What is Health Anxiety?
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. At times, this anxiety can be so entrenched that it can actually make the symptoms worse at times.
What Does It Look Like?
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. If they have been treated dismissively, they can especially 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.
However, there’s a difference between being vigilant and concerned and actually having health anxiety. Sometimes, health anxiety can manifest in a way of where people refuse to go to the doctors because they’re so afraid of a potential diagnosis. On the other end, health anxiety can manifest in a way where they don’t take on doctor’s advice. It’s appropriate to be aware of your own health, but there’s a real difference between being aware of your health and being vigilant of potential symptoms and experiencing health anxiety.
Health Anxiety During COVID-19
The COVID-19 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-19 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. 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. It helps to connect all those dots and tries to change our thinking pattern and as a result, our behaviour pattern as well.
How Can I Find Treatment For Health Anxiety?
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.
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