Does Recovery Mean Never Calling A Doctor?
Anxious people focused on health issues often spend lots of time being checked, tested and examined by doctors. In recovery, I’m often asked if calling a doctor if never allowed, or if calling a doctor is wrong or indicates a setback of some kind. The short answer is, “No. It’s not wrong.” But there’s more to it than that, so let’s talk about it in this week’s episode of the podcast.
- Health focused anxiety comes in two primary forms.
- The first is a focus on immediate health threat from anxiety symptoms and sensations. Assuming that the symptoms of anxiety and panic are dangerous and mean you are dying or that something bad is about to happen to your body in the moment or immediate future.
- The second is a pervasive worry and focus on health outside of panic or high anxiety states. A constant worry or fear focused on possibly having or contracting a serious disease like cancer is most common in this form. Interestingly, this worry most often focuses on yourself, but can also latch onto a loved one or even a pet.
- This health focused anxiety can lead to an extreme relationships with doctors and medical services that involves repetitive doctor visits, visits to an emergency room (A&E), or repetitive medical testing. This can start to have negative impacts on work, school, relationships, and life in general as it takes up more and more of one’s focus, energy, attention, time, and even money.
- Recovery when health focused anxiety is present is about moving away from this extreme relationship with medical care and toward a more mainstream or normal relationship with medical care and medical services.
- Are you never allowed to call a doctor again during recovery? Is this breaking the rules? Are you back to square one if you call a doctor? Of course not! You’re allowed to call a doctor and get checked out. I am NEVER telling you to abandon your health or never call a doctor ever. Nobody should tell you that. That would be horrible, irresponsible advice to give someone. When warranted, call a doctor. That’s OK.
- The trick is getting back to a place where you have a more rational assessment of when medical intervention is warranted. Episode 149 of the podcast talks about the drive to be 100% certain about health at all times. In a more recovered state, assessing the need for medical care involves accepting that there is never 100% certainty about health for anyone in the world. We all live with some measure of health risk and uncertainty every day. Recovery in the case of health focused anxiety involves learning how to live with that uncertainty and how to make health care choices that take that built-in risk and uncertainty into account. Most people are “certain enough” about health to not call a doctor every week. That’s your goal.
- Is there an increased risk when you refrain from calling a doctor all the time? There is. But while your brain will tell you that you are increasing your chances of death from 60% to 80%, in reality you are increasing a very tiny risk by a very tiny amount. Your intolerance of health uncertainty is distorting your “risk assessment math”.
- How can you start to change your relationship with doctors and medical services? Try using others as role models? How do your friends and family members access medical care? When do they call for help? Use them as behavioral models, even when modeling what they do causes you to be more anxious and uncomfortable.
- Use strategies like inserting pauses before calling for medical help and pre-planning how you will talk to your doctors and how long you will wait before discarding what you are told and asking for reassurance again about your health? These are practical things you can do to practice being uncertain and and afraid. Yes, you will feel anxious and reckless if you accept your doctor’s opinion for two weeks without asking for another test or another examination.
- Sometimes your fear will get the best of you and you will call a doctor or wind up in an emergency room. Do your best to not beat yourself up for this. Everyone makes mistakes along the way. There is no perfect method for making the perfect decision all the time. Be open to learning from your experiences. If you call a doctor and see that you didn’t need to, ask yourself what you can learn from that, then use that lesson going forward.
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