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How To Cope With Health Anxiety

If You Cant Stop Worrying About Your Health These Six Tools Will Help

How to cope with anxiety | Olivia Remes | TEDxUHasselt

Your heart is racing, your palms are sweaty, and your body is restless. Your thoughts are coming quickly, one after another until your mind feels consumed with worry. You have spent the last 30 minutes with your old friend Dr. Google, in a futile effort to diagnose your symptoms, convincing yourself the worst-case scenarios are inevitable. Maybe you have also reached out to your physician through MyChart, or requested another appointment to discuss the same symptoms you called about last week.

Does this sound familiar? If so, you may be experiencing health anxiety.

Health anxiety is characterized by persistent and out-of-proportion effort spent trying to diagnose, treat, or cope with real or perceived symptoms. The truth is that people with health anxiety often experience very real and unpleasant physical sensations such as dizziness, numbness, pain, gastrointestinal concerns, and headaches, amongst others.

Our bodies are designed to interpret potential signs of danger or threat and to respond to such signals. However, sometimes our brains and bodies experience a disconnect, and while symptoms or sensations may be unpleasant, they are not in fact a sign of threat. In the context of health anxiety, the thoughts, emotions and responses we have to these signals are sometimes incorrect altogether, or disproportionate to the problem at hand, and they maintain the cycle.

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Aspects Of Treatment That Samantha Found Helpful

When Samantha came to therapy she was absolutely convinced that she had thin veins and would have a stroke and die, and all of her safety behaviors were motivated by this belief. One of the things that her therapist helped her to do early in therapy was to construct an alternative, less-threatening, explanation for her symptoms. Her therapist called this theory B and they spent time together gathering evidence for this alternative theory I worry that I will have a stroke, but my worst symptoms might be caused by pulsatile tinnitus which isnt dangerous. Samantha and her therapist gathered information on the internet, and she was relieved to watch some videos of other sufferers describing symptoms similar to hers. Once Samantha was willing to entertain another possible explanation for her symptoms her therapist suggested that they find a way to test which theory might be true. Together they devised some behavioral experiments to test the belief If I raise my blood pressure I will have a stroke and die. Some of the experiments they did were running on the spot, running up and down a flight of stairs, and blowing up a balloon. Samantha noticed that the sound in her ears got louder, but none of her most feared worries came true. This was a turning point for Samantha. She became more confident and was able to drop more safety behaviors, and venture further from home.

People Afflicted With Illness Anxiety Disorder Are Triggered By Their Bodies Conversations Or Dr Google

Society has become health obsessed. Gym memberships, Fitbit purchases, health apps and clean eating are evidence of this drive to be well.

While, in general, this health and wellness boom is a positive shift, all the talk about perfect health is accompanied by obsession, pressure and anxieties. Somebody obsessed about becoming ill is exposed to health information overload in our culture.

People with this condition used to be referred to as hypochondriacs. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders no longer includes hypochondriasis. Currently, illness anxiety disorder or health anxiety refers to the obsessional preoccupation with physical sensations and harmless symptoms. These are misinterpreted as worst case health scenarios, causing panic and distress.

The ultimate fear may be cancer, HIV or having a heart attack.

A headache is misinterpreted as a sign of a brain tumour.

People afflicted with health anxiety are triggered by their bodies, conversations, something they read, or Dr . They tend to engage in excessive body checking, scanning and visits to the GP. Some avoid medics altogether for fear of having their worst fears confirmed. Anxiety about the health of their children or those close to them often features in conjunction with their self-related fears.

In many cases, the elephant in the room is death anxiety.

Interventions

  • Topics:

Recommended Reading: How To Get Rid Of Sudden Anxiety

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 02/02/2021.

References

Try The Facts Vs Fiction Writing Exercise

Infographic: How To Deal With Stress and Anxiety

If youre anxiety is spiking, try grabbing a pen and paper and simply writing down the facts of whats happening. Make sure you stick to the facts. Im behind on my deadline at new job.

Then write how you feel about the facts and what you fear will happen. For example, Im worried that if I dont get everything done on time my manager will think Im not worthy of this job and may decide to replace me.

As you write your feelings, reflect on how many steps it will take to get from fact to fear. Sometimes doing this can help reveal how to alleviate uncontrollable fears and help you focus on what can be done in the moment.

If you have more time to spare, use these techniques to settle your body and mind.

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Stick To Trusted Information Online

It is important only to seek news and information from a reliable trusted source and try to avoid social media which is often not regulated or reliable.

“The internet also holds a vast array of information and tools to self-diagnose an illness or health condition. This could help to explain the rise in health anxiety as people with this condition are able to have access to this information at all times,” says Smithson.

“Also, this information often gives the worst-case scenario for the symptoms provided and therefore reinforces the cycle of health anxiety and increases the physical and psychological symptoms of their anxiety.”

It’s also important to try not to fixate on the media coverage of health topics. If you find yourself getting triggered, take a break from the news and do another activity to distract you.

Dos And Donts Of Helping Someone With Anxiety

  • It is challenging to love someone that lives with anxiety
  • Some of the ways that friends/family try to help can make anxiety worse
  • There are many dos and donts for those who have loved ones with anxiety
  • Your support is going to be a big part of their recovery
  • If you personally have never experienced an anxiety disorder, it is helpful to remember that the experience of living with anxiety is typically not what most people imagine

Read Also: Is Anxiety Covered Under Ada

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.

