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Author Topic: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction  (Read 944 times)

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Offline atleswoolf

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Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« on: January 07, 2014, 08:38:42 PM »
Greetings!

I had a conversation with my therapist this evening about a chapter in Owens and Antony's book OVERCOMING HEALTH ANXIETY that particularly interested me, and which outlines the idea that constant reassurance-seeking about our health is, in itself, addictive, not unlike the relief that drinkers, smokers, gamblers, and compulsive shoppers feel when they perform their behaviors.  The authors argue that constantly seeking reassurance makes you feel good in the short term, but then you simply need more of it, and thus the whole cycle is perpetuated. 

I'd like to hear people's thoughts on this.  I hasten to add that I'm not posting this in any kind of accusatory way, as if to say, "Yes, you're all essentially a bunch of addicts," because I would be a hypocrite: I come here for reassurance constantly, even though I don't post all that frequently.  I'm just really curious as to what you all feel about this, since it rings really, really true for me.

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I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.  -- Virginia Woolf, Diary, 17 February 1922.

Offline marc

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #1 on: January 07, 2014, 08:48:53 PM »
I agree with you as the reassurance we receive has a very limited shelf life.
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Offline DaveM

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #2 on: January 07, 2014, 08:55:37 PM »
This actually makes a lot of sense to me, speaking for myself of coarse, and play into aspects of my personality...I tend to have bouts of 'instant gratification seeking' when my GAD attacks.

Lately, this has also meant HA...perhaps HA for me is just another manifestation of instant gratification?

food for thought, thanks for putting this out there!
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Offline atleswoolf

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #3 on: January 07, 2014, 09:01:11 PM »
Sure, DaveM!  I've been thinking about it all night, since my session with the therapist earlier.  While I've never been a drinker or a smoker or a gambler (I DO tend to spend too much money on books, so that could make me a compulsive shopper) or a drug addict, I do think of myself as having an addictive personality: I get addicted to people, to personality types, to books, to certain writers, to TV shows (once watching a whole season of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA in a day and a half -- yes, I'm a geek as well), etc.  I do feel that my constant reassurance-seeking really does fit into this pattern, and that the behavior could be defined as addictive.  The books on CBT, including OVERCOMING HEALTH ANXIETY, which I'm currently working through, all suggest that reassurance-seeking needs to stop entirely, in order to get better.  The problem with that idea, for me, is that it makes what happens here on anxietyzone sound like a negative thing, when I know that it's kept many people -- including myself -- from really going off the deep end many, many times.  Perhaps it's just a question of limiting or reducing the need for reassurance.  I guess it'll vary for each of us.
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I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.  -- Virginia Woolf, Diary, 17 February 1922.

Offline vardnas

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #4 on: January 07, 2014, 10:36:38 PM »
I don't know if it's necessarily the case that ALL reassurance has to stop in order to get better, but rather I think it's important to be aware of the consequences of our actions. Whether we like it or not, continuing a habit of reassurance seeking is going to lead to more anxiety, just like a drink to an alcoholic could be the beginning of a major bender.

Learning to resist the urge to seek reassurance is a muscle like any other, and I think it helps when we know, eyes wide open, that making that doctor's appointment, or posting that question on the AZ, will give us TEMPORARY reassurance, but that soon we'll end up right back where we were before—afraid. That way, when the reassurance wears off and we're anxious again, we can look back and say, "well, that didn't really work, did it?" Over time, I think that knowledge alone can lead to better decision making, and the desire to seek reassurance becomes less and less once we realize it doesn't really bring the results we're looking for. This is how it worked for me, anyway, but it's a matter of working through that process—someone in the throws of HA, who IS addicted to reassurance seeking, would never believe that in order to feel better, they must completely curb that behavior. And that's the key—it's not about "forcing" it, it's about gradually getting oneself to a place where reassurance seeking is no longer even something we want to do.

Does that make sense? 
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In case anyone is still confused:  googling your symptoms will cause you to remain in a state of extreme anxiety. Stepping away from the internet is the first step toward lasting peace.

Offline Gomubukai

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2014, 04:15:51 AM »
This makes perfect sense to me too. I think sometimes we get so deep into things we don't even realise we are searching for reassurance.

