Common Situations Or Affected Areas
Frequent trips to medical professionals
Inability to participate and enjoy recreational activities and activities due to trying to prevent exposure to perceived germs or illnesses
General decline in quality of lifeless involved in activities, poor relationships, limited interests, time spent worrying
Unusual or overly focused interestsfrequent research of medical illnesses and treatments, becoming an expert on identifying diseases, etc.
How To Cope With Health Anxiety
Know youre not alone
I dont think anyone should have to manage this or suffer alone,” Dowd says. “Theres so much support out there, so I really encourage people not to have any shame or judgment around it if you are experiencing anxiety or depression its just so important to reach out for support.”
Control what you can
Its really important to focus on the things we do have control over, for example, following the CDC guidelines, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and proper diet and exercise which is not only a positive effect for physical health but its also so important for your mental health,” Dowd suggested.
Curb your Googling
Dowd also suggests avoiding self-diagnosis through the internet.
Turn to healthy distractions
Instead, try healthy redirection, including meditation, breathing exercises and mindfulness activities. This can also include positive and productive activities such as cooking, playing video games, doing a workout, or working on a puzzle.
Go at your own pace
Everyone is different and so are their comfort levels, so its OK to take things slow, Dowd says. Definitely setting small, achievable goals to try to overcome the feelings of anxiety is important, she said.
Seek professional help
If someone has gone to doctors repeatedly, doctors have not found a medical diagnosis and they’re continuing to worry, Goodman says, “it is probably illness anxiety and they need to seek the assistance of a therapist who treats anxiety exclusively.”
Whats The Difference Between Concern For Your Health And Health Anxiety
If your body is sending you signs that youre ill, its normal to be concerned. Health anxiety is marked by constant belief that you have a symptom or symptoms of a severe illness. You may become so consumed by worry that the distress becomes disabling.
If youre concerned about your health, the rational thing to do is see your doctor. With health anxiety, youll feel extreme distress about your real or imagined symptoms even after medical test results come back negative and doctors reassure you that youre healthy.
This condition goes beyond having a normal concern for ones health. It has the potential to interfere with a persons quality of life, including their abilities to:
- work in a professional or academic setting
- function on a daily basis
- create and maintain meaningful relationships
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.
Change Your Focus Of Attention
People with health anxiety will often focus on a particular part or function of their body. The more they focus on a part of their body, the more they notice physical sensations which can then trigger worrying thoughts.
These initial thoughts can trigger anxiety, in turn causing additional physical sensations. At this point, the person may begin to believe their anxiety response is further evidence of physical symptoms. You can see how this creates a cycle of worrying. This cycle is known as rumination.
If you feel yourself becoming too focused on a particular worry, its important to redirect your attention to something else. One of the most straightforward ways of accomplishing this is to turn your focus to an activity, such as:
- Cleaning a room
- Painting or drawing
- Going for a hike
Regardless of the activity, the goal is to pay full attention to what you are doing. For example, if youre gardening, notice the sounds around you. Note how your spade feels as it digs into the soil. Listen to the sloshing sounds of the watering can and feel its weight in your hands. By putting our complete attention into a task, we are able to pull our mind away from our worrisome thoughts.
Sometimes, though, this strategy may be less practical. For example, if youre lying in bed trying to sleep but find yourself becoming stuck on a particular worry. In these situations, we can learn to practice mindfulness exercises that will help us to break out of our ruminations.
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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.
What Are The Types Of Illness Anxiety Disorder
Someone with illness anxiety disorder generally fits into one of these categories:
- Care-seeking: You spend a lot of time in a healthcare setting. You seek advice from multiple specialists and request medical tests.
- Care-avoidant: You avoid doctors and medical care. You might not trust doctors or you think they dont take your symptoms seriously. This can create more fear and anxiety.
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Understand More About Body Sensations
The human body is amazing, as is the range of physical feelings that we can feel. We all feel an enormous range of physical symptoms every day: going from feeling awake to feeling tired, feeling hungry to full of food, calm and relaxed to heart racing if we are surprised and we all ignore many of these. CBT says that it is the way that we interpret our experiences that leads to distress and this is especially true in health anxiety. Body sensations which are benign can become attached to threatening meanings. Once this has happened we are more likely to pay attention to those sensations. Many people are surprised by how anxiety can lead to strong but harmless physical sensations. One good way of understanding more about your body sensations is to learn about your nervous system.
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.
