Aug 12 • 5M

151. Why You Can't Suggest Diseases To An Anxious Person

You MIGHT help, but you're more likely to cause some harm.

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There are people that have found legitimate medical issues that have been contributing factors in creating the physiological sensations of anxiety. This is totally true. I started the very first episode of The Anxious Truth podcast by stating that anxiety is physical. Those were literally the first words I spoke into a microphone. For someone that has been dealing with a real physical issue that has exacerbated the anxiety problem, that experience is both real and valid at all times.

No argument there.

However, in this community, where you are often in a room full of anxious people that don’t have the ability to think rationally about certain fears - especially health fears and health dangers - suggesting that someone get checked for a specific disease or condition can be quite harmful. I know you are only trying to help. You are thinking that sharing your experience might save someone else from having that same experience. It’s a noble purpose and I can appreciate it. But it’s still a bad idea for various reasons.

We have to start with acknowledging that in the online anxiety community we really do not know each other all that well. We can’t know what a person is struggling with. We do not know their health situation or medical history. We have no idea which healthcare providers they are involved with, or if they are involved with healthcare providers at all. We don’t know what they’ve been evaluated for or treated for.

Then we to move to the assertion that each of us is responsible for our own health and for advocating for ourselves when it comes to health. I have to assume that if you are reading, you have been checked and given a clean bill of health by the medical professionals of your choice. I have to assume that you are here because those professionals keep telling you that there is nothing wrong with you even when your brain is insisting that there most certainly is.

Since we don’t know each other, and since we have to assume that each person is responsible for their own health and health care, we are left with a small potential upside and a HUGE potential downside when we roll into a conversation and suggest that a person afraid of their own thoughts should be checked for mold disease, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, or some other impairment or toxicity. That downside is sending someone who has already been tested 1000 times into an anxious spiral of worry and rumination that they’ve been working hard to stay out of.

Planting suggestions about diseases is essentially forcing someone into an exposure they have not planned and have not asked you to force them into.

Is there a chance you may help someone? There is. But if we do a little guestimating based on our assertions about unfamiliarity and personal healthcare responsibility, I don’t think it’s out of line to say that we likely have maybe a 15% chance of helping, and an 85% chance of harming. Would you go to Vegas on those odds? I bet you wouldn’t.

So even with the best of intentions, things can go seriously wrong and we have to remain aware of this and choose our words carefully.

One more thing before I wrap this one up. I know sometimes people get really angry when I say this or when we stop those conversations in my Facebook group. I realize that you may have had a legitimate, impactful experience with a real health issue that made things worse for you from an anxiety standpoint. But consider that you do not have to suggest that experience to others in order for it to be valid. When that suggestion can be harmful to that someone else, consider that discouraging that suggestion is not about you at all. It’s about them.

At some point we have to have the same discussion about trauma, but that’s for another day.

Mini-rant over. See you on Monday.

“After obsessively Googling symptoms for four hours, I discovered 'obsessively Googling symptoms' is a symptom of hypochondria.” - Stephen Colbert

Every Friday I’ll share one of my favorite quotes. They’ll often have direct application in recovery, but sometimes they’re just generally funny, inspiring, or thought-provoking.  I hope you enjoy them.