See Our Other ‘how To’ Guides

How To Deal With Health Anxiety and Hypochondria

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions. It has a very strong effect on your mind and body.

Fear can create strong signals of response when were in emergencies for instance, if we are caught in a fire or are being attacked.

It can also take effect when youre faced with non-dangerous events, like exams, public speaking, a new job, a date, or even a party. Its a natural response to a threat that can be either perceived or real.

Anxiety is a word we use for some types of fear that are usually to do with the thought of a threat or something going wrong in the future, rather than right now.

Fear and anxiety can last for a short time and then pass, but they can also last much longer and you can get stuck with them. In some cases they can take over your life, affecting your ability to eat, sleep, concentrate, travel, enjoy life, or even leave the house or go to work or school. This can hold you back from doing things you want or need to do, and it also affects your health.

Some people become overwhelmed by fear and want to avoid situations that might make them frightened or anxious. It can be hard to break this cycle, but there are lots of ways to do it. You can learn to feel less fearful and to cope with fear so that it doesnt stop you from living.

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Why Do I Feel Like This When Im Not In Any Real Danger

Early humans needed the fast, powerful responses that fear causes, as they were often in situations of physical danger however, we no longer face the same threats in modern-day living.

Despite this, our minds and bodies still work in the same way as our early ancestors, and we have the same reactions to our modern worries about bills, travel and social situations. But we cant run away from or physically attack these problems!

The physical feelings of fear can be scary in themselves especially if you are experiencing them and you dont know why, or if they seem out of proportion to the situation. Instead of alerting you to a danger and preparing you to respond to it, your fear or anxiety can kick in for any perceived threat, which could be imaginary or minor.

Calm Your Nervous System

If you learn how to control your autonomic nervous system activation the flight-or-flight response it puts you in more of a business-as-usual mode, rather than a danger mode, which can help with health anxiety, Asmundson says. You can do this with paced diaphragmatic breathing , progressive muscle relaxation or meditation.

Also Check: How To Deal With Separation Anxiety In Adults

How Common Is Illness Anxiety Disorder

The official way to diagnose illness anxiety disorder only appeared in 2013, so we dont have a lot of data on how common it is yet. Based on available information, its estimated that 2% to 13% of the general population has experienced illness anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

Illness anxiety disorder seems to be equally common in males and females. We also see from research studies that anxiety about health usually appears between the ages of 35 and 64.

Exposure To Your Worries

Copings skills to use to cope with anxiety about ...

Exposure is the most effective psychological treatment for fear and anxiety. When people are afraid of an object or situation, such as a phobia of spiders, then exposure consists of exposure to that thing. For a spider phobia treatment might start with exposure to pictures of spiders, then to a spider in a jar, then allowing a small spider to walk on your hand. There are different reasons why exposure is helpful, but one of them is habituation with enough exposure we simply get used to the feared situation until it no longer bothers us or causes a fear response. With health anxiety the fear is often about a possible or uncertain future event. This makes direct exposure difficult! A helpful technique for working with worries like this is called worry exposure and it has been proven to help treat worry about future events. When you practice worry exposure your task is to write a narrative describing your worst fears happening in great detail. You can make a recording of yourself reading this worry script aloud and expose yourself to the worry by listening to the recording for 30 minutes every day until it no longer causes an anxiety response.

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How To Cope With Anxiety

You may have felt anxious feelings before, but have you ever felt the worry that comes with true anxiety? That knot in your stomach, the fluttering of your heart, and the weight in your chest that makes you feel miserable are all signs of anxiety. Your palms may be sweaty, and you may feel like every single task is overwhelming and stressful. Anxiety is the natural response that our bodies have to stress in our lives. Recognizing and understanding the triggers behind your anxiety is important if you want to get through it. Everyone has different triggers to anxiety, and you can reflect and be calm once you understand what yours are.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to manage anxiety. There are some people who turn to medication and natural medications like CBD. There are others who run on the treadmill to burn through it. You may want to research the best CBD overall to help you with your anxiety, but you need to find solutions that work for you. With this in mind, here are some of the ways that you can cope with your anxiety and get through it . Lets take a look:

Remember to question your thinking. A big part of anxiety is giving power to those negative and all-consuming thoughts. When you allow the anxiety to take over, the negative thoughts will take root in your mind and make you feel like the severity of the situation is completely distorted. Challenging your thinking and your feelings is a good place to start to take back control.

Write Down Your Thoughts

Writing down whats making you anxious gets it out of your head and can make it less daunting.

These relaxation tricks are particularly helpful for those who experience anxiety sporadically. They may also work well with someone who has generalized anxiety disorder when theyre in a bind too!

However, if you suspect you have GAD, quick coping methods shouldnt be the only kind of treatment you employ. Youll want to find long-term strategies to help lessen the severity of symptoms and even prevent them from happening.

Read Also: Can Anxiety Cause Left Arm Numbness

Fear Or Fact Seeking: Chronic Medical Conditions And Worry

Signs & Symptoms

  • What if my cold turns into pneumonia and I die?
  • Ive had three headaches this year. Im sure I have a brain tumor!
  • What if that pain means I have cancer?
  • I dont think my doctor is qualified enough
  • No-one understands me
  • Avoiding going places or doing things for fear help may be hard to find
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep, or disturbed/interrupted sleep
  • Excessive body checking

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