying that it's something nasty or sinister. So, off to the loo and repeat after me "Rationalise not Catastrophize".

I don't know if I've helped OP, I just wanted to share my experience and let you know that you are not alone flowers

Wenchelda Wed 22-Feb-17 14:25:55

Thank you pinot ... I love that mantra and may use it myself. Rationalise rather than catastrophize is something I definitely need to do. One mantra I got from my CBT sessions was "all is well, right here, right now" and i do use that sometimes to remind me that everything is ok at that particular moment. I also recently heard "focus on the what IS, rather than the what IF" which is definitely appropriate too.

When I finished my cbt almost 12 months ago, one of the things I said I'd do was make time every month or so to sit and go over my techniques and things I'd learnt, so that the anxiety didn't get on top of me. As usually happens with making time for myself, it's got put off in favour of doing things for other people / work / housework etc. So I think that's something I need to prioritise again. I'm going to try to schedule it on the calendar as if it were a proper cbt session and make sure I stick to it. The thought rationalisation sheets I had in my sessions were really helpful and I think it would be good for me to go over them again, as well as reading through all my notes etc.

Thanks all for your comments and suggestions. It really does help to know others have felt the same way and to hear from people who really understand what I'm going through, rather than my DH who tries to be supportive but just doesn't get it. I know I'm irrational but I can't change how I feel. I think he finds that completely alien to understand.
Thanks all flowers

Wenchelda Wed 22-Feb-17 21:36:39

I thought I was doing better but I'm feeling really anxious again now. It's not so bad during the day when I am busy and distracted. But lying in the dark when I was putting the children to bed was terrifying. My mind just runs away with itself. I felt (feel) convinced that the odd feeling I have under my rib is the start of a tumour and now the whole area feels tender because it is getting bigger. It's like I can actually feel the "badness" spreading. My whole left side feels "bad" and my left leg is heavy and tingling.

I know tingling and the like are symptoms of anxiety. Thanks to the link my mum found, i now also know that sore ribs are a symptom of anxiety. I know I'm catastrophizing not rationalising. So why the f* can't I believe any of it??

All I can think about is dying and leaving my children and them growing up without me and that just makes me go to pieces.

lovechocolate123 Wed 22-Feb-17 22:18:06

I know how you feel . Night is the worst. When I am bad that's exactly what I think about all the time. ...my children growing up without me. Did your health anxiety get worse after having kids? Xx

MinesaPinot Wed 22-Feb-17 22:21:15

The night time is the worse Wenchelda. All your deepest fears seem to come to the fore, and your mind works overtime. Many's the night I haven't been able to sleep for worrying and wishing that my DH would wake up just to reassure me that I wasn't going mad.

I could have written your whole post, particularly the tingling and heavy feeling in your leg - I woke up one night bathed in sweat convinced that I couldn't move my legs. It was terrifying. And I woke up sobbing telling my DH that I didn't want to die.

Can I recommend a really good book called "Overcoming Health Anxiety" by Rob Wilson and David Veale. It is an easy read and gives some good exercises and insights into health anxiety and why we feel the way we do. It was recommended to me by my CBT practitioner and really helped. I still dip in and out when I feel wobbly.

Wenchelda Wed 22-Feb-17 22:52:08

lovechocolate I never had health anxiety before having kids. It started 3 years ago, out of the blue. I guess I've always been a bit of a worrier but nothing to this extent. 3 yrs ago was my first HA panic attack and I was convinced I had bone cancer and would be dead within weeks. It was terrifying. My children were 4 & 2 at the time. I guess I'm a lot more nervous in general since becoming a mum. For example I did a parachute jump many years ago but am now scared of heights. Also I've flown long haul many times but the one and only time I've done it since having children, I was a nervous wreck and cried during take off. I have close relatives on the other side of the world and am desperate to take my children to visit but simply cannot bring myself to get on a plane with them.

But of all my fears, the health anxiety is the one that cripples me. As I said, just thinking about dying and not being there for my children growing up just absolutely has me in pieces.

Jeez I need to get a grip. I managed to change my gp appointment to Thursday next week so hopefully that will give me some peace of mind about this odd feeling in my rib. As long as she can give me reassurance , of course, and doesn't say I need further tests or anything. confused

Aaaargh angrysad

lovechocolate123 Thu 23-Feb-17 06:53:20

I agree the book Overcoming Health Anxiety is really good please try to get hold of a copy. It still helps me now. I really feel for you and everything you have written I could have written 18 months ago which is really when my HA started. I am terrified of going to the doctor for the exact same reason. I would fear all the tests but most of all the waiting for results. The reassurance would last a couple of days then in used to begin to think ' but maybe they missed something' or ' maybe the tests unreliable' . Speak to your doctor about CBT. Have you had any counselling ? Xx

Wenchelda Thu 23-Feb-17 07:48:08

lovechocolate I've had cbt. I had sessions for a year, finished them just under a year ago and my HA has been under control since then. I had one panic attack in sept/oct time, when I had constant pins and needles in my foot and was certain this was a symptom of MS. Since then I've been doing really well. It's just since finding out about a family friend who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, that's on my mind and I've now got this odd feeling under my rib and so have put two and two together and convinced myself that I must have a tumour in whatever organ is under my left rib.

