Health Anxiety. There is treatment. There is Hope.
What is It?
Health anxiety (sometimes called hypochondria) is excessive worrying about your health, to the point where it causes great distress and affects your everyday life.
Most of us worry about our health from time to time, and some of us have to manage serious medical conditions. But for some people, health worries become overwhelming and a problem in itself.
The most important thing to know is that there is effective therapy available to treat health anxiety
does this scenario sound familiar?
You wake up in the morning and you notice that your shoulder is feeling sore. You poke it a bit and then your mind starts to race with the what if’s…
What if it’s cancer? You start to feel really scared and anxious and you notice that your heart is beating quickly and that you are feeling out of breath. You immediately think there must be something wrong for my body to be feeling this way.
You reach out to your partner and tell them your shoulder is sore and you are really worried about it, you ask…. “do you think it’s serious?” Your partner sighs, (you have had this similar conversation many many times) they give you a gentle smile and a hug and reassure you that your fine, that it’s probably sore from the weights you did yesterday.
As soon as your partner reassures you. you feel better, less anxious, your breathing begins to feel more normal and you think yes of course I’m Ok…
..until a couple of days later when you wake up and feel an ache in your back, then all the worrying and seeking reassurance starts again…..
Do you have a sense that your worry about your health gets in the way of you enjoying your life? You or a loved one may be stuck in the vicious cycle of Health Anxiety.
Some people with health anxiety have a medical condition, which they worry about excessively. Others have medically unexplained symptoms, such as chest pain or headaches, which they are concerned may be a sign of a serious illness, despite the doctor's reassurance. Others may be permanently anxious about their future health
I have a lot of empathy for people struggling with health anxiety. Of course, if you are constantly worrying about your health and fearful of what might happen in the future you are going to keep checking your body for signs of illness. This makes total sense.
The Vicious Cycle That is Health Anxiety:
However, the problem is that this checking creates a viscous cycle because If you constantly check your body for signs of illness, such as a rash or bump, you will eventually find something. It often won't be anything serious – it could be a natural body change, or you could be misinterpreting signs of anxiety (such as increased heart rate and sweating) as signs of a serious condition. However, the discovery tends to cause great anxiety and make you self-check even more.
The other part of the vicious cycle is that You may find yourself needing more reassurance from doctors, friends and family. Imagine you are feeling anxious about an ache you feel in your arm. You ask your partner what they think and they reassure you. You feel a sense of relief and your anxiety goes away momentarily.
But what do you think will happen tomorrow when you notice something else and feel worried about that? You are probably going to ask your partner for reassurance again. This creates a vicious cycle where instead of learning to cope with your anxiety about your health you end up becoming dependent on getting reassurance from your partner.
The comfort you get from this reassurance may be short-lived, or you may stop believing it, which only means you need more of it to feel better. Seeking reassurance just keeps the symptoms in your head, and usually makes you feel worse.
The other issue is that anxiety can trigger the physical symptoms of anxiety such as sweaty palms or a racing heart or breathlessness. These symptoms can be misinterpreted as further evidence that there is something wrong with your health. This can then lead to a vicious cycle of further worry.
Thoughts: What If I have cancer? What if I have heart disease? There is definitely something wrong with me I can just sense it. Focus
Feelings: Anxious, Fearful, Sad, Angry
Physical: Constantly checking body for signs of illness such as a rash or bump. Focus attention on body.
Reassurance Seeking- Constantly seeking information and reassurance by going to the GP and having constant tests that don’t find any problems. Asking for reassurance from family and friends. Obsessively researching illnesses from the internet (hello google Dr!)
Avoidant behaviour – Avoiding medical TV programs, GP appointments and anything else that might trigger the anxiety and avoiding activities such as exercise that are perceived to make the condition worse..
There is hope. there is effective therapy available to treat health anxiety. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is proven to be THE MOST effective treatment option FOR health anxiety.
If you fee that you or someone you care about might be experiencing health anxiety symptoms and would like some professional assistance please contact us at Samantha Dhu Counselling . Sam is a qualified CBT therapist and is experienced in working with people with health anxiety in a gentle and caring way.
It is also important to consult with your GP about your health and mental health concerns and to make sure you have a helpful relationship with your GP.