Most of us worry about our health from time to time. It’s normal. Especially if we’re supposed to have a health check up or test. It’s so easy nowadays to self diagnose on Google and read up about every single symptom we might have, which can often have the effect of making us worry more. Health anxiety (hypochondria/hypochondriasis) is when you spend so much time worrying that you’re ill, or getting ill that it starts to take over your life.
The most common health anxieties tend to focus on worrying about developing serious conditions such as cancer. Health anxiety involves being convinced that harmless physical symptoms are indicators of disease, for example if someone experiences a tightness in the chest, they automatically assume that they’re having a heart attack. Someone suffering from health anxiety often mistakes the physical symptoms of anxiety for more serious health conditions.
Common symptoms of health anxiety:
- Frequently checking your body for signs of illness, such as lumps or pain
- Obsessively looking at health information on the internet or in the media
- Worrying that your doctor or nurse has missed something when you have tests
- Constantly worrying about your health
- Always asking others for reassurance that you’re not ill
- Acting as if you are ill
Common anxiety symptoms that can be mistaken for more serious illness:
- Headaches or migraines
- Racing heartbeat/palpitations
- Tightness in the chest
- Automatic negative thoughts
If your health anxiety has started to negatively impact on other areas of your life, such as work or your family/relationships or you have been preoccupied with your health for over six months, it’s definitely worth speaking to a health professional or therapist to seek help. It’s common for people to get health anxiety after a family member has been ill or died. It makes sense that you would be worried if a loved one has died from cancer or an illness which could be passed on genetically. But like any other condition in the OCD family, it can very quickly take over your life and make it miserable. Here are some ways you can help yourself if you have health anxiety:
- Keep a diary – keep a note of how often you check your body, ask for reassurance or check the internet about health, then try and gradually reduce the frequency that you do these things
- Challenge your thoughts – create a table with two columns. Write your health worries in the first column, then write your balanced thoughts in the second (e.g. I’m worried about my headaches, then headaches can often be a sign of stress)
- Start trying to do the things you have been avoiding because of health anxiety – if you’ve been avoiding socialising or sports then make baby steps to start doing activities again (easier said than done – I can help with this)
- Keep busy and distract yourself – when you notice yourself getting worried, distract yourself by calling a friend or doing something fun
- Try to relax – when the obsessive symptoms start, do a meditation or try a breathing exercise
If you are currently struggling with health anxiety or know someone who is, please feel free to get in touch to discuss how I can help you using a combination of effective therapies. Find out more about the therapies I offer on the solutions page above.