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How Can I Overcome My Health Anxiety
There are lots of things that you can do for yourself that will help you to recover from health anxiety. These include:
- Examine the costs and benefits of change.
- Understanding more about the bodily sensations that people experience.
- Working with your thoughts and images.
- Working with your avoidance and safety behaviors.
- Exposure to your worries.
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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Check If You Have Health Anxiety
You may have health anxiety if you:
- constantly worry about your health
- frequently check your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain
- are always asking people for reassurance that you’re not ill
- worry that a doctor or medical tests may have missed something
- obsessively look at health information on the internet or in the media
- avoid anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes
- act as if you were ill
Anxiety itself can cause symptoms like headaches or a racing heartbeat, and you may mistake these for signs of illness.
What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Health Anxiety
Additionally, if you continue to visit your doctor with no end in sight and your doctor is not knowledgeable about health anxiety, you may never receive the mental health treatment that you need. Well-meaning doctors may do things that actually make your health anxiety worse, such as telling you to stop reading up on side effects or to stay off the internet. They may also agree to do special tests. These actions make your health anxiety worse for two reasons:
In essence, when you have health anxiety, your mind keeps sounding an alarm about your body that you can’t seem to turn off. Your doctor needs to be aware of this issue in order to most effectively help you manage it.
Here are some tips for managing health anxiety with the help of medical professionals:
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Government Of Canada’s Role
The Government of Canada is working to help Canadians improve and maintain their mental health, including coping with anxiety disorders. Within its jurisdiction, the Government of Canada works to:
- Support Canada’s researchers in finding ways to prevent and treat mental illnesses and disorders.
- Strengthen the capacity of the primary health care, home care and acute care sectors to effectively deliver mental health programs and services.
- Work in collaboration with other governments and non-governmental organizations to improve the mental health of Canadians.
- Provide high quality, reliable information to the public.
- Report on health trends in the population.
In 2007, the federal government provided funding to establish and support the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Among other goals, the Commission leads in the development of a national mental health strategy and works to reduce the stigma about mental illness.
Understand That The Reality Is Not A Catastrophe Even The Worst Is Manageable
The number one thing that I think really helps you to overcome extreme health anxiety is thinking that even if the worst was to happen and no doubt, you know what the worst is even if the worst was to happen, thats still not a catastrophe.
Even the worst news that you could possibly get regarding your health is still manageable.
Bits of it are still manageable.
I know people that have been diagnosed with horrible illnesses and have been told that their prognosis is not good, and theyve said to me, even in that, they still have bits of their treatment, bits of their life moving forward that they can still manage and still can control.
So thats the first step to overcome extreme health anxiety. Know that its not like the world completely falls in around you even if you do get diagnosed with something horrible.
The truth is, bits and pieces of the journey ahead are completely manageable and you still have power over that.
And even if you were to get the worst news there would still be bits of your journey that you would then focus on and so it wouldnt be a complete and utter catastrophe things going out of control.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Illness Anxiety Disorder
People with illness anxiety disorder have ongoing but unrealistic fear about being seriously ill. The specific illness that they worry about often changes.
Some people with illness anxiety disorder may actually have a diagnosed physical illness. But because of illness anxiety disorder, they may feel their condition is more severe than it is.
Symptoms of illness anxiety disorder include:
- Avoiding people or places due to worry about catching an illness.
- Constantly researching diseases and symptoms.
- Exaggerating symptoms and their severity .
- High level of anxiety about personal health.
- Obsession with normal body functions, such as heart rate.
- Oversharing your symptoms and health status with others.
- Repeatedly checking for signs of illness, such as taking your blood pressure or temperature.
- Seeking reassurance from loved ones about your symptoms or health.
- Uneasiness with healthy body functions like gas or sweating.
Youre Not Imagining It
One of the biggest steps for me meant accepting the symptoms I had were of my own making.
These symptoms are known in the medical world as psychosomatic or somatic symptoms. Its a misnomer none of us actually have explained to us. Psychosomatic might mean in your head, but in your head isnt the same as saying not real.
In a recent paper by neuroscientists, its speculated that messages from the adrenal glands and other organs to the brain can actually create bodily symptoms.
Lead scientist Peter Strick spoke of psychosomatic symptoms, saying The word psychosomatic is loaded and implies that something is all in your head. I think now we can say, It is in your head, literally! We showed that there is real neural circuitry that connects cortical areas involved in movement, cognition, and feeling with the control of organ function. So what have been called psychosomatic disorders are not imaginary.
Boy, could I have used that reassurance 5 years ago.
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