Health Anxiety is characterised by a preoccupation with having a drastic and serious illness. It can be a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. People who suffer with it believe they are or will at some point experience a serious life threatening or debilitating condition. They tend to find little or no reassurance from doctors, believing they have missed something. Either that or it must be something else. This is usually based on how they feel emotionally.
They carry out constant self-checks and search online for what their symptoms could mean. However, they find little or no reassurance as they keep on searching until they find something frightening, therefore exacerbating their fear and worry. People who are affected by health anxiety misinterpret a mild or harmless ailment to be serious. For example, a mild headache must be a brain tumour, being out of breath must be a heart attack or a mark on the skin somewhere must be cancer.
This anxiety around health can become obsessive. The compulsion to self-diagnose and seek answers to fit the belief is crippling. People with health anxiety can fixate on a specific illness such as AIDS, cancer or something extremely rare. It can have a debilitating effect on lifestyle, relationships and work. No matter how much reassurance is sought from family, friends, medical professionals and the internet, it is never believed. Even specific tests and analysis showing the all clear provide no comfort.
As unpleasant as it might be at times anxiety is a perfectly normal thing to feel. It’s our way of telling ourselves we need to be careful, to be on alert. It is normal to feel anxious for instance, if about to give a presentation or attend a job interview. But we are only meant to feel it in short bursts. When it feels constant and heightened it becomes emotionally crippling.
Our health is important, and it is always a good idea to look after ourselves. When we feel unwell it is a good idea to consult our doctor. However, there is a difference between having a normal concern for our health and a disabling fear that every symptom must mean critical illness or death. Some of the things which lead to health anxiety can be recovery from a previous illness or injury, a relative who has been diagnosed with or died from a specific condition, or generally a poor understanding of ourselves physically. It can also come from a predisposition to anxiety, worry and obsessive compulsiveness.
Support for Health Anxiety
There are different supports for health anxiety such as medication from your doctor or counselling and psychotherapy. In counselling and psychotherapy there are many different therapeutic approaches to helping people recover and manage their anxiety better. Most commonly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help people with a wide range of obsessions and phobias. It can help by:
- Learning to identify and change unhelpful thinking habits
- Learning how the worries affect you emotionally, cognitively and behaviourally
- Identifying the actual fear and beliefs
- Responding to triggers and physical sensations differently
- Cope better with stress and anxiety
- Improving day to day functioning
- Learning to stop avoiding or compulsively doing things which cause the worry to increase
This article was written by sentientcounselling