My first step towards realising and helping myself was an innocent google search after something someone told me that ended with over a year (over a YEAR!) of fear about having ms.

I'm only just starting to realise now that I might be ok. And that the main thing that made the fear worse was trying to reassurance seek through a search engine of all things. A seaech wngine which knows virtually nothing about me and is most certainly not a doctor. A search engine Which made things so. Much. Worse.

So I stopped doing that one pretty much cold turkey and refused to go near google for medical reassurance and came here instead. For a while I was quite panicky - posting about every symptom that scared me rather than googling. And gradually... step by shaky step I started to realise that reassurance can have its place but no way should it be the ONLY thing that can help you feel better about your symptoms.

That requires quite a bit of work but then there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going, right? :)
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Offline psychopika

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2014, 04:56:47 AM »
Agreed! I'm totally addicted to reassurance. After many, many years of reassurance, my boyfriend (the Main Source) decided he will not give in to my requests and will ignore my health-related questions.

So, alone and lacking my favorite drug, I've started being much more present online, as well as bothering more friends about it. Needless to say, I love this forum, but it may also be addictive.

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Offline patmob

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2014, 05:50:43 AM »
I'm not sure its just health anxiety.  Seems like it would be true of any repetitive behavior
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Offline psychopika

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2014, 05:54:08 AM »
I'm not sure its just health anxiety.  Seems like it would be true of any repetitive behavior

Only if it brings an intense sense of well being. I could never be addicted to brushing my teeth :P
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Offline MrMoleHill

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2014, 10:00:27 AM »
It is addictive! And, we all can testify to that big feeling of "relief" we get when we finally acquire that final dose of reassurance, which carries us through until the next episode. It's probably due to a burst of dopamine, which is known to occur in addicts, including compulsive gamblers, liars, shoppers, shoplifters, and even porn addicts.

Our thinking affects our chemistry, not just chemical dependencies like smoking, drinking, drugs, or even caffeine. Therefore, it becomes not only a psychological addiction, but a chemical addiction, as well.  I think even text messaging hijacks the reward circuitry in our brain, causing it to become an addiction, as well.

That's my laymen's opinion.  Any doctors, psychiatrists, or psychologists please feel free to chime in.
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Offline atleswoolf

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2014, 06:56:03 PM »
I think you're onto something, MrMoleHill.  While reassurance might not be a "substance" in the way that alcohol and drugs are, it still must have a biochemical effect on the body, just the way a gambling buzz does for the gambler, or the way an orgasm does for the sex addict, etc.  Those aren't "substances," per se, but they effect the body similarly.  Very good food for thought. 
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I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.  -- Virginia Woolf, Diary, 17 February 1922.

Offline AncientMelody

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2014, 07:32:34 PM »
I have GAD not health anxiety, but I get where you're coming from. I feel somehow comforted to know that someone is caring for ME, a role reversal as I spend so much time as a care-GIVER. My patients, my children, supporting my parents emotionally last year when they divorced.

My husband is very supportive but there's something different about the patient role. Definitely something I need to address in my personal journaling. ( my at-home self therapy)
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Offline atleswoolf

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2014, 07:42:12 PM »
Agreed.  My therapist told me that what I seem to want most profoundly is to be told that I'm okay...in every possible meaning of that word.  Not just physically, in terms of having no major illnesses, but also that I'm a good person, a good friend, a good partner, a good professor, etc., etc.  There's probably something to that.  When I ask for reassurance, I think I'm asking for reassurance that ALL is well, not just my health.
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I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.  -- Virginia Woolf, Diary, 17 February 1922.

Offline AncientMelody

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2014, 07:54:19 PM »
Atles: YES, I think your therapist hit the nail on the head there. I think that's what I seek.
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Offline atleswoolf

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Re: Health anxiety and reassurance-seeking as addiction
« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2014, 08:12:16 PM »
My guess is that that's what MOST of us on this board seek -- reassurance that we're all okay, that nothing is wrong, anywhere in our lives.  Which will never be the case, of course.  The real question is how we can start to feel good again without constantly seeking reassurance.
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I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.  -- Virginia Woolf, Diary, 17 February 1922.

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