Ask a Psychiatrist and Get Answers to Mental Health Questions ASAP
Hi! I believe I can be of help with this issue.
First let me say that I can imagine how scary and worrisome this situation must be for you. You are dealing with very severe hypochondriasis. Your question is whether your fear of being deathly ill and anxiety about this can cause these symptoms to appear. And the answer is yes. In fact you are wrong: it is not that if these symptoms would go away your anxiety would go away. Because your anxiety is causing the symptoms, not the other way around.
Consider the fact that hypochondriasis is the disorder that you are describing exactly to a tee. Well, the reason there is such a disorder in the diagnostic manual is because it is a common phobia! If it was not possible, it would not be one of the most common phobic disorders.
This is really the most effective reassurance you could ask for: it is not so uncommon. Your symptoms are severe and I am glad you will be starting psychotherapy to help. So I'll focus here on some self help measures you can use to augment the therapy. I will also at the end of the posting give you a technique you can use on your own as well for when you are in the throes of anxiety and phobic fear and worries.
Let's work on five ways you can begin to build a behavioral program for yourself: diet, exercise, spiritual life, motivational reading and psychotherapy. The first four are to help you feel more involved and in control of yourself and what's going on inside. The psychotherapy can actually teach you skills and give you tools for managing your symptoms. This is serious for you as you need to reprogram your thinking about yourself. Spiritual life, diet and exercise are great ways to begin such a reprogramming.
Diet: cut out coffee, sugar, white flour. That may be tough. But you will see results as some of the newer research shows. And lean meats only. No fast food restaurants, no fatty foods. See what I mean about getting involved in controlling what's happening? With diet changes you are treating your problem with respect: you are acknowledging you need to make changes to get your body feeling better.
Vitamins can be useful for moods. A good quality daily vitamin, for example. One of the most important supplements is Omega 3 fatty acids, either in fish oil or capsules or in flax seed oil. Buy good quality. The clinical dosage is 2-3,000 mg daily. All these things you should get at the biggest and most frequented health food store and ask them for the best brands they trust in terms of quality.
Exercise: 5 days a week moderate exercise, to include 3 days of strength training as you get more used to it. Pretty amazing isn't it? I told you it would require work, but what you put in to it you will get out of it. Your doctor will verify the research results showing the benefit.
Spiritual life: the medical literature is now rather overwhelming about the benefits to so many different areas of physical health of regular religious and spiritual practice. Going to church, meditation, etc. are all shown to produce benefits to the physical body. What about our mental health? Well, you will see that meditation is now a regular part of psychotherapy interventions. I don't know if you're a religious person or not. But if not, this may be a good time in your life to tune up your spiritual life. If you do not believe in G-d, that's not a barrier to your own spiritual life. Just thinking about the meaning of your life, of life in general, and studying spiritual texts and practices will help with the anxiety. And that will help with the phobic and panic reactions.
Then along with exploring the spiritual part of life, I want you to get really into motivational videos and books. Here's a simple YouTube search I put together for you on "motivational speakers": http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=motivational+speakers&aq=f Some like Tony Robbins are the classic big guys. Some are newer. Watch them all. Get inspired. Buy a book or two. Here are some possibilities, but they are only suggestions as there are so many good ones.
The first book is the father of all these type of books. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. There are classes in these books now! It was written in the 1930s and still has something to say to us today that is very worthwhile.
I think very highly of the second book on my list, which is a real classic: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It is the book that has helped more people than probably any other. The third book is by Anthony Robbins. He's one of those speakers who fills up huge auditoriums. For a reason. He's a terrific speaker and writer. The particular book (if you like it, try his others): Awaken the Giant Within.
Which brings us to psychotherapy. I'm very glad you're going to start therapy as this is the most important part of treatment. The preferred form of treatment today is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to learn skills. Here is the Amazon web page address for the classic workbook for phobias by Edmund Bourne: http://www.amazon.com/Anxiety-Phobia-Workbook-Fourth/dp/1572244135/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1286170992&sr=1-1
Okay, that should help you get working on these symptoms and get some relief. I wish you the very best!
Now, I want to give you a tool to use for when the worry and panic is overwhelming. Here are instructions on a therapeutic protocol called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). It's really quite easy to do almost anywhere. My patients suffering from depression or anxiety, when I teach them PMR at first are amazed how simple it is and that it is a psychological protocol. It was first used in the 1920s! Since then, of course, it has been refined and many studies have been done showing its effectiveness. You will practice PMR at first when you don't wake up with an attack so that you will be familiar with it. I want you to practice the PMR at least 5-6 times before an attack or feeling acute anxiety. Why? Because when you're in the throes of anxiety, you will only remember to do something you are very familiar with it. So practicing 5-6 times is really a minimum.
I want to stress the importance of breathing as well. Part of the physiology of what is happening to you in anxiety states is that your breathing is getting shallower. This reduces the oxygen in your blood to your brain. That increases the anxiety reaction, which strengthens the attack and you are in a vicious cycle! Not good. So breathing is the primary tool. I have found in my practice that learning breathing techniques can be helpful. But some of my patients are not interested in learning more than one thing at the beginning, so I have found that just reminding you to BREATHE deeply at the same time you are doing PMR is almost as good. If you are willing to take a yoga class and learn breathing techniques, that's the best. But, breathing deeply with your PMR will help. So, we're ready for learning PMR. I want you to print my instructions below my signature and have a copy in each of the rooms of your home where you may be when you have an attack. And again, you need to practice this easy technique at least 5-6 times as soon as you can. It needs to become as natural to you as breathing. Ah, remember breathing?
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Quickly focusing on each group one after the other, with practice you can relax your body like ‘liquid relaxation’ poured on your head and it flowed down and completely covered you. You can use progressive muscle relaxation to quickly de-stress any time.
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