How Covid made my health anxiety so much worse
Health anxiety was always an inevitable during a global pandemic.
The necessary hand washing, the social distancing, the consistent reminders of symptoms on TV, the radio, and social media.
There's a point where everybody thinks they have coronavirus. As cases soar and the death toll continues to rise, it only males sense that you too (yes, you) have contacted the virus.
For the majority of us, we won't have done. We restrict our movements, we self isolate, we get tested and for the most part, we are negative. But we have been convinced - every little tickle, every sudden cough, every laboured breath - means the worst. Of course it does, we don't have room to think of anything else.
Covid anxiety is common these days, but what about an increase in health anxiety in general? What about those among us who feel themselves worrying more and more about the state of their body, what could go wrong now, and what could go wrong in the future?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a once casual awareness of my health (which was almost always in top form apart from some sporadically high blood pressure) had become a deep fear that something was wrong. Twinges weren't just twinges anymore, they were warnings that something very bad was happening.
Slight neck pain became expected life changing spinal issues. An overbite became the need for complete jaw surgery. Mild concern became dull panic became calling my boyfriend late one Friday night asking him to tell me that I did, in fact, not have meningitis.
Changes in your body should always be checked out, no matter how inconsequential you think they are. A balance between intense health anxiety and health avoidance would be ideal, an ability to take charge of your body, go for check ups, and make sure everything's working as it should be.
When the worst happens, like a global pandemic, some people panic. They struggle to comprehend the situation, how to manage it, what to do. Others find respite in the fact that the worst potential event is occurring and that they're still here - and for some, they deflect their anxieties elsewhere. In my case, it was inward.
Last year I discovered a slight click in my neck. When I turned to the right, it would make a sound, one not accompanied by pain but by a new, and small, pop. It was a change I expected would go away soon, and when it didn't, I started to worry.
Soon the click turned to a crunch and the burning started, a dull prickling across the base of my skull and down into my shoulders. I felt dizzy 24/7, there were pins and needles, I couldn't concentrate on my work.
Frantically Googling the phone number of a weekend GP, I booked myself an appointment convinced that I had somehow sustained some sort of serious head injury, one that would lead to migraines and blood clots and the inevitable loss of all of my motor functions.
Two appointments, a few anti-inflammatories later and with little noticeable improvement she sent me to A&E, where I arrived shaking and crying sure that I was at most dying, at least dangerously sick. I had never been very ill before, I had never been admitted to hospital for anything. It was only right that the first time I was, it would end in such a way.
Four hours later I was discharged with a referral form, two Panadol, and an order to stop drinking coffee. "You might have a slight muscular issue from an injury," the doctor said, "but it's likely anxiety that's making this worse."
I thought I would want to believe that there was something wrong. I feared leaving the hospital with no clear answer as to what was happening, slinking home and lying in the dark for the remainder of the afternoon wallowing in the mystery of my illness would leave me feeling worse.
But it didn't. The next day I returned to work and the burning in my neck was gone. I didn't feel entirely better, but my head felt clearer and my heart rate had returned to normal. I no longer feared I was sick, my blood test had told me so.
Googling my symptoms (again), I this time discovered that the pins and needles, the dizziness, and the neck issues were likely due to a pinched nerve; a very non-life threatening condition that can't really be cured by anything other than yoga, relaxation, and avoiding all strain in the suspected point of contact.
I have yet to receive confirmation that this is actually what's happening inside my body (my referral appointment is only a mere six month away!), but for now my health anxiety has thankfully diffused into something more manageable.
My neck still clicks sometimes, but it's probably nothing.
If you're worried about health anxiety you can find out more on the HSE's website here. If you are at all worried about changes in your body, always contact a professional.