Are you very concerned about your health? Being worried and cautious about your health is normal and even necessary. It ensures that you pay close attention to changes in your body should you actually be ill.
However, health anxiety occurs when you spend so much time worrying you're ill, or about getting ill, that it starts to take over your life. Many with health anxiety are unable to function or enjoy life due to their fears and preoccupations. Individuals with health anxiety misinterpret benign bodily sensations (e.g. Breathing, Headaches, Stomach Aches) as dangerous. They might also worry about a specific organ or disease, especially if mentioned in the media or by those around them (e.g. Zika, HIV/AIDS).
For individuals with health anxiety, testing for these concerns does not ease their worries. In fact, constantly being tested for various illnesses reinforces the anxiety. If their tests produce negative results, instead of dispelling their fears, they might feel that the test is inaccurate and wish to be tested again. On the other hand, some with health anxiety may avoid going to the doctor completely. This is concerning as this may lead to treatable conditions going undiagnosed.
Symptoms of Health Anxiety
- Constantly worrying one's health
- Frequently checking one's body for signs of illness
- Always asking people for reassurance that they're not ill
- Worry that a doctor or medical tests may have missed something
- Obsessively looking at health information on the internet or in the media
- Avoiding anything to do with serious illness, such as medical television programmes
- Acting as if they were ill
- Anxiety itself can cause symptoms like headaches or a racing heartbeat, and one might mistake these for signs of illness.
- Worries about health interfere with life, family, work, or hobbies and activities
For health anxiety to be diagnosed, physical medical problems must be ruled out through a physical exam. This will then reveal whether these health concerns are present.
Tips to Cope with Health Anxiety
✽ Keep a Diary
Record how often you check in with your body, ask assurance from people, or look at health information. After which, you can gradually reduce how often you engage in these behaviours.
✽ Challenge Your Thoughts
Instead of immediately thinking of worst-case scenarios, consider other situations that are less threatening and more likely. For instance, when you feel anxious about a headache, remind yourself of other common causes of headaches. For instance, headaches are often a sign of stress, instead of believing that headaches indicate brain tumours which are far more unlikely.
✽ Keep Busy
Whenever you get the urge to check on your body, distract yourself by doing something else. This could be engaging in some physical exercise, going for a walk, or calling a friend.
✽ Do Normal Activities
Engage in activities that you have avoided because of your health worries. For instance, you could do a sport that you like or socialise with people more.
✽ Try Breathing Exercises
When you suddenly feel intense worries or stress, practicing mindfulness by focusing on the present moment and breathing relaxation techniques can be helpful.
Treatment for Health Anxiety
It can be difficult for individuals to be open to the idea of mental health treatment due to their strong beliefs that they have actual physical health issues.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been found to be an effective form of treatment for anxiety disorders, including health anxiety. It is based on the premise that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours about a situation causes anxiety. CBT aims to help overcome health concerns by correcting irrational thoughts and changing problematic behaviours. This teaches individuals how to approach anxious situations with more adaptive coping mechanisms.
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