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Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

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Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

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Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

My 16 year old son was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder at four years old following some major separation issues when he started kindy. The assessment and diagnosis was instigated by the teaching staff. He would hang on the gate crying for the entire session because nobody could “prove” to him that I wouldn’t  be killed in an accident while I was away from him. His anxiety also caused issues such as refusal to attend parties, go to sleepovers etc.


He found making friends very difficult and was never part of a large social group. He stopped being invited to parties after his continual refusal to attend. Other kids just gave up on him.


We eventually muddled along fairly well using some strategies provided to us by the psychologist until some serious bullying in year 6 caused huge setbacks and school refusal. At that point he very reluctantly saw a psychologist (CBT and mindfulness techniques).


After half a dozen sessions we were advised that he was “resistant to therapy” as he simply sat and observed and would not offer any discussion, or participate in anything. He is academically gifted and essentially treated the whole process with disdain. His analogy was that it was like watching a magician when you already knew how to do the tricks. The psychologist actually said to us “You are wasting your money. You can lead a horse to water. This is not for him.”


Since then his anxiety is always present but is usually manageable until a few weeks ago when it manifested as major health anxiety. The trigger is a complete mystery but he has complained of transient shifting leg pain. He is constantly checking minor lumps and bumps and is convinced they are cancer. He asks us dozens of times a day to feel various bumps and reassure him that he does not have cancer. (We are not medically trained and keep reminding him of this). 


He is acutely aware that his thought process is illogical but he is unable to switch off his concerns. Anything less than proof will not do. He has seen a physio this week who has assured him that the pain in his leg is a minor sprain but he still is not convinced. He says that sometimes pain = cancer so it could be that.


I have discussed seeing his GP for help with his anxiety but he does not want to go because “unless I get an MRI to prove that I don’t have cancer there is no point”. He spends hours a day researching symptoms despite knowing logically that the internet is not going to be reassuring.


He refuses to get help, will not participate in therapy, and expects that I will provide him with reassurance. We have had sleepless night where he sobs because he does not want to feel like this anymore and begs me to help him feel better (and only me, not a professional). It is wearing me out.


But my choice seems to be to keep talking him down from his anxiety and his crises myself or have him decompensate and refuse to go to school. He is stubborn and intelligent and it is a difficult combination to deal with. I need external help for him but he won’t accept it. I’m stuck. 


We have discussed medication and he is amenable to something to help reduce his anxiety, I think though this is only because popping a pill seems an easy way for him to deal with it rather than having to sit and talk to someone. However he is terrified that it might also slow down his thought processes, and as his intelligence and academic skills are really his only source of self confidence he does not want to risk his academic ability by trialling medication.


So sorry for my very long first post. I’m hoping someone else has a stubborn, resistant, gifted, anxious, hypochondriac teen and has figured out how to progress past total reliance on their mum.


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Re: Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

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Hi @Tardis and a big welcome to the forums. Thank you for opening up and sharing your story with everyone. What comes across so clearly is the love, care and concern you have your son. It sounds like you have been so patient in supporting him. While your son is obviously intelligent and academically gifted, part of me was wondering if your son can actually see how much his anxiety is impacting his life? Does he recognise that it’s anxiety? Is he willing to learn other ways to manage his stress, thoughts, worries? It must be really difficult for him to be completely consumed by the fear that something could go wrong. Can I ask what’s his biggest fear about therapy? It sounds like his experiences in the past have really caused him to doubt the process.


I was also wondering what support you have for yourself as I can imagine that this would take a huge toll on your own wellbeing- it sounds really exhausting. I found an article on coping strategies (around part 9) that you might find useful. What stood out to me was the sentence about “They are not choosing to feel anxious, and they are trying to make sense of their anxiety and cope with it as best they know how”. I’m sure you already know this but sometimes reminding ourselves of that can be helpful for us in terms of managing our own emotions. I'll tag some members who might be able to offer you some guidance and support Smiley Happy @Chalke5 @taokat @Zoesplace

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Re: Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

@TOM-RO thank you for your reply. He is acutely aware of the impact that his anxiety has. He knows that he has missed out on a lot. He knows that he is spending hours a day being miserable because of it. He know the impact that it has on the rest of us too.


One of his biggest fears is that one day I won’t be around to support him. For a long time his focus was on death and dying - not suicidal at all, just worried about what happens after death, the finality of death etc. This still flares occasionally but for now the focus is on potential medical issues.


We have discussed often that his anxiety is not a conscious decision. He was just born with a higher dose of it. Like his blue eyes, or freckles, it is something he has, and something he must live with. But in an acute stage he can’t see past it, or figure out how to turn off the anxious thought process.


With respect to therapy, it is just completely outside of his comfort zone. He is acutely self-conscious and loathes talking to people. Sitting in a room discussing his emotions and fears to a therapist is akin to repeatedly stabbing himself in the eye with a fork. He hated every second of it and really only went along because I begged him to seek help from someone other than me. Unfortunately this experience has reinforced his belief that it is a waste of time.


He has done on line programs (Mindgym, Brave program, anxietybc program) but they are like an academic exercise for him. He can see what they are doing but they don’t provide real answers.


For him, therapy was about coping with the thoughts in his head, or recognising and defusing the thoughts themselves, or learning how to diminish the response to the thoughts. He isn’t satisfied with this because as far as he is concerned the underlying issue that he is worrying about will still be there. His way of managing is by finding out answers to the things that are causing the aniety in the first place.


