Having Health Anxiety is the term used to describe someone who has become overly anxious about their health and may fear the worst. If you have health anxiety you might misinterpret normal sensations in your body as a serious illness Dr Elaine Ryan
What do we mean by the term, Health Anxiety?
Health Anxiety is where you are excessively focused on your health. It shares many characteristics of OCD, in that you are worried about your health (this is like an obsession) and you do things to help you manage these worries (compulsions). I shall explain this later in this article.
Health Anxiety is not all in your head. The symptoms that you feel are real, but they are not coming from as dark a place as you believe.
I am going to talk about what health anxiety is, touch on typical concerns you may have, such as fearing that you have cancer, a brain tumour, or some other major disease that has yet to be diagnosed, and move on to tell you about what treatments are available and what options are open to you.
Typical Fears associated with Health Anxiety
- Feeling that there is something medically wrong with you
- Scared that you have un-diagnosed cancer
- Worried that you might have a brain tumour or other type of tumour
- Worried that there is something wrong with your heart
This is of course, an incomplete list, but one thing I can assure you of is that the list does not contain run of the mill, every day illnesses. If you have health anxiety, you are not worried that you have a common cold, a non specific stomach ache or a headache that will go away.
When you get stuck in your head with health anxiety, your fears will be serious, more than likely relating to life threatening or life changing illnesses. This of course, causes you serious alarm, which unfortunately (whether you are aware of it or not) increases your anxiety, and will lead to more physical symptoms.
In addition, the more you worry about having an illness, the more likely you are to have similar thoughts in the future, as you are unknowingly ‘teaching’ your brain to do this. You are forming little pathways in your brain, and if you have not already done so, you are more than welcome to watch me explain these pathways in a free preview of my course.
How do I know if I have health anxiety?
Are there typical symptoms associated with health anxiety?
In a word, yes, see if you can relate to any of the following?
- Checking and diagnosing yourself on google
- Monitoring your symptoms – for example, checking for lumps and bumps, being aware of all sensations in your body.
- Seeking reassurance. This can be on google, or asking someone if they had something similar.
- Avoiding people, conversations, or things that you think might ‘trigger’ your anxiety.
- Attending the doctors. A lot. Even after you have been given the ‘all clear.’
- Convinced they have missed something after being given the all clear, as you still have the original symptoms, and maybe more, that you went to the doctor about in the first place.
- Feeling worried or anxious.
Learn to overcome Health Anxiety
I have a complete self help course with all my materials that is available to start immediately
Obsessions and Compulsions in Health Anxiety
I noted at the start of this article that Health Anxiety shares many characteristics with OCD and I am going to explain this to you now.
The obsessional nature of Health Anxiety
The obsessions are all those thoughts and worries in your head such as;
- is it really anxiety?
- do I have a serious illness?
- what if it’s not just a sore head?
- do I have cancer?
If you just had the thought once and let it go, it would not turn into an obsession, nor would you be likely to start carrying out compulsions.
Compulsions that exist in Health Anxiety
The compulsions are the things you do to help you to cope with the thoughts and can include;
- seeking out reassurance
- going to the doctor
- getting onto google to research your symptoms
- avoiding things that you think might trigger your health anxiety, such as TV programs, hospitals, magazines, news articles on health
It is the carrying out of compulsions that can keep your health anxiety going.
Why does it feel real?
Because the symptoms are real. However, they are coming from experiencing high levels of stress, as opposed to cancer, or a brain tumour, or whatever else you may believe is the real cause.
And yes, I know that this is hard to believe, but trust me on this one, I have been doing this job for a long time, and specialise in anxiety, I’ve had it myself, and realise it is hard to even begin to entertain the idea, that what you are feeling is coming from anxiety.
What is the cause of Health Anxiety?
It is common for many people to become anxious about their health once in a while, especially if they don’t feel well or have particular symptoms. However, for someone who struggles with intense “health anxiety”, there is an obsessive quality about the idea of getting a disease. They think about it much of the time, which creates anxiety, and that anxiety can lead to lack of sleep, high amounts of stress, and intense fear.
The cause of such a condition could come from things like seeing a loved one suffer from a certain disease or struggling with a current disease. For example, someone who has been diagnosed with diabetes may fear getting another disease- a much worse disease.
A common cause of feeling as if you will contract a disease is reading about curable and incurable diseases online or in books. The actual reading about the disease has been known to bring on similar symptoms in the reader, yet the person does not actually have the disease. This is why many doctors will tell people not to go seeking answers to their symptoms online, as they are apt to believe the worst case scenario when it is probably something minor or nothing at all.
The root cause though, I believe are the pathways that have been created in your brain. It is these pathways ( or learning ) in your brain that keep in all going, and if you really want to recover you need to understand what is happening in your brain. If you want, I have a video that explains some of this process and you are free to view it, as it is a free sample of part of my course.
How do I get over Health Anxiety.
The recommended treatment for health anxiety is CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but I find people tend to do better if they also have an understanding of what is happening in their brain. This is why I have included information on your brain in my course.