Apple Watch & Health Anxiety (what could possibly go wrong?)

rose gold apple watch on wrist with multiple apps displayed, focused on the ECG app

Health anxiety has its own challenges, but throw in an Apple Watch that detects your heart rate, VO2 max, blood oxygen and can even do an ECG…well, your anxiety is going to heighten and progress to a whole new level – in my experience. That’s when I realised an Apple watch and anxiety do not mix well together. 

If you haven’t had the joy of reading my anxiety story, in a nutshell, and for the sake of this post, my anxiety went from work stress to health anxiety, all mainly fixated on my heart. You could say I have Cardiophobia, but that’s never been officially diagnosed. So, when my Apple Watch arrived and I knew I could do an ECG in the comfort of my own home, that’s when my health anxiety around my heart spiralled. 

Why did I buy an Apple Watch?

In all fairness, I got it via a deal with Vitality health insurance to encourage me to keep active. If you do so many sessions of exercise per week, Vitality would cover the cost of the watch per month and I wouldn’t have to pay a penny. Sounds like a good incentive, right?

I never bought it with the ECG feature in mind. Actually, I didn’t know it had it until I started playing around with all the apps and settings. Once I spotted the ECG icon staring at me, I of course had to test it. I didn’t know what to expect, but thirty seconds later the unexpected popped up, “This ECG shows signs of Atrial Fibrillation”. Bloody fantastic. Trust that to be the first thing I’m shown.

How did the Apple watch make my anxiety worse?

After that ECG result, I was experiencing a whirlwind of daily ECG checks (sometimes 3+ times a day), constantly checking my heart rate, and reading all about the risks of atrial fibrillation. I genuinely believed I had a heart condition and that all the anxiety symptoms I’d experienced daily for the past year and a half were all down to undiagnosed heart issues.

That’s when I could no longer visit anywhere without searching where the nearest hospital was – what if something happened to me whilst we were away? I stopped exercising – the thought of raising my heart rate petrified me. I became scared to eat takeaways or any food considered to increase cholesterol. I basically stopped doing or limiting eating things I once didn’t think twice about. 

Fast forward a couple months and a new issue arises. I was sitting in a friend’s lounge feeling absolutely fine, then my watch buzzed. I checked the notification and it read, “Your heart rate is over 100bpm and you’ve been inactive for over 10 minutes”. Basically alerting me of tachycardia. I ignored it, tried not to think about it. Five days later, the same thing happened when I was on a work video call. Again, I felt absolutely fine beforehand, but suddenly I started to feel warm, clammy and panicked. After this, panic attacks started and became regular. I’d had enough, so I called my doctor. 

rose gold apple watch displaying hight heart rate

Getting checked out

A couple months later I did a 7-day heart monitoring test where you wear a holter monitor 24/7. During this time I’d keep a diary of all my anxiety sensations and if my watch ever showed signs of A-Fib. At the end of the test, I sent it off to be analysed and one week later I got the results. The verdict? My heart rhythm is perfectly healthy with no signs of A-Fib, not even during the times my watch said, “This ECG shows signs of Atrial Fibrillation”. No signs of bradycardia or tachycardia. What a relief.

Did that stop me worrying about my heart?

Yes, for a couple days at the most, but then I was back to pulse-checking, monitoring my blood pressure, and spot-checking my blood oxygen levels. I did, however, stop wearing my Apple watch. I knew it was only going to make my anxiety worse, so I hid it in a draw and was done with it. 

Then I wondered, “why am I still worried about my heart if all the tests have come back normal?”. Even when I was at my worst, experiencing panic attacks galore and doctors confirming I wasn’t having, nor had, a heart attack, I still believed I had a heart condition. Then I remembered I had my phone filled with Atrial Fibrillation alerts from all the ECGs I’d taken over the months that had never been checked by a doctor.

These had been resting in the back of my mind overtime and were slowly coming back to front and centre. So, I sent them all to my doctor in a very apologetic email begging for them to be looked over to let me know what they see. Was the Apple watch telling the truth? Or was it a mistake? Or a mix of the two?

24 hours later, my doctor left me a voicemail explaining that not a single ECG report showed signs of A-Fib or any other arrhythmia. She continued to reassure me there’s nothing that concerns them based on adrenal gland tests, blood tests and heart monitoring I’d had done over the months. 

Did that finally put my mind at ease? Yes. It felt like a big step to be reducing how many times I’d be checking my pulse each day, putting my blood pressure monitor away, and finally going to a Zumba class with a friend to get my heart rate up. 

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