Not All Health Worries Indicate Health Anxiety
Being concerned about your health is not the same as health anxiety. Itâs 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.
âThere 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,â 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 oneâs health.
Practical Tips For Being There When Someone Is Struggling With Obsessive And Often Irrational Worry Around Their Health
When a loved one is struggling with their mental health, many of us will want to do as much as we can to support them and doing so is vitally important. But when it comes to supporting someone with health anxiety, there are a plethora of things to consider.
It can be very difficult to support somebody with health anxiety, says Dr Sophie Gwinnett, a clinical psychologist. At times, their fears might seem irrational or illogical, and this might make you feel frustrated, stressed, or worried.
So, how can you navigate conversations, and offer your loved one the best support you can? Here, with help from Dr Gwinnett, we explore five tips.
Health Anxiety Risk Factors
Health anxiety is most common in early or mid-adulthood but can get worse as you get older. Health anxiety in elderly persons may centre on a worry about developing memory issues.
The following are other key health anxiety risk factors:
- Significant stressful event or occasion
- Suffering abuse as a child
- Having a serious illness in childhood or a parent with a serious illness
- The possibility of being diagnosed with a serious illness that turns out to not be serious
- Excessively checking your health and / or symptoms on the internet
- Having a worrying personality type
Start your treatment journey today. For fast access to specialised private mental health treatment in London at Schoen Clinic Chelsea, you can use your health insurance or simply fund your own treatment. Call our caring team direct on +44 20 4571 6312 or today.
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Quick Ways To Cope With Anxiety
If your anxiety is sporadic and getting in the way of your focus or tasks, there are some quick natural remedies that could help you take control of the situation.
If your anxiety is focused around a situation, such as being worried about an upcoming event, you may notice the symptoms are short-lived and usually subside after the anticipated event takes place.
How To Help An Employee With Anxiety
COVID is impacting our mental wellbeing and, by extension, workplace production.
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has left many of us all feeling a lot more stressed than usual. Given that before the pandemic some 40 million U.S. adults were affected by anxiety were makes the potential impact of the current upward trend disturbing.
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According to the American Psychological Association , anxiety is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”
Per a recent poll conducted byCBDistilleryon Americans and their overall mental health in 2020: Respondents claimed they lost approximately 5 hours of sleep a week and gained, on average,13 pounds—all due to stress. When anxious feelings becomes more severe and physical symptoms like increased heart disease, vision problems or asthma occur—then these responses can be classified as an anxiety disorder.
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Private Specialised Health Anxiety Treatment At Our Leading London Mental Health Clinic
When health anxiety becomes debilitating and prevents you from doing things you previously enjoyed or are responsible for, we will work with you to address the underlying triggers and equip you with the skills to reduce the feelings of anxiety and increase your self-confidence and self-esteem. Sometimes health anxiety can impact your mood and how you see yourself and others. Because of this, it’s fairly common for people who experience health anxiety to also feel depressed. We will work with you holistically towards a full recovery. Health anxiety disorders can be treated with a combination of treatment and therapies.
We use both individual and group treatment as part of multimodal therapy at Schoen Clinic. The purpose of the therapy is to teach you better coping mechanisms for your health anxiety. The targets for enhancing your coping mechanisms will be determined in collaboration with you. We will assist you in progressively learning techniques for lowering and recovering from your health anxiety.
We will decide on a treatment and therapy plan based on the degree of your health anxiety and your capacity for group work and individual therapy. Working in groups may be the first step in acquiring new skills for certain people. The groups are supportive and understand social anxiety with others in the group able to relate to these experiences.
We offer an intensive treatment programme for adults with common anxiety & mood disorders. Learn more about the programme today.
Discourage Their Excessive Worry Checking Research And Reassurance
Illness anxiety causes an inordinate amount of worry and stress, excessive checking and re-checking of what appear as signs or symptoms of an illness as well as compulsive research, and for some, also excessive reassurance-seeking.
When the anxious person has obsessive and negative thoughts, itâs important to empathize about their struggle with anxiety, but try to discourage them from excessive worry, checking, research, and reassurance-seeking. Donât reinforce their obsessions or compulsions by automatically buying in to the health concern, by helping them with excessive research, or by giving reassurance too frequently. Instead, you can help by reminding them of what theyâve learned about illness anxiety, diverting their attention to other issues, or reviewing some coping strategies . Also, remind them that their compulsive behaviors, although intended to ease their anxiety, will actually increase it in the long run.
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Encourage Consulting With A Doctor When It Seems Warranted But Discourage Excessive Trips To See Doctors
Most of us are not qualified to recognize, diagnose, evaluate, or treat medical conditions. So when the anxious person has significant enough symptoms that would cause most people to go to the doctor, then they too should go to the doctor. But it is hard to estimate what most people do. Therefore it may be helpful to have the anxious person call the doctorâs office before making an appointment, to ask whether the nurse or doctor thinks a visit is indicated.
However, if their concern is something familiar, repetitive, and something the doctor already told them not to worry aboutâ¦ or if it is something clearly minor and ordinary , then you can discourage them from making a doctorâs appointment. Also, discourage them from seeing multiple doctors, one after another, frequently seeking a third, fourth, or fifth opinion, especially if itâs for the same concern over and over.
If you do not have illness anxiety, and it is clear to you that the anxious person is making way too many visits to see doctors, then it may be helpful for you to give them such feedback, to discourage excessive doctorsâ appointments, and to point out the drawbacks of making too many doctorsâ appointments . If the doctorsâ appointments that they make have an impact on you and your day to day life, then you may also want to set limits on how much you bend over backward to accommodate the logistics of frequent doctorsâ appointments.
