Many people worry about their health but for some it becomes a much bigger problem. Health Anxiety or Hypochondria is much more common than you might think- 5% of the general population. So, if you are worrying too much about your physical health you are not alone.
Health Anxiety is when you obsessively worry about one or a number of health problems. You spend many hours in the day thinking about your health and checking your symptoms. The worry thoughts often escalate and go out of control. This can take over your life.
Health anxiety is related to the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum of anxiety disorders.
So what are the symptoms of health anxiety?
The first symptom is constantly worrying about your health, more than other people you know.
It is very common to be checking your body repeatedly for signs of illness like lumps or rashes.
You may also seek reassurance, from medical professionals or family, that you are OK. It is also very common to obsessively check your symptoms on the internet.
Health anxiety can also cause real, physical symptoms too, which could in turn make your anxiety worse. This of course leads to more worry thoughts.
Physical symptoms of anxiety
Stomach pain or nausea
Headaches and dizziness
Treatment for Health Anxiety
A good first step is to record how much you worry each day at write down what your worries are, what it is your mind is predicting. This will give you a better picture of how bad the problem is. It will also show you that your fears don’t come true.
Pushing the worries away tends to make them worse, but you can delay them. Setting a time when you are allowed to worry can work for some people. Outside of this time you can tell your mind to leave it for now. The when it gets to your 30 minutes ‘worry time’ write your worries down. Don’t let them run around in your head. Writing them down will help you to be more rational, to get some distance from them.
When you get the urge to check your body for a problem change your focus to something else like doing some chores or meeting up with a friend or doing some exercise or some other task.
Some people may need more help to overcome their problems
They will need a trained professional to show them how to overcome their Health Anxiety. The therapy that has been proved to work is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
The main concept behind CBT is that our thoughts about a situation (such as the fear of cancer) affect how we feel (scared and anxious). Our behaviours then add to the problems by magnifying our fears.
A typical client has stomach pains that are misinterpreted as cancer. This triggers anxiety which worsens the physical symptoms. They then start Googling their symptoms. They then find more evidence that it is cancer as anxiety symptoms mimic many conditions (e.g. dizziness = stroke, palpitations = heart attack). They will be constantly checking their symptoms getting caught up in a negative cycle of worry, anxiety and checking and reassurance seeking.
CBT deals with this by helping you to rationalise your thinking and controlling your excessive worry. It also shows you how to reduce your checking, putting in healthy behaviours to change the cycle. These changes reduce your anxiety levels, gradually reducing the Health Anxiety.
If you want to discuss how CBT could help you please contact me.
I have been working as a therapist for 28 years. I specialize in treating Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Health Anxiety