Health Anxiety: How to Handle It
“My symptoms suggest that I’m seriously not well. I’ve checked online and that said the same. I know the doctor said I am perfectly healthy but I’m not. At first he made me feel better but a week down the line I’m starting to get a headache and I have a bad feeling it’s related. I better book back into the doctor’s surgery. I find myself there quite a lot… last time I had sinus congestion and thought it was the beginnings of a tumour in my brain, the doctor said I was okay but now my hands are tingling and I think I might have early symptoms of M.S.”
Does this sound like you? Do you find yourself constantly worrying about your health, and fearing for the worst? You might be suffering from Health Anxiety – but unlike the made up diseases you’ve been worrying yourself over, it CAN be dealt with and gotten rid of…phew!
Health anxiety is described by Anxiety UK as: ‘an anxiety disorder that is often housed within the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum of disorders. Those affected by health anxiety have an obsessional preoccupation with the idea or the thought that they are currently (or will be) experiencing a physical illness.’ In less complicated terms, you probably feel (or kid yourself to feel) like you are experiencing symptoms way more severe and serious than you really are. For example, you may have a trapped nerve that you’re anxious is a blood clot, or you had a common cold and was almost definite you were experiencing symptoms of lung cancer.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people with this form of anxiety are slow to realise that they have it – simply because they are so busy worrying about their potential illnesses and risks to their health that it goes unrecognised – it often takes an outsider to spot it. Therefore, to break this cycle the NHS produced a simple tick list to determine whether or not you are suffering from Health Anxiety, why don’t you give it a go?
Why me? Where are these worries originating from?If you are regularly suffering from some or all of these symptoms, then it is possible that you are suffering from health anxiety.
It can be super easy to start feeling self-pitied by something like this, so having some kind of explanation to why we feel the way we feel. Despite the causes of health anxiety being easily identifiable, there are certain factors which may trigger the disorder:
- Having a serious illness as a child.
- Having a close family member or friend with a serious illness.
- The death of a close relative/friend.
- Being affected by an anxiety disorder.
- Having a belief that being “healthy” means that you do not experience any
- physical symptoms or sensations.
- Having close family members who themselves have health anxiety
Is the media to blame?
An alternative suggestion by the No More Panic Blog is that the media is a huge influencing factor that may contribute to the sternness of our Health Anxiety. For a huge list of reasons, the mental emotion and anxiety that we feel when we detect a health issue may have a bigger link with the media than one would like to believe…
‘On every TV channel there are reality documentaries about health and there are several soaps loosely connected with health care and hospitals. What makes good television? Drama – so what do we get? – an overload of dramatic scenes. No one ever has chest pain from a pulled or tense muscle – it’s always a heart attack. Thus we learn to associate all these illnesses and situations with certain signs and symptoms but we never have the full range of possible illnesses and injuries presented to us so we can learn to make an informed guess.’ No More Panic Blog explains.
They add: ‘Similarly, all papers and magazines are stuffed full with articles ‘The 10 illnesses doctors always miss’ or ‘What to look for to save your heart’. It implies that we should self-diagnose as our health is in the hands of incompetent doctors. Again the message is reinforced dramatically – you should be self-responsible – look after yourself – no one else will.’ However, as stated before, it’s hard to pin point exactly why health anxiety disorder blesses us with its presence. So, instead of pondering on it forever and a day, we’re going to do the usual Calmer You approach – face the matter straight on and get a handle on it.
Tips on how to manage it
Below is a handful of main issues associated with Health Anxiety, and steps you can make to alter your behaviour when encountered with this issues in the future. Sound complicated? Trust me, it’s not. It’s as simple as just learning to replace your usual reactions with more positive ones.
My symptoms take over my thoughts every single day… and night!
Try and plan to gradually reduce the number of checks you allow yourself to do each day. Literally. Write it down. Set some goals. Anything to make more physical actions towards battling your mental state will help.
I go crazy on the internet researching what health issues I might have.
Put your device down. Google is not your friend when it comes to your health, you shouldn’t trust it and you’re not a doctor so you can’t keep self-diagnosing yourself every time you pick up your iPad.
I behave as if I am ill, when I don’t actually think I am
It’s common for people to avoid participating in any activity that will make them ill or put their health at risk. It is important to keep moving – your immune system is just as tolerant as everyone else’s. Be proactive by making a list of things you have avoided because of health anxiety. Next, make a step-by-step plan to re-introduce activity.
It can be a pretty tough battle trying to figure all of this out by yourself. Encourage friends and family to help you. If that’s not enough, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy CBT is also an option. Anxiety Association of America explains.
The main concept behind CBT is that our thoughts about a situation (such as the fear of AIDS) affect how we feel (afraid and anxious). We tend to assign meaning to specific situations (light-headedness means we have brain cancer). It’s not the actual situation causing your anxiety, but the meaning, whether accurate or not. And when you have anxiety, you give your thoughts a lot of meaning, and thus a lot of power. CBT aims to help you overcome fears by correcting irrational thoughts and changing problematic behaviours. By acquiring a certain mind-set, you can learn to approach anxious situations differently and learn to tolerate the anxiety and uncertainty.
The main point is that it can be dealt with. The first battle is trusting your doctor – you’re healthy, then the second battle accepting that you may have health anxiety – and getting a grip of it. It’s time to make positive steps towards a Calmer You. Ready, set, go!