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How To Deal With Health Anxiety

How To Stop Panic Attacks

How To Deal With Health Anxiety and Hypochondria

Panic attacks are a very different beast. They still benefit from controlling anxiety, and you should still strongly consider the tips above, but when you’re suffering from panic attacks, you often need more than that. Panic attacks cause another form of anxiety – fear of getting a panic attack – and the irony of this is that this fear can actually cause panic attacks. Luckily, there is one strategy that can be effective at coping with panic attacks:

Do nothing.

This is not entirely true, of course. There are effective ways to prevent panic attacks and train yourself to control the severity of these attacks. But the start, you need to learn to do nothing.

That’s because there are many important things you need to understand about panic attacks:

Reducing the severity of your panic attacks will actually help treat the panic attacks, because you’ll start to fear them less. That’s why if you learn to do nothing when you have a panic attack, you’ll actually start coping with your panic attacks better.

The other way to cope with your anxiety attacks is through distractions. Healthy distractions like walking or talking on the phone stop you from focusing too much on your worries, and prevent your anxiety from taking over your thoughts. Any healthy distraction is a good distraction for dealing with panic, and finding one that works for you is a great start.

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Treatment Of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders can be successfully treated. The most common form of treatment is a combination of drug therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy .

Because most anxiety disorders have some biological basis, the most common drugs prescribed are anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs.

CBT involves helping people to turn their anxious thoughts and feelings into more rational ones. Sometimes people will benefit from being exposed in a controlled way to the object and situation they fear. Some CBT techniques have been developed to deal with specific disorders. For example, people with panic disorder can benefit from learning new breathing and meditation techniques, which can help them deal with their anxiety.

Support groups and learning more about the disorder can also help a great many people deal with anxiety disorders. Involving family and friends who are also affected by the disorder, can help people recover or learn how to cope with their condition.

The most important first step in treatment is to get a proper diagnosis from a specialist in anxiety disorders. Many people suffer for 10 years or more before getting the right treatment.

Dont Feed In To Their Anxiety By Checking For Them Too Much

The person youâre trying to help may often ask you to check something for them This may be especially pronounced if their illness anxiety is the âcare-seeking typeâ as opposed to the âcare-avoidant type.â Care-seeking hypochondriacs tend to make too many doctorsâ appointments, and ask too often for checking and reassurance, whereas care-avoidant hypochondriacs are often convinced that they are dying and are too scared to ask a doctor about it, because they expect their worst fears to be confirmed, or because theyâre afraid of treatment.

Unfortunately, when someoneâs feels the need to check their symptoms excessively, it is probably a compulsion, which is an impulse that results from their anxiety. Compulsions like checking are meant to reduce the anxiety, and may give temporary relief in the short run, but they actually end up having the opposite effect in the long run. When a person acts on their anxiety, and if they get a positive response , this actually validates the anxiety and rewards the compulsion. Therefore giving in to their request makes it more likely that they will ask for the same things again and again. Plus, an anxious personâs brain will turn the anxiety back on again shortly after theyâve checked something or reassured themselves, so the relief they get is very brief.

Also Check: Does Smoking Weed Cause Anxiety

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.

Challenge Your Worrying Thoughts

Coping With Anxiety

Thoughts are not facts. They are just thoughts and they dont have to be true or based in reality. However, when we ruminate, we begin to believe our thoughts reflect reality. For example, people with health anxiety may often worry about their heart.

They may think their chest or their heartbeat feels off, leading them to think, Theres something wrong with my heart. This can turn into, I have a serious heart condition. Eventually, they may even think, I have a heart condition and Im going to die. The problem here is not that they are seriously ill, the problem is that they think theyre seriously ill.

When we ruminate, our thoughts can represent our perceived reality. In other words, we accept our thoughts as facts. Instead, we need to adopt a practice known as cognitive defusion.

Cognitive defusion teaches us to identify and challenge our negative thoughts. Once a thought like, Theres something wrong with my heart has been identified, you can challenge and reframe it. For example, thinking instead Im only telling myself that there is something wrong with my heart. This process of identifying and challenging takes practice. It helps to work closely with a licensed therapist or psychiatrist to develop coping techniques.

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It’s Affecting Your Life

“The tell-tale sign with any anxiety disorder, or any other mental health disorder, is whether what’s happening is affecting other areas of your life,” explains Seponara. So for example: Are you sleeping? Eating? Can you get work done? Are your relationships being affected? Are you experiencing frequent panic attacks? If other areas of your life are being affected, your worries may go beyond normal health vigilance.

Stay Off The Internet Especially Forums

When I had a colposcopy at the hospital after they found abnormal cells during my first smear test, the first thing the nurse said to me was, stay off of forums the only people on them are the ones who have got something bad to say. Everyone else is just getting on with their lives. And thats stuck with me ever since. DO. NOT. GO. ON. FORUMS. However tempting it might be. Get a loved one to confiscate your phone if you have to.

Read Also: Does Anxiety Cause Chest Tightness

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

Write Down Your Thoughts

Dealing with Physical Symptoms and Health Anxiety

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.

