Fear of Illness

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Obsessed about getting sick

April 2008

Whenever I get the slightest twinge of something, I am sure it is a death sentence or a chronic disease. I have had panic attacks many times in the past and improved them with cognitive therapy... but this is a whole other problem. Right now I have some arthritic feelings that could be viral or could be rheumatoid arthritis. I find it impossible not to obsess and be terrified that I am going to go from healthy 37 year old mom to a wheel chair. Given that life may actually throw an illness my direction at some point, I need to not live in terror all of the time and accept it if something does happen. Any thoughts or suggestions would be great. Anon

Seek out a cognitive behavioral therapist. They focus on helping you understand and move past anxiety. Anxiety and panic attacks are very treatable if you are motivated. It takes hard work, but the more you force yourself to confront the smaller the problem gets (and vice versa--anxieties can get out of hand quickly--you do need to be vigilant with anxiety issues).

I am suffering from the exact same thing. When I have a headache I think of a brain tumor and when I have digestive problems I think of crohns or colitits. It's just crazy to live that way. It's a form of anxiety, hypochondria to be exact. I would advice you to never look up diseases on the internet or any physical symptoms. I did this for a while and you can't belive how anxious I got. I am curious what others have to say since I can't talk with friends about that. Everybody I know seems so relaxed and can't understand what I am going through. I am considering taking some antidepressents to see if it calms my anxiety. There is a websit called www.anxietyzone.com .You should take a look at that. There seems to be few of us with this problem but you are not alone. anon

You can learn to manage your panic attacks (and other states) by working with a good somatically-oriented therapist. It doesn't matter what your concern of the moment is; by working with yourself in a particular way, you can calm down enough to rationally assess your situation and seek appropriate care if and as needed. I highly recommend Martha Knobler, an MFT who has trained for 30+ years with Stanley Keleman, the founder of Formative Psychology. Her office is in N. Berkeley (Gourmet Ghetto area); number is 510.849.0222. You'll be glad you called! Terry

Fear of illness/panic, Take this with a big grain of salt as I don't mean to be ms. amateur psychiatrist, but you might have a bit of ocd. i say this because I myself have OCD and my sister and mom do as well. They have very similar symptoms as you do and have dealt with it through medication and cognitive therapy. I have had different ocd symptoms but have also dealt with ocd very well through the same therapy/med combo. What i find great about your post is that you see that you are having a problem and that is so often half the battle, whether it ends up being ocd or not. Perhaps you can contact your former therapist who helped you with your panic episodes. What you are experiencing is probably much more common than you know so remember you are definitely not alone and i am sure you will get through this and be stronger than ever!! danon

Your post has stuck with me, and want to respond. It's true, that catastrophe is possible for each and every one of us. That just the way of the world. Most of the time, we don't seem to notice that but sometimes that truth breaks through. Fear of illness is normal, I think. What's not normal, or what's not helpful, is allowing that fear and panic to rule over you. Somehow, you've got to break free of that panic.

If you saw your toddler doing something that was not helpful or that might actually be hurtful to himself or others, getting mad, yelling at him, blaming him, or calling him stupid would not be very effective for long and would probably cause its own kind of damage in the long run. More effective is redirection, showing the toddler things that he can do that are safe and helpful.

Try to treat yourself with the same loving kindness. Don't get angry or depressed with yourself; find a way to redirect your mind. Listen to music, draw a picture, clean out the fridge, go for a run. But redirect your mind away from the fear and towards something you know is good for you.

When I was waiting for biopsy results and was very fearful, someone I admire advised me to allow myself ten minutes a day to sit down and imagine all the most horrible, terrible, awful things that could happen. Run with them. Imagine the worst of the worst. Let it out, give the fear an outlet. Then when the ten minutes were up, get up and do something physical, like go for a walk, run, swim.

You could try that too. You might also think about getting help from a doctor or therapist to help with the anxiety. Rule out any real medical worry, then talk about the anxiety. There are lots of ways doctors and therapists can help. take good care. anon.

Two recommends - the Anxiety and Phobia workbook. Also the Center for Cognitive Therapy on College. They both helped me and most insurances cover the Therapy. Good luck! lisa

I can totally relate. In my case, we had two scary health situations in my family (that ultimately ended up ok) at the same time. That really kicked in anxiety for me, and I feel exactly the same way you do. Every little thing I think is something major. Most of the time things are nothing-and you can actually CAUSE benign symptom (headaches, etc.) by being stressed and anxious, but yes, I have that thought that, well, I'm not specially protected and something certainly COULD happen. I don't have good suggestions for you but hope to hear good ones from others. m

I had to respond to this because I was in a similar situation after I had my kids. I had some complications during my pregnancy and after the second one, in particular, I could not shake the feeling of doom, that I was near death at every turn. It got worse and worse. I was barely sleeping. I'd wake up in a panic. But, I thought I was being rational. I was not a depressed person (in what I thought depression was). Finally, after my doctor kept recommending anti-depressents (when my youngest was over 1), I decided to go on the drugs. It was so radically life changing and fog clearing. I was able to move on and start enjoying life again and my family. the weird thing is because I assumed I was being rational before, i didn't realize how I was slowly checking out. Not reallly present with the kids or my husband. I also realized I had started drinking more and trying to channel my anxiety into the desire to be a party girl again. I'm not saying you're at this point or will get to this point, but I'd recommend therapy and a consult with your doctor. I think having kids, the stress of it can make you behave differently. Good luck. Life's to short to worry about the inevetible. anon

I have this too, and I know how hard it is. You said that you think this is a ''whole different problem'' than your previous panic attacks, but I disagree. Panic attacks are related to specific phobias and to generalized anxiety disorder, and both are readily treated by cognitive behavioral therapy. I've had them all at different periods of my life.

My most recent fear was that my husband was falling deathly ill, so I was constantly checking on his well-being, and fearing that I'd be totally unable to deal with it if he did get very sick and die.

I had a few months of therapy at the San Francisco - East Bay Center for Cognitive Therapy (it's in the archives). It helped me so much. About five years have passed, and I need to go back for a tune-up, though, because since I went to therapy we've had a son, and now I'm absolutely terrified every time he shows a bit of illness. It's an ongoing process.

Weirdly, I'm most scared by the IDEA of illness. Once someone is actually sick, I can deal with it. It's the undiagnosed potential for disaster that triggers my anxiety. You might find the same applies to you.

Seriously, get some more CBT. There's no reason to live in fear. Less Nervous