How to Navigate Health-Related Anxiety as a Highly Sensitive Person
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Delving into the intricacies of the healthcare system can be a daunting task for any adult, but for highly sensitive people (HSPs), the journey takes on a unique set of challenges. Health anxiety encompasses fears related to anything involving one’s health. The anxiety may be regarding one’s physical health symptoms themselves, or can stem into anxieties about finding the “right” provider, making appointments, and navigating to their offices. Although this may cause a typical amount of stress for non-HSPs, for HSPs, it may send ripples of nerves throughout their being and may even influence them to avoid—or overuse—medical appointments. If the sheer idea of sifting through pages of medical reviews, grappling with the apprehension of making an appointment, finding parking at an office you’ve never been to before, and/or finally finding out why you’ve been experiencing those headaches sends you into a spiral, this blog post may help you.
Understanding Health Anxiety as an HSP
Health anxiety is experienced by many HSPs . When thinking of how HSPs tick, this makes sense: highly sensitive people are hyper-aware of their internal feelings and external surroundings. Internally, they may hyper-fixate on every ache or pain they feel. A non-HSP may be able to carry on with their days with a headache or back pain, but HSPs may feel unable to focus on anything else while experiencing these physical feelings. Likewise, in terms of external stimuli, doctor’s offices and hospitals are very overwhelming places. Not only are they filled with people, but they’re filled with constant stimuli, sounds, smells, and sights of other people being ill—you name it. Not to mention, a brand-new office can be hard to navigate, in terms of parking, protocol, and even just directions. This may cause extra anxiety among HSPs.
An HSP who is aware of their sensitivity may feel like they are better off avoiding doctor’s offices/hospitals unless in need of emergency treatment. Or, they can flip the other way, and visit the doctors too frequently for them to check every small physical ailment because they have trouble focusing when things aren’t perfect by their definition. Both of these situations are not ideal. Thankfully, there are ways to combat health-related anxiety as an HSP. Here are a few tips:
Overcoming the Anxiety of Finding a Provider:
If you have recently changed locations or insurance, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the mere task of finding a healthcare provider. It can be very daunting, with the hundreds of doctors available in your area, with various reviews that make you stress over whether or not they’d be a good fit.
Take things one step at a time. Jot down a list of your health needs, first. On this list, put the things that are most important that your healthcare provider has. This will vary from person to person, but will likely include their proximity to your home, when/if they are accepting new patients, their specialties, their gender (some people are more comfortable being examined by someone of the same gender), and their insurance/billing policies. Once you have created a list, search by sorting by these variables. Be sure to take breaks often—it can feel overwhelming staring at a computer screen for hours. Every 15 minutes or so, get up, stretch, drink some water, or do something else to ease your mind.
If you are not as much the research type, personal recommendations from trusted individuals can go a long way. Once you get a recommendation, all you have to do is quickly search them up, make sure they tick all the boxes on your list, and then schedule an appointment!
The Logistics of Appointments:
Speaking of appointments—scheduling them is a hurdle that often triggers anxiety. Nowadays, there are plenty of online tools for appointment management, which may eliminate the stress of being placed on hold over the phone.
Set realistic expectations for wait times, and try your best to ground yourself and be patient when finally waiting for your appointment. You can use fidget rings or use this time to journal if it helps to have a distraction away from the noise of the waiting room. Be sure to acknowledge that delays in doctors’ offices are very normal.
Physical Health Anxiety:
It is common for HSPs to become hyper-fixated on their ailments, no matter how big or small. Remember to breathe and try not to jump to any conclusions without your doctor’s expert advice. For example, having a long headache may lead an HSP to hyper-fixate on the pain they are experiencing throughout the week before their doctor’s appointment, researching far and wide about what this headache may be a sign of. Chances are, too, that the HSP will read about some pretty serious illnesses associated with headaches, and create more anxiety for themselves before the appointment.
Instead, try to practice acceptance of what you are feeling, and tell yourself you will try to refrain from worrying until you receive clarification from a professional. Chances are, your health ailment is either not as serious as you thought, or completely treatable!
Remember, as well, that many physical symptoms one may feel are actually caused by anxiety. Headaches, muscle tension, back pain, and dizziness are often associated with high cortisol levels, caused by stress . So, combating stress and attempting to relax may be the best thing you can do while you wait for your appointment.
Of course, if you feel physical symptoms that seem serious, contact your doctor or 911 immediately.
Parking and Location Anxiety:
The fear of parking and locating the office can feel scary for many HSPs. Imagining yourself circling a crowded parking lot as you desperately search for a spot may make your heart pound. But, fear not, as planning can take this anxiety away. It may help to plan to familiarize yourself with the location beforehand, reducing the uncertainty of the journey. If your appointment is on Wednesday, perhaps take some extra time on Monday to travel to the office and check what the parking situation is like.
You can also attempt to schedule your appointment at off-hours (typically during working hours on a weekday) to reduce the chance of the parking lot being overly crowded. Additionally, consider alternative transportation, like public transport or rideshare services, to alleviate the stress of driving and parking entirely.
Managing Time-Related Stress:
For HSPs, time-related stress can be particularly challenging. Setting realistic times for arrival and allowing yourself extra time, in case of traffic or other unexpected variables, will help ease your mind. Communicate any time-related concerns with the healthcare provider’s office ahead of time and potentially minimize the rush associated with appointments.
Building a Support System:
A support system that understands your health-related anxiety can make all the difference. Explore therapy or counseling options geared towards HSPs, or build a network of people who can provide you emotional support and assistance with how you are feeling. Perhaps loved ones can go to appointments with you, help with transportation, or assist you in your healthcare research.
Ultimately, overcoming health-related anxiety as a highly sensitive person is a journey that requires patience, self-compassion, and a commitment to holistic health. From understanding what you are experiencing and why, to practicing tactics that alleviate anxiety, each step contributes to making the healthiest version of yourself.
Want to read more? Here are a few of my related blog posts you may be interested in checking out!