by Dr. Becky Spelman on 20/05/2021
Health anxiety, which is often referred to as hypochondria, is a psychological disorder that results in the sufferer worrying constantly about their health, even when there is no reason to think that they have a serious illness. While health anxiety can be triggered by a traumatic experience, such as the loss of a loved one to illness, sometimes there is no obvious trigger at all.
If you suffer from this debilitating condition, you may find that you panic every time you have a cough or a twinge, sending your adrenaline into overdrive as you find yourself convinced that there is something awfully wrong.
People with health anxiety often visit their GP or other health professionals frequently and find that they are dismissed or brushed aside. It may be that they aren’t suffering from any serious physical illness, but the anxiety itself can have a devastating effect on their quality of life. Because they have been treated so dismissively, they worry that the doctor may not have investigated their physical symptoms thoroughly, and that something has been overlooked, feeding their anxiety even more. Another risk is that people with health anxiety might even start avoiding their doctor, either because of their experience of being dismissed, or because they feel that they can’t stand any reminder of illness. In the process, when they do really become ill, they might not get the treatment they need.
Health anxiety often occurs together with other conditions, such as depression (which can actually contribute to some of the physical symptoms that concern them, such as weight loss or gain), or an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
If this sounds like you, you need to know that until your health anxiety is treated, you’re likely to remain in a vicious circle of anxiety, over-reaction, shame and more anxiety.
The Covid pandemic, which broke out in 2020, has posed a severe challenge to anyone already suffering from health anxiety. The health authorities have been posting regular updates on disease prevalence and death rates for months, along with advice on how to stay safe and what to do if we catch the disease, so it is almost impossible not to think about the pandemic. As many of the initial symptoms of Covid are common to other ailments too, it’s very difficult for anyone not to worry, and an extremely stressful situation for those who already have problems with health anxiety.
Those with health anxiety can manage their condition during these trying times by integrating some useful techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, into their daily lives, by speaking with their health care provider, and perhaps also by engaging in therapy, online or on the phone, so that they can get extra support at a time that is difficult for us all. In some cases, a short-term course of medication might also be helpful.
In general, health anxiety is eminently treatable, and we can help. In the short term, you might benefit from medication, but you really need a good long term treatment to alleviate your symptoms and help you to make your life a brighter, happier place. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a proven treatment for health anxiety. Your therapist can help you to find a way to manage your symptoms much more effectively by learning how to approach and think about your anxiety in a much more positive way.
How can I get treatment for Health Anxiety in London?
If you would like to talk to someone about health anxiety, contact the Private Therapy Clinic by telephone at: 020 38871738 or book online by clicking below.
Gelenberg AJ (April 2000). ‘Psychiatric and Somatic Markers of Anxiety: Identification and Pharmacologic Treatment’, Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2 (2): 49–54.
Olatunji BO, Etzel EN, Tomarken AJ, Ciesielski BG, Deacon B (November 2011). ‘The Effects of Safety Behaviors on Health Anxiety: an Experimental Investigation’, Behaviour Research and Therapy, 49 (11): 719–28.
Tryer, Peter. ‘Covid and Health Anxiety’, World Psychiatry, 16 September 2020.