How to Manage Anxiety from Past Medical Trauma

emotional self-care self-care tips
A women lying in bed feeling anxious - How to Manage Anxiety from Past Medical Trauma for Caregivers



Self-Care Action Discussed in This Post:

When a new symptom or medical concern presents itself, use the four questions discussed in this post to help you differentiate

I had to visit my doctor, recently, for some mild symptoms that were nagging me. These symptoms were so minor that most people would chalk them up to stress, drink a glass of water, maybe pop an Advil and go about their day. But I am not most people. My past medical trauma dictates that I get to the bottom of what ails me or, at the very least, eliminate every catastrophic possibility that could be the cause.

In fact, the milder the symptom, the worse it is for my anxiety. Those circumstances, when my symptoms are just disruptive enough to be nagging, but not significant enough to clearly require care, are the worst kind of torture. Ambiguity and indecision are my enemy.  It is in these moments, that my symptoms of PTSD, anxiety and paranoia are most agonizing.

Typically, I tend to panic at the first sign of discomfort or symptom, and it’s not a mild panic. I immediately fear that my symptoms, no matter what they are, are an indication of cancer or something just as terrifying.  I start considering all the “what if’s’. It doesn’t take but a few minutes for me to start imagining the worst. What would happen if I wasn’t here to take care of my family, and all that I would miss. Rational? No. Yet, my medical history has taught me that what I fear is not impossible, either.

The farther away from active treatment we get, the easier it is to cope with my day to day anxiety. That is, until a new symptom pops up in me, or in a member of my family. When that happens, I am immediately thrown back into past moments of crisis, mentally and emotionally.  I want relief for my anxiety. I want security.  As a result, I get caught up in the push and pull, torn between reaching out for help and talking myself out of it.

I want to go because I want to have answers, one way or the other. Do I have to worry?  What exactly is wrong? How do I fix it?

I don’t want to go because it feels like I am asking for trouble. I might just open a whole new can of worms that could turn my life upside down, or worse. Ignorance really is bliss sometimes.

I want to go because ignoring something now, might mean that I am missing my chance to take care of it while the issue is small and easy to treat.  I feel a heavy responsibility not to allow anything to slip through the cracks that would impact my ability to be there for my family.

I don’t want to go because I fear they are going to think I am crazy.  They will likely think that I’m over reacting and they won’t take me seriously. What if they brush me off and I don’t get the answers I need to feel better after all?

Those moments of mental and emotional tug of war are consuming and exhausting. I need a way to evaluate my circumstances in way that rationally judges just how serious and urgent my symptoms are.  I need a standard by which I can pattern my reactions and make decisions.

Over the years, I have developed four questions that I use to filter my thoughts and calm my fears whenever my medical anxiety threatens to carry me away.  These questions help me to determine whether I should seek professional care when the symptoms themselves do not make that need clear.

Is it persistent?

Physical symptoms often resolve on their own as our body does what it is created to do. Given a day or two, most symptoms will diminish and the anxiety they cause will diminish along with them.  I have to remind myself that not every symptom is a sign of something serious and if I haven’t given my body a chance to heal, then I am reacting prematurely.  However, if the symptoms do not gradually improve or resolve on their own, but rather continue to persist for an extended period of time, then it becomes much more clear that professional care is necessary to determine the cause and the appropriate treatment.

Is it escalating?

Whether symptoms worsen over time, is another way to evaluate urgency and to determine if the circumstances require professional attention. If, at any time, the symptoms escalate, spread or new symptoms appear, that is an indication that something significant may be going on and professional care may be needed to get ahead of it and treat it properly. 

Can I manage the symptoms on my own?

Through my many years of caregiving, I have learned quite a few tips and tricks for how to manage mild and minor medical symptoms. If I feel comfortable drawing on my knowledge and experience to manage and stabilize pain, fever, injury etc. on my own, this is another good sign that it is appropriate to wait and see how things go before reaching out for professional help. However, if managing these symptoms causes me ton feel in over my head, then I know it is time to seek care.

Is the anxiety, caused by my symptoms, hindering my ability to function?

Sometimes, the impact physical symptoms have on our mental and emotional well-being is just as important to consider as the effect the symptom has on our physical health.  If the stress and anxiety I feel is so strong I cannot function in my daily responsibilities, then I know it is time to seek more information and clarification. In those circumstances I follow my gut.

Asking these four questions helps me to determine just how urgent my circumstances really are.  Am I reacting prematurely or are my concerns justified, regardless of how someone else might think I “should” be reacting? These questions also help me to evaluate just how highly I value having an answer for my concerns. If relieving my anxiety is more important to me than the time, effort and money I will spend finding the answers, then I know reaching out is the right choice to make.

Preventative and proactive health care is an important part of physical self-care and plays a critical role in safeguarding your well-being.  It is always better to seek help than to tolerate symptoms that are causing pain, anxiety or disruption in your daily life. The challenge is to differentiate between symptoms that are cause for action and those that are simply a trigger for our PTSD and anxiety caused by past medical trauma. When in doubt, check it out. 

I am blessed that my doctor has been with me since before I had children. She knows my entire history of medical trauma, both personal and in relation to Our Girl’s chronic cancer and complex care needs.  She knows that when I come to her for help, it is as much for my need to alleviate my anxiety as it is to alleviate my physical symptoms. Knowing that I do not have to justify myself or explain the stress and anxiety caused by my past medical trauma, helps me to feel assured that I will get the attention and care I need.  In this way, having an established and effective relationship with my care provider provides significant benefits.

Living with the long-term effects of past medical trauma is challenging, to say the least. As caregivers we have seen our children suffer through extremely difficult circumstances. As a result, we see the world from a different perspective. Our life experiences have taught us that life is fragile and we are well aware of our vulnerability. While we may never be able to fully overcome the damaging impact our past experiences have had on our ability to process and reason, we can develop strategies to minimize that impact.  



Self-Care Action Discussed in This Post:

When a new symptom or concern presents itself, use the four questions discussed in this post to help you differentiate between symptoms that are cause for action and those that are simply a trigger for PTSD and anxiety, caused by past medical trauma.



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