Illness Anxiety and Your Wallet

3 min read

One particularly anxious calendar year, I spent upwards of $8,000 on out-of-pocket medical expenses. I had twice visited the emergency room for vague but scary discomforts, such as dizziness and chest tightness. I was deemed healthy, but my wallet had taken a substantial hit. While it can be common to accrue medical expenses over the course of a calendar year, when they begin to spiral and accumulate, we need to question whether we have been overutilizing medical care due to anxiety and worry.

How does this happen? In short, anxiety often leads to solution-seeking. Humans naturally see a problem and look for ways to solve it. This is uncertain territory, however, when it comes to physical health. For instance, chronic pain may not necessarily have a solution or an answer; it is often something to manage rather than to figure out. But, when locked into a solution-focused approach, we begin exploring and exhausting all avenues, sometimes to our own financial detriment.

Unneeded Tests and Scans
This exploration is typically the result of an anxious conclusion. Take, for example, the patient who, according to the journal Case Reports in Psychiatry, spent more than $175,000 undergoing unneeded medical tests and scans due to an unfounded fear of having cancer. This patient had built up an anxious belief in his mind (“I have cancer”) to the point that it resulted in an extraordinary effect on his financial situation. While some might view this patient’s actions as abusing the healthcare system, we can also, more empathetically, view it as an anxiety response by a frightened patient.

When we respond anxiously, we are often impulsive and reactive rather than measured and thoughtful. To the anxious mind, spending an inordinate amount of money on medical tests may seem to be a reasonable response to uncomfortable symptoms and stimuli. To the rational mind, however, it may seem incongruent to the actual situation. The challenge is to step into our rational mind even when we have experienced an anxious stimulus.

It is important to create space between the anxious stimulus and our response. For example, we may experience an unpleasant or painful physical symptom and immediately want to react to it by seeking care (visiting an emergency room or scheduling an urgent medical visit). If we create space, however, we allow ourselves to think slowly and rationally about what to do and if we need to do anything. This can give us peace of mind but it can also ease financial strain. You will be hard-pressed to visit an emergency room without a sizeable bill arriving after your stay. Rationality can not only keep us from ruminating and fixating, but it can also help us to stay financially healthy.

What to Think About
Here are some questions to ask yourself when you are experiencing anxiety related to a physical symptom:

  • Is what I am experiencing something that requires urgent or emergency care?
  • Before I respond from an anxious mindset, are there other, more measured ways I might respond? (Example: calling your doctor to schedule an appointment rather than rushing to an emergency room.)
  • Is this something that is manageable without me seeking care? (Example: a headache that can be treated at home rather than seeking external care for treatment.)
  • Am I responding to the physical symptom or to my anxious thoughts and conclusions about the physical symptom?

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours