How to Stop Spiraling If Health Anxiety Is Taking Over Your Brain

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Donovan says she also recommends avoiding going down the rabbit hole because you might be led further into the weeds by straight-up misinformation. “Getting medical information off of some random blog or Facebook leads to disaster,” Donovan says—it only stands to increase your anxiety and confusion over what your symptoms could mean.

Not Googling is easier said than done for many of us. If you absolutely must investigate your symptoms online, stick with credible sources. “Look for big names and institutions, like Cleveland Clinic,” or the websites of hospitals and universities, Donovan recommends. (You might also look through the heavily fact-checked and medically reviewed articles here on SELF dot com—just a thought.)

If you find yourself fixating on internet-driven self-diagnosis, Dr. MacDonald suggests taking a step back and remembering why you care so much about whatever you’re typing out. “Reconnect with your values—think about how important maintaining your health is to you,” he says. “Connect that to the values-aligned action of making—and attending—a doctor’s appointment.”

Make a just-the-facts list of your symptoms.

An alternative way to deal with symptoms when we’re anxious about going to the doctor is to simply…ignore them! Lock them in a mental box, and throw away the key! Hey, let’s sit closer to the screen at the movies because our vision isn’t so great anymore! Yeah, salsa class is fun, but all that dancing around is a recipe for hip pain later! Who needs ice water—it isn’t worth the toothache!

“People have a tendency to normalize bad situations, until, all of a sudden, it’s built up and it’s much worse than it originally was,” Donovan says. “It starts with, ‘Sometimes I can’t sleep, and sometimes I cough.’ Then it’s been over a year, you only sleep two hours a night, and you sound like you’ve been smoking for 30 years. It’s a frog in boiling water.”

Again, anxious avoidance won’t make you feel better. Donovan recommends writing a straightforward list of your symptoms and, if you’re comfortable with it, sharing it with a friend or a loved one—someone you can count on to support and validate you. “It helps to say what’s going on out loud to someone,” she says. “Sometimes if you hear it, you realize how much you’ve been suppressing.” But the key thing here is wrapping your head around what’s going on yourself. “Even if you don’t have someone to say it out loud to, writing down all of your symptoms, even if you don’t think they’re related to one another, can be very clarifying.” You’re focusing on what’s actually going on, rather than all the unknowns worrying you.

A bonus: Writing out a list of symptoms is a good idea before any doctor’s appointment (which, yes, you will ideally be making one of these soon), as SELF previously reported. This is helpful if you get nervous or flustered at the doctor, which might make it harder to remember everything you want to address with your provider or express yourself as clearly as you’d like.

Make peace with the worst-case scenario—and with uncertainty.

According to Dr. Macdonald, a common thought pattern that people experience when they’re ruminating about health stuff is called “catastrophizing”—as in, turning a perceived problem into an insurmountable tragedy in your mind. “In this contemplation phase before going to a doctor, people tend to lose faith in their ability to cope with [what it would be like] if they were to receive a diagnosis, and go straight to the worst-case scenario,” he explains.

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