Recommended Reading: What To Do If Your Having An Anxiety Attack

Checking And Reassurance Seeking

Doctors and other health professionals often advise us to check our bodies and to seek medical advice if we notice changes. For example, women are advised to conduct self-examinations on their breasts, and men to check their testicles. Dermatologists advise us to monitor moles on our skin for any signs of change. For many people checking and seeking medical reassurance when they need to leads to feeling less anxious about their health. People who are high in health anxiety often fail to feel reassured though, and will engage in more and more checking and reassurance seeking. Too much checking can be problematic for a number of reasons:

  • Checking can lead to false positives seeing a problem where there is none,
  • Counterintuitively, checking often leads to an increase in doubt, which leads to more checking.
  • The process of checking can create symptoms. For example, repeatedly squeezing an area of skin can make it sore, which might then be misinterpreted as a serious health concern.
  • Checking means that you have bought into the idea that there is something wrong in the first place.

Reassurance-seeking can feel good in the short term . But in the long-term it can be harmful as it reduces our ability to self-reassure.

Stay As Active As You Can

With health anxiety, its important to keep your mind and body occupied.

Whether youre a fan of exercise or are more stimulated by mental puzzles, keeping yourself busy is an essential way of keeping nagging symptoms and Googling at bay.

Instead of searching for the latest news on the pandemic, keep yourself occupied:

  • If youre social distancing, there are plenty of fitness channels on YouTube to get your at-home workout on.
  • Go for a walk around the block. Youll be amazed at how a bit of fresh air can free up your mind.
  • Grab a brain training app, do some puzzles, or read a book to keep yourself occupied.

If youre doing something else, theres less time to think about the symptoms youve been worrying about.

Read Also: What Is The Root Cause Of Anxiety

Tips To Manage Anxiety And Stress

Coping Strategies

Try these when you’re feeling anxious or stressed:

Fitness Tips: Stay Healthy, Manage Stress

For the biggest benefits of exercise, try to include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity , or a combination of the two.

  • 5 X 30: Jog, walk, bike, or dance three to five times a week for 30 minutes.
  • Set small daily goals and aim for daily consistency rather than perfect workouts. It’s better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes than to wait until the weekend for a three-hour fitness marathon. Lots of scientific data suggests that frequency is most important.
  • Find forms of exercise that are fun or enjoyable. Extroverted people often like classes and group activities. People who are more introverted often prefer solo pursuits.
  • Distract yourself with an iPod or other portable media player to download audiobooks, podcasts, or music. Many people find its more fun to exercise while listening to something they enjoy.
  • Recruit an exercise buddy. It’s often easier to stick to your exercise routine when you have to stay committed to a friend, partner, or colleague.
  • Be patient when you start a new exercise program. Most sedentary people require about four to eight weeks to feel coordinated and sufficiently in shape so that exercise feels easier.

Resources

If you are the parent of a college-aged child with an anxiety disorder, here are some tips to help with managing his or her anxiety.

Signs Of An Anxiety Attack

Infographic: How To Deal With Stress and Anxiety

These are some of the more common mental and physical symptoms of anxiety:

  • feelings of danger, panic, or dread
  • nervousness or restlessness
  • hyperventilation

Its also possible to experience an anxiety and panic attack simultaneously. The quick coping strategies mentioned above may also help with a panic attack.

Other mindful strategies to cope with panic attacks include focusing on an object, repeating a mantra, closing your eyes, and going to your happy place.

Read Also: How Can I Get Rid Of Anxiety

When Should I See A Healthcare Provider

You should see your doctor or healthcare provider whenever there is something out of the ordinary with your body or your health that you are concerned about. Your provider will be able to discuss your concerns and order any tests that may be necessary. They will tell you if your symptoms are concerning or serious. Dont avoid going to the doctor if you ever feel like there is something off about your health.

What Causes Illness Anxiety Disorder

Healthcare experts dont know why some people develop illness anxiety disorder. You may be more prone to illness anxiety disorder if you have a family history of:

  • Childhood trauma, such as child abuse or neglect.
  • Health anxieties or other anxiety disorders in your family.
  • Childhood illness or serious illness in your family during childhood.
  • Mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression.
  • Trauma, such as rape or physical or emotional abuse.

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Not All Health Worries Indicate Health Anxiety

Being concerned about your health is not the same as health anxiety. It’s normal to be worried about your health from time to time. You may wonder if your stomachache is a sign of a more serious condition. If you have had a severe illness in the past, you may be anxious about an upcoming imaging scan.

“There is a difference at least medically speaking between a person who has no symptoms or minimal symptoms and is frequently worried and anxious about being or getting sick and a person who is worried about concerning symptoms,” says Dr. Scarella. However, he notes that anxiety about real health conditions can also become problematic.

People with health anxiety often misinterpret normal or benign physical symptoms and attribute them to something more serious. For example, if they were to compress an arm while asleep, instead of rolling over and shaking off the numb feeling, they might worry they were having a stroke. Symptoms produced by anxiety which can include muscle pain, chest pain, heart rate changes, headaches, and dizziness, among others can heighten existing anxiety about one’s health.

Stick With A Healthy Lifestyle

MENTAL HEALTH MORNING ROUTINE | How I Deal with Anxiety and Depression

Consume a healthy diet, get enough sleep, stay connected to others and exercise regularly. Although people with severe levels of health anxiety may avoid exercise because it makes them physically uncomfortable, Taylor says, that only compounds the problem. Physical deconditioning kicks in very quickly, he says, which can bring on other worrisome symptoms, such as an elevated heart rate or shortness of breath after climbing stairs. By contrast, research shows that aerobic exercise, especially high-intensity exercise, such as jogging, can have a significant and rapid effect in lowering anxiety.

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