Health anxiety (also known as hypochondria) occurs when you spend so much time worrying about being sick or about getting sick that it begins to dominate your life.Somatic symptom disorder and illness anxiety disorder, formally known as hypochondriasis, are the two types of health anxiety. Many people who suffer from health anxiety are unable to function or enjoy life as a result of their fears and preoccupations.
They are preoccupied with how their bodies function (breathing, heartbeat), how they appear (blemishes on the skin), and how they feel (headaches, stomachaches, dizziness). They may be concerned about a specific organ (such as the brain or the heart) or a disease they have learned about in the news or at work (MS, diabetes). They are preoccupied with the fear that they have, or are about to contract, a serious illness. Many will repeatedly seek reassurance from doctors and tests, but are hesitant to seek mental health treatment because they believe their condition is medically based.
Let’s see if you have any health anxiety or not?
You may be suffering from health anxiety if you:
- You are constantly concerned about your health.
- Check your body frequently for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling, or pain.
- You are constantly seeking assurance from others that you are not ill.
- I’m concerned that a doctor or a medical test might have missed something.
- Obsessively search for health-related information on the internet or in the media.
- Avoid anything related to serious illness, such as medical TV shows.(For example, avoiding physical activities)
Anxiety can cause symptoms such as headaches or a racing heartbeat, which you may misinterpret as signs of illness.
Why does health anxiety persist despite doctor reassurance?
Although some people refuse to be examined by a doctor out of fear of discovering the worst, seeking reassurance from doctors, insisting on repeated medical tests, and going to urgent care are more common in people who suffer from health anxiety. The doctor’s assurance that there is no serious medical illness provides temporary relief. As new thoughts and physical sensations emerge, the vicious cycle quickly resumes, followed by googling and self-diagnosis, misinterpretations of news in the media, anxiety, and more visits to doctors to resolve the uncertainty. Each new alarming thought or symptom sets off the cycle.
Why do I always feel this way, doctor?
Car alarms go off when a criminal breaks in, but imagine how annoying it would be if the siren went off every time a pedestrian walked by. The car alarm would mistake innocent people for dangerous criminals.
With health anxiety, discomfort and normal bodily sensations are misinterpreted as dangerous. The body is extremely loud. Healthy human bodies produce a wide range of physical symptoms that may be unpleasant, unexpected, or unwanted, but are not dangerous.
Changes in visual acuity, heart rate, blood pressure, saliva levels, depth of breathing, balance, and muscle tone are all normal sensations in the body that can cause fear and worry.These are normal and harmless bodily changes, but they cause anxiety when a person believes they are symptoms of a terrible disease.
The sensations are genuine, but the beliefs are not.
Why do individuals misinterpret bodily sensations and overestimate danger?
Anxiety is a protective mechanism, and scanning the body for illness appears to be the best way to protect ourselves. When we are preoccupied with something, however, we tend to notice it. When I was looking for a new car last month, I suddenly began to notice every car on the road; the make, model, and colour. I wasn’t paying attention before. Looking for symptoms draws your attention to subtle sensations that you might otherwise overlook. When you are preoccupied with bodily sensations, they are amplified and last longer.
This is where things get complicated.
Each body scan generates uncertainty and doubt, allowing the imagination to create stories. As you imagine the worst, your body’s alarm system goes off in the form of anxiety symptoms (racing heart, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, jitters, tingling, lightheadedness, nausea, stomach discomfort, sweating, headaches, and so on), providing additional fuel for your imagination to create great works of fiction. The symptoms are genuine. The beliefs are false.
How to Deal with Health Anxiety?
Health anxiety can be extremely disruptive to a person’s life in severe cases. It can disrupt their daily activities, impair their work performance, and even strain their relationships. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with your health anxiety, such as:
- Alternating your concentration – If you notice yourself becoming overly focused on a particular problem, it’s time to shift your focus.
- Mindfulness practice – Mindfulness is the deliberate practice of paying attention to our thoughts, surroundings, and actions. It has been shown in studies to be extremely effective for people suffering from health anxiety.
- Confront your troubling thoughts – Writing down your thoughts and emotions is an excellent tool for dealing with stress and anxiety.
Which treatment is the most effective?
If your health concerns are preventing you from living a normal life and self-help is not providing a solution, you should consult a doctor.Because anxiety and a serious medical condition can coexist, medical problems must be ruled out with a thorough physical examination and health screening. After that, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most recommended treatment for any type of anxiety, including health-related anxiety.