Donna grew up surrounded by discussion of cardiac health and blood pressure.  When she started experiencing panic attacks, and the blood pressure spikes that naturally come with them, her struggle with health anxiety and an obsession with her blood pressure was ignited.

Donna worked herself into a position where she was obsessed with her blood pressure.  She was continuously terrified and convinced that she was on the edge of a fatal blood pressure spike at all times. This obsession drove the compulsion to check and record her blood pressure many times each day.  To Donna, the compulsion to check her blood pressure was an attempt to soothe her fear and convince herself that she was safe, even when she was sure that she was not. She became a slave to the blood pressure monitor and was frozen by the irrational fear that she was in mortal danger at all times.

Her obsession with her blood pressure created a situation where she was being medicated for a blood pressure problem that did not exist.  Visits to the doctor included elevated blood pressure readings based on her extreme fear and panic, but her medical team decided that “erring on the side of caution” was in order.  Suddenly Donna found herself in a situation where she was fearing high blood pressure, but experiencing episodes of LOW blood pressure based on her BP being medicated when that was not necessary.

As with all obsessions, no amount of reassurance was enough for Donna.  No amount of compulsive checking and safety seeking was enough to satisfy the fear.  In the end, Donna was left with only one choice.  Stop checking.  Extinguish the compulsion (checking blood pressure) in order to break the obsession (irrational fear of high blood pressure).  Armed with the knowledge that this was the way out, and knowing that she was in for a struggle, Donna got to work.

The highlights:

  1. Donna had to start by postponing her BP checks for a few minutes.  If she could wait five minutes before checking, then maybe she could postpone the check for 10 minutes.  This was a daily struggle to move from one 5-10 minute interval to the other.
  2. NOT checking – postponing the checks – caused EXTREME discomfort.  Donna was – in her mind – facing certain death without trying to save herself.  Naturally, this was VERY difficult.  There were days when Donna was in tears, and the edge of breakdown, wanting to check her blood pressure to “get safe”.
  3. Over time, Donna’s ability to stop checking grew.  It became easier for her to go for longer and longer periods between checks. The BP cuff got locked away and the checks became fewer and farther between. Starting with five minute intervals of extreme fear and discomfort, Donna got to the point where she was going days or even weeks between checks.
  4. Part of the plan was to introduce substitute activities.  Rather than living only to check her BP to stay safe, Donna started walking and getting outdoors.  This provided an alternate activity, and also taught Donna that she is capable of getting out into the world even while afraid and uncomfortable.

In the end, Donna not only conquered her health anxiety and blood pressure obsession, but learned that she is able to handle all kinds of obstacles that life sometimes throws at us.  The lessons she learned while conquering her anxiety disorder gave her a strong foundation to stand on when things went south in her personal life.  Donna has passed through major relationship changes and a global pandemic and social upheaval and all the things we’ve all been subject to over the last few years, and she’s out there enjoying her life and in her own words … “living big”.  GO DONNA!

Lessons Learned:

  • You will never believe that you can do this until after you do it.  You only believe that it works after you do it.
  • This is not a thinking solution.  There is no logic that will work.  This is a DOING solution, and the doing is hard.
  • The lessons we learn in overcoming an anxiety disorder like OCD or health anxiety give us a rich set of experiences and skills that serve us well in other areas for the rest of our lives.
  • No matter how dark things may seem, they can always get better.

Thank you, Donna, for sharing your story.  I cannot thank you enough!


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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Graduate student and therapist-in-training. Author and educator on the topic of anxiety disorders and anxiety recovery. Former anxious and depressed person.