Is My Anxiety A Normal Reaction?


Hello Dr. Schwartz,

At the end of the month, my husband and I will be moving to England for a graduate program I am attending. However, shortly before I left my job, I heard that one of my co-workers was diagnosed as HIV positive. Ever since then, I have been panicky about it and can’t stop obsessing over it. I was afraid to touch doorknobs, phones, anything that the co-worker had touched.

I have been with my husband for 6 years and even went so far as to accuse him of having it because I was so afraid. I was having night sweats and loss of sleep over it because these thoughts would just enter my head beyond my control. I was so afraid about it I even went and got tested, but my results were negative, and I am still obsessing. I wonder if these obsessive thoughts over this are my mind’s way of tricking me–but it causes me such anxiety.

I went to a physician and explained this, and he put me on an anti-depressant which I just started taking. I only have a month before I leave the country. I’m thinking I might start therapy while there.

Is it possible that my mind is focusing on these unreal fears and obsessions to dissuade me from having actual anxiety about the move? It seems that it’s just magnified recently, especially since I have sold my car, given up all my cats, and everything comes together for this. I know I should be happy, but I can’t focus on it. All I can do is obsess about my health and anxiety, and I have lost weight because I’m not eating. I’m starting to question whether I’m sane or not, and all I want is to be able to go over there and enjoy it. The physician put me on citalopram so I am hoping in a few weeks the symptoms of my anxiety will subside and I can gain some clarity on what’s real and what I’ve imagined.

I feel insane!

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You are not insane but you are experiencing symptoms of hypochondriasis and that is making you feel miserable. First, no one can become infected with HIV in any of the ways you mention. It’s transmitted through blood contact or through sexual intercourse with an infected person and no other way.

You use the word “obsessing” and that is accurate. You are focused on this idea of being infected and can’t stop thinking about it. Obsessional thinking is usually connected to extreme anxiety and you certainly have plenty of that. However, you had this HIV obsession before you planned this trip, if I understand correctly and that points to the fact that anxiety is nothing new for you.

Citilopram is a good anti depressant and it can lower anxiety. It will take a couple of weeks to really fully take effect although you might start feeling better before that. I agree that psychotherapy would be a good idea for you so that you can learn better how to control anxiety and depression.

There are some other things you can do to help yourself: Get plenty of exercise, learn about meditation and how it’s done, along with meditation, learn Yoga, eat a healthy diet filled with fruits and vegetables and get plenty of sleep.

One last thing: The more you try to not think about this thing the more you will think about it. That is why meditation is such a good thing. Focus your attention on something really pleasant that you want to do, something really ideal. Remember, you cannot tell yourself to stop thinking but you can think about other and really pleasant things.

Enjoy your trip and best of luck

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