Exercise It Out Of Your System
Exercise can be a great way to burn off stress that leads to anxious feelings. Working out boosts levels of endorphins and other mood-boosting brain chemicals, and it helps with sleep. Aerobic exercise also stimulates production of a protein called BDNF .
BDNF is like a brain fertilizer that bathes our neurons and makes our connections better and faster, Clark explains. And thats important, she adds, because a well-functioning brain is better equipped to understand, manage, and moderate emotions.
Dr Heather Sequeira Has Had At Least Four Times As Many Referrals For People Whose Worries About Their Health Are Seriously Affecting Their Lives
Hannah Bowles is a healthy 25-year-old but last year she started to believe that having a cup of tea would kill her.
I fiercely believed that the caffeine in it would give me a heart attack, and that cooking my family a meal with dairy would give them food poisoning and theyd die, she explained. I worried about my health and my familys health constantly.
Fearing for her health to this degree is a relatively new experience for Hannah, who lives in Bookham, Surrey. On a bad day she will spend all day on the brink of panic, inspecting her body in case she has any lumps, and if she gets a palpitation or a small ache, I cant be alone in the house because I want to know someone is there in case I go into cardiac arrest.
She adds: The irony is that Im healthy, not over or underweight and without a family history of heart disease, but at those times I feel that anything could kill me or my family and its hugely distressing.
Worrying about our health isnt unusual, but Hannah has health anxiety, otherwise known as hypochondria, where worrying about illness is all-consuming. Health anxiety sufferers often seek reassurance from family and friends, check their bodies for symptoms and find out so much about illnesses they fear they have, even when there seems no medical reason to worry and all the right tests have been done.
Take A Break To Meditate
You probably hear a lot about the powers of meditation. But practicing it really can help you become mindful of how your body is physically reacting to your thoughts, Shreya Hessler, PsyD, owner and founder of The MINDset Center in Bel Air, Maryland, tells Health. That, in turn, allows you to focus on slowing your breathing or relaxing a muscle group, she says, which dials back anxiety.
A 2014 review of 47 randomized trials involving more than 3,300 people suggests that mindfulness meditation can improve anxiety after eight weeks of practice. Even just doing meditation two to three minutes with a guided app can be a game-changer, says Hessler, author of Bianca Finds Her Bounce.
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Health Anxiety: When Anxiety Becomes Stuck
We all have feelings of anxiety, worry and fear these are helpful responses to certain situations. For example, you might worry about exams or a job interview. This can give you an awareness of the risks and what you need to do in a difficult or dangerous situation.
This reaction is known as fight or flight and is a completely normal response to a real or perceived threat.
Your brain responds to a threat or danger by releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Even if youve imagined the danger, these hormones can cause the physical symptoms of anxiety. Once the threatening situation has stopped, your body will gradually return to normal.
In health anxiety, these feelings of fear and danger become stuck and can interrupt your daily routine long after the threat has gone. This can manifest in several different ways.
There can be mental symptoms such as:
- Racing thoughts
- Feelings of dread or panic
- Imagining the worst and dwelling on it
- Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
Or you could have physical symptoms such as:
- Heart pounds, races, skips a beat
- Body aching
- Tingling or numbness in toes, fingers or arms
You might notice thoughts such as:
- This must be cancer.
- A headache this bad cant just be stress.
- What if the doctor missed something?
- If I dont act now, I might die.
- What if that tingling is a sign of a stroke?
Typical Illness Anxiety Behaviours
– Repeatedly monitoring and checking the symptoms
– Asking family members to have a look at the symptoms
– Asking questions about various possible symptoms and their meanings
– Repeating the same symptom-related questions and asking for more information, and then going back and asking for even more information
– Seeking endless reassurance related to medical symptoms
– Frequently going to doctors’ appointments, which often leads to doctors recommendations to monitor the symptoms, which further increases the checking compulsions
– Providing overly lengthy, detailed descriptions of symptoms during medical appointments, then worrying after noticing that the doctor got distracted and/or impatient
– Frequently requesting unnecessary medical tests
– Seeking second, third, and fourth opinions and trying to finally find a doctor that will agree with them
– Asking other people which symptoms they consider “normal” and which ones would be a concern for them
The goal of the treatment is NOT to convince you that you are not sick but to help you change your relationship with anxiety and learn that you can tolerate the uncertainty and the fear of being responsible for missing a symptom.
– Comparing their symptoms to other peoples symptoms
– Excessive Googling of illness-related information
– Avoiding anything illness-related
– Avoiding places where a contagious disease may be acquired
– Overly rigid health-related routines in terms of exercise, diet, and vitamins
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Why Health Anxiety Is A Problem
While being on top of your health is important, it’s also important to do so in a reasonable manner. Health anxiety crosses that boundary because no amount of testing, checking, or reassuring will ever make you feel as though things will be okay. In essence, until you actually contract some terrible disease, your mind will never be at rest. That’s no way to live.
You might find yourself focused too much on your body, such as your rate of breathing or your heartbeat. You might notice changes in your skin and think the worst. Headaches or stomachaches might cause you to seek reassurance that they are not a sign of something lurking. If you hear about a disease on the news, you might worry you will be the next to get it. Symptoms that tend to cause fear include changes in vision, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and balance.
If you or a loved one are struggling with health anxiety or generalized anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Causes Of Health Anxiety: Why Someone May Develop Health Anxiety
- Genetic predisposition, shown in a family history of anxiety disorders
- Experience of trauma, including abuse, neglect or bullying
- Experience of stressful life events
- A recent death or serious illness in a loved one
- Experience of physical health problems
- Having concerns about your health from a young age
- Having a generally anxious temperament
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How Gad Might Influence Your Health Anxiety
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Health anxiety refers to fear related to developing a dangerous health problem or already having one. In those with generalized anxiety disorder , this fear can be persistent and hard to let go, even after medical tests show nothing is wrong and the doctor has reassured you that your health is fine.