The only way he can obtain reassurance is by researching what is worrying him. For example, if there is a 1 in 100,000 chance of having, say, skin cancer, he will argue that therefore he could potentially be that one person, and that he therefore needs to be sure that he is not that person before his anxiety will be appeased.


I have asked him to focus his research on useful things such as how to manage health anxiety. He can see the logic in this but the pull to feed into his anxiety is stronger.


As for me, I muddle along. I work part time and have another child to parent as well. We have been dealing with this anxiety issue for so long that it is just part of what we do. His sister gets ear infections, he gets anxiety. We deal.


I will I’ll read the link you included. Thank you again for your reply.

Super frequent scribe

Re: Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

Hi @Tardis, I'm sure some other parents will pop in and share their thoughts and experiences but I just wanted to lend my support. It's a difficult and complex situation, and I admire your approach. Lots of love and emotional stamina coming through in your words!


Many psychologists also undertake counselling themselves. I asked a friend of mine once how it worked, since she would know exactly what their therapist was trying to do and the reasons why. She said that it didn't matter so much, what works isn't the understanding of the process but the doing of the process, which made a lot of sense to me. There may be another therapist your son will connect with better, who has some more tools in their bag. I know of some social workers who will go meet their clients in a setting they feel more comfortable with, like a playground or a McDonalds, etc.

Super star contributor

Re: Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

Hi @Tardis - Dr Who fan? My daughter's hooked Smiley Happy


Welcome to the forum, it's great to have you here, although I'm sorry about the reasons that have brought you here. I totally agree with @ElleBelle's words - "Lots of love and emotional stamina coming through in your words!" Your son is so lucky that you get it, and know it's not a choice, and understand what is happening for him. In saying that, it's not easy, and can be so exhausting and upsetting as a parent to see our child struggling. You're doing an amazing job.


Your son sounds like a very smart young man, and I can see his reasoning behind therapy, and he is right in that the things that worry him will still be there. However with counselling he can get to a point where those things won't cause him such acute anxiety. Do you think that perspective might help him see it a bit differently? And as @ElleBelle mentioned, maybe he hasn't found the right fit yet. It can take time. 


My daughter refused counselling for years, but she did a lot of research about her mental illness. She did end up coming out the other end, once she understood what was happening with her she then researched things to help her manage. She does see a counsellor too - one she had dismissed years before! It's such a confusing time for them as they are dealing with their personal issues and trying to figure themselves and life out.   


Our caseworker suggested that instead of me trying to reason with my girl in her times of anxiety, which didn't work in calming her, I could go the other way and delve into her anxiety and why she thinks the way she thinks, what does she feel physically, what does she think will happen if she doesn't find out the answers. By asking questions about her answers, she got to think things through thoroughly, which taught her that her thoughts are only that, which took away a lot of the control they had over her. By asking her to think abut waht was happening to her physically it helped her learn to recognise the early symptoms and do what she needed to do so she didn't escalate. I think she really felt heard too - I'm a bit of a fixer and had to learn to listen without giving my advice along the way!! 


It sounds like you guys have great communication and that you talk things through, so I do apologise if these are already things you're already doing!

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Re: Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

Thanks @taokat @ElleBelle. I really appreciate your replies. I haven’t tried digging deeper for fear of embedding the issues but I may give it a go.

i will keep gently pushing the idea of counselling but I’m not holding out much hope for that. I think he will need to come to that conclusion by himself. I just hope it is sooner rather than later.

thanks again.


(Yes, we’re all Whovians here lol)


Re: Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

I was reading your message and I felt like I was reading about my son. I am going through the identical situation with my 23 year old son. Have you been able to figure out anything for him or any help?
I don’t know where to begin nowhere to go he is refusing any type of mental help until he knows 100% that he does not have cancer. He wants every test under the sun and removal of a lump on his neck that is not even there and the doctors are not wanting to deal with him anymore.
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Re: Health Anxiety (hypochondria)



Sadly I have no answers either. This week it is melanoma and he is asking me to check him every day. We have set boundaries - I will check him every two days for no more than 5 minutes. In a month or two we will be on to something else I expect. The sad thing is that he knows it is irrational but he just can’t help it.

And oddly, the things that he should be worrying about that could actually impact his health, he flatly refuses to address. I haven’t managed to get him to a dentist for 4 years and he is overweight with a terrible eating pattern. 

Im sorry you are going through this too.

Super star contributor

Re: Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

It must be so difficult for you as parents @Kimber3 and @Tardis to manage these situations. I think setting limits like you have @Tardis is a great compromise. 


It's so very difficult when our kids refuse external help, and must be even more so at your son's age @Kimber3 as he's an adult now. Sometimes the only thing we can do is educate ourselves, be patient and look after ourselves so we can keep supporting our kids as best we can as they find their way.


Talking with other parents and knowing you're not alone can be of benefit in itself, so I'm glad you've found the forum. 

Prolific scribe

Re: Health Anxiety (hypochondria)

Hi there Tardis,
It sounds to me like your dear young man might have a case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder...which comes on as a result of anxiety but is treated with therapy. I wonder if OCD is something you could discuss with Headspace? Also, I just wanted to say that I also have a son who I simply can not get to see any cou sellors. Same reasons as you..he would simply die at the thought of having all attention on him...everyone asking himquestions and him not knowing what to say to these people hes not comfortable with. So I can definetely relate.