How to Deal with Health Anxiety During the Pandemic
By Dr Becky Spelman
There’s no denying that we all tend to worry about our health a little more than we should sometimes and fall victim to the trap of self-diagnosing with the help of Webmd and Mayo Clinic. And that’s never been more true than the current climate we live in now. But for some, these fears can be so strong – despite them being in perfectly good physical health – that they find it hard to cope with their day-to-day life.
Hypochondria and Coronavirus: An Unwelcome Combination
Health anxiety and coronavirus make for the very worst of combinations. While many people may be flaunting social distancing, other’s are living in real fear of what’s being framed as a “deadly pandemic.” And the reason it presents such a problem to those who’re predisposed to worrying about their health is that COVID-19 is still a relatively unknown quantity – and this despite the first cases being reported in China a full twelve months ago, now. It’s an ever-evolving dynamic as we continue to receive mixed messages from our government and media. And it all adds up to a melting pot of uncertainty and tension, which, even for the well-adjusted among us, is hard to navigate. For those in the throes an uncertain nature, it only serves to exacerbate an already deep sense of uneasiness.
How to Manage Your Health Anxiety in the Times of COVID-19
There is no getting around the fact that there is going to be some stress and anxiety as we make our way through the eye of the pandemic storm. You hear that someone in one degree of separation has tested positive, and you assume that by association, you must also have the virus. The gears start turning, and logical assumptions quickly degenerate into irrational fears. Once you reach this point, the stress you feel can have such an impact on your mental health that it can lower your immune system – ironically making you more susceptible to infection from the virus.
The National Health Service (NHS) has given a list of recommendations for people with hypochondria to help alleviate the symptoms of their anxiety:
Keep a regular journal of what your most persistent obsessions are. For example, constantly checking online sites for symptom lists and calling doctors to make sure that there is ‘nothing wrong.’
Once you’ve compiled a list of your most intrusive health-related anxieties, try and counter these thoughts by writing down a logical explanation besides them.
Recognise how much time you’re giving to ‘researching’ your illnesses and make an effort to use that time more constructively. Again, keep a diary of how much time you spend invested in these thoughts and self-diagnosing online. Seeing these figures might help you realise there is a balance you need to readdress in your life.
Once you’ve ascertained how much time you do spend self-diagnosing, use that time to consciously disconnect from any health-related.
Encourage yourself to develop a repertoire of grounding exercises you can turn to when you’re feeling off-centre such meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises.
How to Support Someone You Know with Hypochondria
It might be the case that you’re not predisposed to constantly checking up on imagined symptoms. However, you might either be in a relationship with someone that does displays these tendencies or else care for someone that fits the criteria for a diagnosis of health anxiety. If you’ve been a struggling with how best you can assist someone ion this situation, here are some pointers:
Encourage the individual in question to seek treatment not for their imagined conditions but for their mental health issues as it relates to health anxiety/hypochondria.
Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of the condition, so you can better help them during moments when they might be experiencing an episode.
Help the person in question learn more about what being a hypochondriac means, so they can better learn their manage their triggers.
Don’t instantly dismiss the individual’s thoughts and feelings. Acknowledge them and talk to them about them. You don’t need to accept their ideas as your own truth in order to empathise.
Try to discourage obsessive behaviours such as symptoms checking and redirect the individual to more constructive pursuits.
Provide them with reassurance but be careful not to allow this to become a subtle form of enabling the behaviours which the root cause of their issues.
Try and find activists that can be done together as a form of relieving tension.
Provide a non-judgmental environment in which for them to express themselves. One pin which they feel safe to be completely honest.
What are the Real Symptoms of Coronavirus?
Although this article is not intended to contribute towards self-diagnosing, it does pay to be aware of the actual symptoms of this virus. Again, this is not to self-diagnose, but simply to create an awareness around how the condition presents itself. Here are the most commonly reported symptoms:
A high temperature.
A new and continuous cough.
A loss of change in your sense of taste or smell.
What are the Tell-Tale Symptoms of Health Anxiety?
Fearing normal bodily functions: For the individual who suffers from health anxiety, every beat of the heart, sweaty brow or slightly irregular bowel movement could indicate the onset of a terminal condition.
Fear of minor abnormalities: These could be minor things we have to deal with such as runny noses, rashes, spots, sore, and swollen lymph nodes etc.
Constant Checking: This is the constant inspection of one’s body for any abnormalities.
Regularly Talking About Illness: Someone with somatic symptom disorder may talk about their health disproportionately.
No relief from test Results: Tests may come back negative. But it will still provide no relief. In fact, it can often make things even worse as the individual thinks they’re not getting the answers they need and that no one believes them.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
***If you’re struggling with Health Anxiety and think you might benefit from speaking to someone, we offer a FREE 15-MINUTE CONSULTATION with one of our specialists to help you find the best way to move forward. You can book yours here.
Healthline (18thMar2020)How to Deal with Health Anxiety During the COVID-19 Outbreak. Retrieved on 24th November, 2020 fromhttps://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-deal-with-health-anxiety-during-a-pandemic
Medical News Today (7thMay2020)Hypochondria and COVID-19: Health anxiety and coronavirus
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