Finding Kate Middleton’s Cancer News Triggering? Here’s How to Protect Yourself

Getty / Catherine McQueen

“I feel like if it can happen to her with probably the best medical care in the world then it can easily happen to me too and I can’t stop worrying and watching the news,” was one text I received from my friend Anna*, who suffers from health anxiety, on Friday evening after Kate Middleton made her announcement revealing her cancer diagnosis. “She’s my age but loads fitter and must get check-ups all the time, so what hope do we have with GPs we can’t even get appointments with?” she added.

Another friend Laura* told me: “I’ve had health anxiety since the birth of my children, spending hundreds on private consultations and hours on Google, always trying to get some temporary peace of mind. I’ve found the news about Kate so upsetting. I felt so terrible for her and her children, I spent hours watching the video and then immediately began to think about my own health and how me and my kids would cope if this happened to me – even though this of course has nothing to do with my health. The endless symptom checking and Googling has started again.”

Anna and Laura are far from alone in their concerns, and a celebrity illness often forces us to examine our own health and wellbeing. At times such as in the case of Jade Goody, the Big Brother contestant who died from cervical cancer in 2009, this can encourage us to take more responsibility for our health in a positive way. The number of women attending their cervical smear tests rose by more than half a million in the year following her sad death. However, for some people it can also trigger health anxiety symptoms and obsessive fears about one’s own body. If the latter is true for you then here’s some ways to help.

What Is Health Anxiety?

Clinical psychologist Dr Charlotte Russell explains: “It is very common for news about those in the public eye to trigger difficult thoughts and feelings related to health anxiety. Health anxiety goes beyond experiencing worries about our health. The characteristics include experiencing persistent fears about having a serious health condition, which means these fears are there most of the time and have a negative impact on you. Those experiencing health anxiety will also be preoccupied by these fears, and will spend a lot of time thinking about them, checking their body or seeking reassurance. Many people with health anxiety will find it difficult to feel reassured by their GP or when diagnostic tests provide the ‘all clear’.

“Almost all of us will experience anxious thoughts about our health at some point, particularly if we experience a new physical symptom. However, most people will be reassured by their GP when needed, and these worries will not have a negative impact on our wellbeing or day to day life.”

Related: Kate’s Cancer Diagnosis: Why Are Women Always Pressured to Show Up?

Where Does It Come From?

“There can be many factors that contribute to an individual developing health anxiety,” says Dr Charlotte. “Therapy can be very helpful in allowing you to understand how your symptoms developed in your individual situation. In my clinical experience, it is common for those with health anxiety to have had difficult health experiences at some point in their lives. This might include losing a loved one suddenly, experiencing a health event themselves or being misdiagnosed. Often addressing psychological trauma related to these experiences can help to reduce the health anxiety.”

What Can We Do About Health Anxiety?

Hypnotherapist Kate Hoyle has both a personal and professional take on health anxiety and Kate’s diagnosis. “Personally I was a bit triggered by the news,” she says. “I’ve had breast cancer and I could identify with Kate’s focus on wellness. I knew my cancer was treatable (it was Stage 2) and I stayed pretty positive throughout my mastectomy and chemo but once you’ve had cancer it’s very difficult to never consider it again. Always at the back of your mind is whether it will come back – and that’s what triggers people when there’s a big cancer story in the media. It just pushes that thought further into your consciousness.

“Health anxiety has become far more prevalent since Covid. In these instances, it doesn’t make any difference what particular health issue is being discussed. Any health condition becomes worrying, especially one which has traditionally been linked to mortality.

“The way I professionally deal with health anxiety is the way I tackle any issue presented to me by clients, which is to go back and find the root cause of the problem. We need to find where it came from so that we can change the negative beliefs that were created at the time.

“My advice to protect mental health for anyone who has been triggered by this news is firstly to take a few deep breaths – that’s the quickest way of calming your nervous system. Then create a mantra that you can repeat to yourself over and over again, for instance: ‘I’m healthy and safe right now.'”

“Also try to use accurate, evidence based thinking. Anxiety is a series of thoughts about what might happen in the future, most of which don’t come true. Accurate, evidence based thinking allows you to look at the facts, for instance cancer which is diagnosed early has a very high probability of a successful outcome. Making sure you keep all medical checks and going to your GP at the first sign of anything unusual will mean you can get any treatment you might need.”

What Are Some Things I Can Do to Avoid Spiralling Right Now?

Our rolling news culture means it can be tricky to avoid or lessen topics we find tricky but well-being advocate and author of “You Are Positively Awesome” Stacie Swift has some instant tips we can put into practice.

  • Mute accounts or pages that you find particularly difficult while this news dominates – apply this to people you know if real life too
  • Edit your Instagram settings, you can change your “suggested content” to avoid certain words
  • Have clear boundaries with friends and family and explain where necessary that this is a topic you do not wish to talk about and a conversation you will not be participating in
  • Have a toolkit prepared to help you if triggering feelings become overwhelming; things such as breathing exercises, journal prompts, activities you can do to refocus your mind
  • Seek support from organisations set up to help people cope with difficult feelings – your feelings are valid. Shout 85258, Samaritans or the well-known cancer charities will all have ways to support anyone affected by cancer
  • *names have been changed

    Jo Hoare is a writer and editor specialising in beauty, wellness, health and women’s lifestyle topics. She is also the author of seven popular culture books.

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