Health Anxiety: What Is It and How to Treat It?
Many of us experience concerns regarding our health occasionally. However, for certain people, this worry persists and transforms into a significant issue on its own. They spend their time thinking about what is happening to their bodies. They fear that they have an illness that they have overlooked. Some people have health anxiety when they are getting older or when someone they know suddenly dies.
What is health anxiety?
Health anxiety is a condition characterized by excessive and illogical concern about potentially having a severe medical illness. It is also referred to as illness anxiety, and used to be known as hypochondria. This disorder is distinguished by a person’s invention of physical signs of illness.
Health anxiety has a connection to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These thoughts may involve interpreting minor bodily sensations as an indication of a severe ailment, or feeling skeptical when a doctor’s diagnosis is less serious than anticipated. Like all types of anxiety, illness-related anxiety can significantly impede a person’s ability to perform daily activities.
What causes health anxiety?
Health anxiety frequently arises during the early or middle stages of adulthood and can escalate as one gets older. In the elderly population, this anxiety may concentrate on a fear of experiencing memory-related difficulties.
Additional factors that raise the risk of developing health anxiety include experiencing stressful events, experiencing a potentially severe illness that ultimately proves to be benign, suffering from childhood violence or having endured a severe childhood ailment, or having a parent with a severe illness.
Lack of knowledge about diseases and illnesses can also be a contributing factor to health anxiety. In such cases, some people may resort to seeking answers on the internet and automatically assume that the most severe responses apply to their situation.
Upon experiencing a new bodily sensation, they may immediately presume the worst and search online for information that supports their belief. However, such information is not entirely accurate and could be incompatible with the actual symptoms that aggravate their anxiety.
What are the signs of health anxiety?
Health anxiety should not be confused with having a general interest in maintaining one’s health. It is natural to worry and exercise caution when feeling unwell or experiencing unusual symptoms. However, once it extends beyond a normal concern, it can lead to an overwhelming feeling that may affect all aspects of your life.
Here are some common signs that you are struggling with health anxiety.
You have an extreme fear of getting a deadly illness.
This condition occurs when there are persistent thoughts about having a severe ailment. Even minor sensations like twinges, pains, aches, sniffles, or other potential symptoms can trigger a sense of impending doom in your mind. You may begin to associate normal bodily sensations with a singularly catastrophic outcome.
You avoid medical professionals, medical facilities, and anything that relates to medical situations.
Health anxiety can induce unfounded fears that visiting a doctor, even for a routine examination, will expose you to a severe illness. Such apprehension frequently results in the avoidance of anything that could trigger your anxiety.
You always seek medical advice.
Some people with health anxiety may repeatedly visit medical clinics and professionals to undergo tests and examinations, even when not recommended by a physician. When you perceive a symptom that you believe is indicative of a disease, you frequently seek medical checkups excessively, asking for uncommon and often unnecessary tests that can be expensive and generate unnecessary concern.
You tend to assume that you have a particular illness or disease upon hearing about or reading about it.
If you are experiencing health anxiety, your brain tends to concentrate on searching for information that reinforces your persistent anxiety. Learning about a new illness, hearing from someone that they have been diagnosed with a specific disease, or watching TV shows that depict various ailments can feel like a direct threat to you.
You often seek reassurance from professionals or loved ones.
Your constant need for outside validation that you are not ill can be a manifestation of health anxiety. However, hearing repeatedly that your fears are baseless and irrational only provides temporary relief rather than a lasting solution. The cycle of seeking reassurance can become a recurring pattern that puts a strain on your relationships and financial resources.
How do you treat health anxiety?
If you are experiencing health anxiety, you need to consult a doctor right away to alleviate symptoms. Once your doctor has determined that your symptoms do not have an underlying physical cause, they may investigate if there are any mental health issues such as anxiety disorder or depression contributing to your symptoms. In such cases, your doctor will recommend therapy and medication, such as antidepressants.
However, if there are no mental health concerns, the focus should be on reducing your worries about your health. Your doctor may provide you with guidance and self-help resources, but if necessary, they may also refer you for psychological therapy.
If you are experiencing a psychological condition such as depression or anxiety, antidepressant medication may be a useful treatment option. This may be more effective than CBT for some people. Your doctor can prescribe antidepressants directly or refer you to a mental health specialist for treatment.
Nevertheless, relying solely on medication to treat symptoms may not always be the best solution. Long-term use certain medications for instance, may result in dependence. Always discuss safer and better treatment options with your doctor.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Many people with health anxiety find cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to be a successful form of treatment. CBT entails collaborating with a qualified therapist to recognize the thoughts, emotions, and coping mechanisms you use. The objective is to modify negative thoughts and behaviors that reinforce health anxiety and replace them with constructive ones that interrupt this cycle.
While CBT can be effective for those experiencing health anxiety, it may not be the most suitable option for everyone. Other forms of psychological therapy, such as trauma-focused therapy or psychotherapy that addresses a specific psychological condition, may be more beneficial for certain people. Evaluate and select the appropriate treatment for you and your specific issue. In such cases, you may be referred to a mental health specialist for further assessment and to determine the most appropriate course of treatment.
Mindshift Psychological Services provides therapy treatments to those struggling with depression and anxiety. You may visit our website to learn more about us, or you may contact us at (714) 584-9700 to schedule an appointment.