Health anxiety is the obsessive, irrational worrying that you are suffering from a serious medical condition or that you might befall some serious health condition.
Health Anxiety is often marked by imagining physical symptoms, adjusting your behaviour and avoiding situations in the fear that not doing so may be harmful to your health.
What’s the difference between a healthy concern for your wellbeing and health anxiety?
Concern for your health is quite normal, if you notice symptoms of illness, it’s reasonable to take things seriously and seek advice or a diagnosis.
In contrast if you are suffering from health anxiety you have a persistent belief that you have symptom/s of severe illness. You may become so obsessed by the worry that you find you are unable to function normally and that your life is being inhibited.
For most people, concerned that they have something wrong, visiting their GP will either allay any concerns or confirm that there is an issue and, as a result, a plan of action can be discussed and agreed on. However if you are suffering with health anxiety even after the GP has reassured you that there is no cause for anxiety or when test results come back negative and your GP has reassured you that you’re healthy, you may still feel extreme anxiety and be unable to accept that everything is OK.
Am I a hypochondriac because I’m anxious about my health?
Health Anxiety can become an issue for anyone and at any time in their lives. We tend to think that anxiety or constantly worrying about having a serious health conditions is the preserve of the hypochondriac, however, with the rise of the superbug, Coronavirus, Ebola and the ever current concern that some diseases are becoming untreatable with modern medicines, we may all be more anxious about contracting a serious health condition.
Why might I be anxious about my health?
Health anxiety is most often seen in adults from their late teens to middle age, but young children can suffer from health anxiety too. For older people, health anxiety may focus on a fear of developing memory problems or of becoming unable to care for themselves and live independently.
There are some scenarios which might make someone who has been, up until that moment, fairly relaxed about their health, become more anxious about possible health issues.
Triggers for health anxiety include:
- hearing of someone’s health issue: A diagnosis of serious illness
- experiencing life threatening event: Car accident, stroke, heart attack
- seeing bad news health stories: Coronavirus outbreak, Decrease in air quality
- experiencing unexplained pain/changes to your body, aching joints or a rash
- close contact with illness: being near people who are unwell/ look ill
Psychotherapy and CBT for Health Anxiety
The most common treatment for health anxiety is psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT for health anxiety can be very effective because it teaches you skills that can help you manage your anxiety. Some of the benefits of CBT for Health Anxiety include:
- identifying where your health anxiety worries stem from
- learning to stop avoiding situations and activities because of your worries
- becoming more aware of how your health anxiety affects your daily life
- learning to respond differently to sensations and perceived symptoms
- finding ways to cope with your health anxiety and stress
- overcoming the ‘need’ to constantly examine yourself for signs of illness
- changing unhelpful thoughts: learning to recognise normal bodily functions
CBT & Therapy for health anxiety
To find a therapist for help with your health anxiety take a look at the profiles of the therapists at City Therapy Rooms, each profile is written by the therapist and gives you more information about how they work and their availability.
Please feel free to chat on the telephone to a few therapists or to meet several before deciding who you would like to work with. The initial session is an opportunity for both you and the therapist to decide if you would like to work together.
© Brian Cotsen