I think I need to dig out the notes from all my cbt sessions, plus
My books (I've got 2 or 3 about anxiety - likely even the one that's been recommended). I never really got on with reading them before; I found them too hard going. But maybe I will try again.

I'm feeling a bit calmer this morning but the fact is I still have this feeling of "something" bad lurking inside under my rib - the whole area feels tender and "thick/heavy". I'm probably making no sense. But it was the first thing I thought about when I opened my eyes.

I hate this. But what if it IS a tumour or something? shock

Fitzsimmons Thu 23-Feb-17 08:02:46

Hi OP. I get health anxiety as well, with cancer being a trigger. In fact, I also get the same feeling in my left hand side, related to my anxiety. Do you get IBS any chance? I have it it and it's triggered by anxiety and that's when I get the pain.

I'm sorry you are going through this. I've had CBT which helped lots but I know I need to make the effort to stay on top it it. For me the most effective thing is distraction. Can you go out somewhere today with the children if it's half term by you?

Night times are definitely the worse. There is nothing to stop you running away with your thoughts and probing every worrying sensation. I'm crap at meditation but I find imagining my dream house helps. I think about the outside, what I would do to the garden, then how I would decorate each individual room. If my thoughts start to drift away I have to prompt myself to stay on track but eventually I fall asleep.

I hope you have a better day today. X

Wenchelda Thu 23-Feb-17 08:42:18

Thank you. I ageee distraction is the best thing. Luckily we have friends coming over today so that will keep me occupied. I might try imagining my dream house or similar tonight - I find meditation quite hard too. Thanks for that suggestion.

I don't have IBS but I think maybe my anxiety triggers all sorts of aches and pains. Weirdly it's always on my left side too. (I'm left handed, don't know if that's why?) i feel like all the left side of my body is bad. It's the left breast I always get pains in. The left side of my head if I have a headache. My left leg that is heavy and tingling. And now this "bad" feeling under my left rib. I feel like I want to just chop myself in half and get rid of the bad side :-/

MamaMagellanic Thu 23-Feb-17 09:09:59

I've been through this. Almost identical in fact. A family friend got Pancreatic cancer, I was convinced I had pancreatic cancer. I already had pain (endometriosis but referred to ribs, shoulder, mid back etc) and with my thoughts convincing me I had PC, my psychosomatic symptoms grew. I ended up with every symptom, including losing almost 2 stone in weight. It was a very bad few months.
The GP was great, I also ended up in A&E a couple of times, which I feel INCREDIBLY guilty for now but I was investigated thoroughly. These brought up a couple of issues that were treatable and in no way life threatening, definitely not cancer.
It was a couple of years ago now but I was terrible. I was on google constantly, my thoughts were consumed by it, I couldn't sleep, food made me ill, it really was an horrific time. I tried antidepressants but they made me worse so I was put on anxiety medication which has helped enormously. I decided against CBT and instead worked my way through a coping strategy of massive distraction and ignoring the thoughts. I don't know how I did it but my health anxiety no longer plays a major role in my day to day life.
In the end I had a laparoscopy for my endometriosis and a patch was removed from my abdomen, with it my pain lessened tremendously. This was a year ago and the pain is back, the endo has come back, and the occasional thought of 'could it be cancer, they've missed something' is back but I'm really trying to ignore it.

I was so utterly convinced I had cancer, looking back it was almost completely unfounded. You're not alone, people who haven't been through it can't understand how destructive it can be.

I hope your GP is understanding and refers you for testing to reassure you. Maybe try anxiety meds, CBT or something like mindfulness? You will come through the other side of this flowers

MamaMagellanic Thu 23-Feb-17 09:14:17

I have IBS too, many trigger foods, the right side of my body is my 'bad' side. That was where most of the pain was/is. It definitely gets worse with sleep deprivation/stress.

Fitzsimmons Thu 23-Feb-17 10:33:04

Do you grind your teeth or clench your jaw lots? That is something else I do when my anxiety is bad. As a result the left side of my head, neck, shoulder etc hurt (I'm also a lefty). The nerves are all connected so it's easy to get referred pain x

Wenchelda Thu 23-Feb-17 10:46:27

Fitz I don't grind my teeth ; I don't think I clench my jaw but may well do that without realising. I try and tell myself that the aches and pains are always on the left because that's my dominant side so the arm I'm using more etc. It's just this horrible feeling that it's something inside that is bad. I can't shake it off. My whole left side - abdomen, ribs, back - all feel "odd". I know that's a terrible description but I don't know how else to describe it. It's not painful, or sore, or achey. It just doesn't feel right somehow confused

whirlygirly Thu 23-Feb-17 17:29:00

I know exactly what you mean about feeling the bad bit. It's my left side too, oddly.

This might sound mad but try taking a Rennie tablet. I was so stressed out the other day I'd given myself major heartburn on top of the residual breast pain - it lasted 2-3 days and was absolutely horrid until a colleague suggested I try one of his tablets. I don't normally ever get that but it was sorted amazingly quickly.

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