Health anxiety is also known by other names such as hypochondriasis, somatization disorder, or illness anxiety disorder. All these disorders are related in that there is a fear of something being terribly wrong with your body.
Imagine Talking To A Friend
After admitting I had a problem , my therapist taught me a useful trick to help with the anxiety. She told me any time that Im worried I have a disease, imagine what Id tell a friend who came to me with that same concern.
This is a really useful tactic because we tend to be more rational about other peoples worries than our own. By getting out of your own head and focusing on someone else , youre able to think more clearly. More times than not, you wouldnt tell a friend who has a sore throat that they have throat cancer. Youd probably tell them itll go away and theyll be fine.
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What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- Why do I have illness anxiety disorder?
- What are the best ways to manage illness anxiety disorder?
- Should I look out for signs of complications?
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Everyone worries about their health from time to time. But if health anxiety affects your ability to enjoy life, you should talk honestly with your healthcare provider. Your provider can diagnose and treat illness anxiety disorder. Living with illness anxiety disorder can be challenging, but you can learn coping skills to help you enjoy good health again.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/01/2021.
What Is Health Anxiety
Also known as illness anxiety disorder, it is the overwhelming or excessive preoccupation of illness. This is despite the medical evaluations and doctors opinions stating otherwise.
Under the MSD Manuals, it falls under somatic symptoms and related disorders. Somatic symptoms disorder refers to an intense focus or attention to the symptoms, which may only result in emotional distress or even more physical stress.
Before, doctors refer to health anxiety as hypochondriasis, but the medical community already abandoned the term.
What Makes You Afraid
Lots of things make us feel afraid. Being afraid of some things like fires can keep you safe. Fearing failure can make you try to do well so that you wont fail, but it can also stop you doing well if the feeling is too strong.
What youre afraid of and how you act when youre afraid of something can vary per person. Just knowing what makes you afraid and why can be the first step to sorting out problems with fear.
How can we manage and reduce stress? Our free downloadable pocket guide offers you 101 tips: www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-stress.
How Is Illness Anxiety Disorder Managed Or Treated
Your healthcare provider may partner with a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, to help you manage the disorder. But you will continue to receive regular care from your provider.
Treatment goals focus on improving quality of life by minimizing symptoms. Treatments include:
- Antidepressants to help you feel less anxious and/or depressed.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy to talk through your fears and anxieties and learn healthy ways to cope.
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Health Anxiety: What It Is And How To Beat It
The illness you fear might not be the illness you have. I recently conducted an online support group for people with all sorts of health fears, from cancer and heart disease to ALS and MS. Each shared their worries about moles on the skin, irregular heart palpitations, and numbness and tingling. Although their specific fears varied, they all had one thing in common none of them had ever been diagnosed with a series illness and they all related to the following scenario:
Dina felt great after getting a clean bill of health from her physician but as she tried to fall asleep, she dwelled on one statement he made, Tumors can grow at any time. Come back in six months if youre concerned. Questions raced through her mind as she tossed and turned, Why did he tell me that? If there was nothing wrong, why would he say come back in six months? What if he missed something? Why do I keep getting headaches and dizziness? Dina felt so anxious she got out of bed and searched the web for answers. As she reread the same articles about symptoms of brain cancer, she began to feel lightheaded. Why do I keep feeling this way? Do I really have brain cancer? Is this really happening?
Why does health anxiety persist despite reassurance from doctors?
The False Alarm
Car alarms are set off when a criminal breaks in but imagine how problematic it would be if the siren blared each time a pedestrian walked by. The car alarm would be misinterpreting innocent people as dangerous criminals.
Peek At A Positive Photo
Quickly scanning a photo you enjoy can make a real difference when it comes to anxiety, according to Georgia Foster and Virginia Alexandra, co-authors of The 3 Minute Anxiety Fix. Whether it showcases a great memory with your friends or is a screenshot of an inspirational quote, finding pictures that quell anxiety allow you to quickly counteract it.
So, youre anxious while your meal is cooking or a few minutes before you need to leave. With five minutes, there are more ways to beat your anxiety.
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Reassurance May Not Be Best
It’s typical for people with health anxiety to seek reassurance, says DeLeonardo, but it may not be beneficial.
“That seeking reassurance just tends to amplify the anxiety,” DeLeonardo said. “They experience some comfort when they get the reassurance, but then they start to have the fears and questions again.”
The anxiety will take charge instead of the person, she added.
How Charlotte Beat Her Health Anxiety
When I was merely 18 years old, my life took an extremely tragic turn. One night my father went missing and a month later, he was found as a suicide victim. Though I like to pretend sometimes that my fathers death did not affect me, I have noticed that I have developed a more severe anxiety attached to my health.
For as long as I can remember, I have been the person to worry about every mole, cut or headache. I do just have a predisposition to worry about everything and anything. I hate to say that I am guilty of googling my symptoms and convincing myself that I am terminal, then hurt my wellbeing by considering my apparent demise.
Though, something changed in me when my father passed. I think that it has something to do with the suddenness of how it all happened. It really put life into perspective for me and took off those teenage immortality goggles that I had been relishing in for years.
I had never considered that people that I knew could pass suddenly and at a young age, that thought reminded me that I had no control over death and I have no idea when my time will come.
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