What Increases The Chance Of Anxiety
- Excessive anxiety may be brought on by a major incident or a combination of lesser stressful life circumstances. A loss in the family, work stress, or persistent financial worries can all be factors.
- Personality types. Anxiety disorders are more likely to affect some personality types than others.
- Other associated mental health problems.
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Controlling Anxiety Takes Time
Theres no quick fix for anxiety, and it may often feel like an uphill struggle. But by gaining awareness of what causes your symptoms, and getting help from your doctor, you can manage your symptoms.
You may find some of these hacks work for you straight away and others may have no effect at all, but the important thing is to keep trying.
Giving in to feelings of anxiety by retreating from the world only served to make my life more difficult in the long run. Continuing to search for solutions that work for me has been key to my recovery. Practice makes perfect, so dont stop trying to find ways that work for you.
Fiona Thomas is a lifestyle and mental health writer who lives with depression and anxiety. Visit her website or connect with her on .
Whos Most Likely To Develop Illness Anxiety Disorder
Unlike other health conditions, IAD doesnt have unique risk factors, such as race, sex, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, that make a person more likely to develop the disorder.
Anxiety disorders in general have been on the rise in young adults. One 2020 study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found that reports of anxiety increased from about 8% in 2008 to about 15% in 2018 among people ages 1825.
IAD diagnoses specifically tend to peak around the late teen years into the early 20s, Cassiday said.
Children have their fair share of health anxiety too. Cassiday said shes had a patient in kindergarten who was afraid they were going to have a heart attack, and a second-grader who believed they were going to develop a brain tumor and die.
Its particularly common among children with sick loved ones because they dont understand why or how people come down with different illnesses, according to Gallagher, who said COVID has been adding to the confusion.
She said one of her pediatric patients asked if they were going to die because they sometimes bite their nails and pick their nose the childs parents specifically told not them not to do that because of the risk of coronavirus infection.
Kids can have fears just like the rest of us, and a lot of times theres more unknown as a child, Gallagher said. Things can feel overwhelming or concerning.
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Be Accepting Of Their Thoughts And Emotions
Can you think back to a time where you were experiencing anxiety? How real did those worried feelings seem to you? Probably very real. Health anxiety is just the same, and so the last thing you should do is try to downplay what theyre going through.
No matter how absurd or irrational the beliefs seem to you, dont dismiss their fears , says Dr Gwinnett. Accept that your loved one is genuinely battling with fears that feel very real to them .
Does It Ever Get Better
In short, yes, it absolutely can get better.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the main way of combating health anxiety. As a matter-of-fact, its considered the gold standard of psychotherapy.
I like to say the first step to anything is realizing you actually have health anxiety. If youve searched for the term once, youve taken the biggest step there is. I also say the next time you see your doctor for reassurance, ask them to refer you for CBT.
One of the most helpful CBT booklets I used to combat my health anxiety was free worksheets shared on No More Panic by cognitive therapist Robin Hall, who also runs CBT4Panic. All you need to do is download and print them and youll be on your way to overcoming something I wouldnt wish on my greatest enemy.
Of course, because were all wired so differently, CBT doesnt have to be the be-all-end-all of overcoming health anxiety.
If youve tried it and it hasnt worked for you, that doesnt mean youre beyond help. Other therapies such as exposure and response prevention might just be the key that CBT wasnt.
ERP is a commonly used form of therapy to combat obsessive-compulsive thoughts. While it and CBT share some aspects, exposure therapy is about facing your fears. Essentially, where CBT gets to the bottom of why you feel the way you do and how to fix it, ERP is asking the open-ended, and, so what if x did happen?
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Listen To & Validate Their Feelings
Its important to make sure youre able to listen and validate feelings if a loved one with anxiety is seeking reassurance from you. They may seem to want you to legitimize their feelings about What if this terrible thing happens? That said, reassurance may not be what they really need. On the contrary, continual reassurance might exacerbate and prolong their symptoms.
Sometimes, its better to point out that you recognize their need for reassurance while still gently pointing out that nothing seems to be going on to justify how theyre feeling.
Acknowledging feelings and sharing that you understand that theyre anxious is helpful. You can also share that you dont want to make them more anxious in the long run by constantly offering reassurance about things that dont seem to be true.
Follow up by suggesting natural remedies for anxiety and techniques for better managing symptoms things like:
- Deep breathing exercises
Remember That Your Body Sends You Signals All The Time
People with health anxiety often misinterpret normal physical sensations as signs of illness or disease. For example, if your muscles feel sore after a workout, you might worry youre coming down with the flu or COVID-19. If you have a tension headache after a long day of work, you might think somethings wrong with your brain.
No matter whats concerning you, remember its totally normal even healthy to experience different physical sensations. Remind yourself that your body is sending you signals all the time, and these signals sometimes just remind us that were alive, says Tseng. If you run up 10 flights of stairs and as a result, experience rapid breathing and a quickened heart rate, these are just signs that your body is functioning the way it should and not an indication there is something wrong.
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Illness Anxiety Disorder Can Come With Other Health Conditions
IAD isnt always accompanied by other medical conditions, but when it is, its commonly alongside obsessive-compulsive disorder because of the ruminating nature of ones thoughts and depression.
People get very down because they get stuck in the loop of not being able to master their symptoms and thinking that theyre dying of a horrible disease every day, Kirren said. It completely drains the life out of people so they withdraw into themselves.
Panic disorder is another common condition that some people with IAD share.
A smaller percentage of people with IAD will have body dysmorphic disorder, which is the obsessive focus on an imagined or minor flaw in appearance. These patients could believe they have a lump in their breast, for example, and constantly monitor it despite nothing being there.
Some people may have substance abuse disorders, but this is rare, Kirren said, because most patients are scared of losing control, so they dont take medications as theyre not sure what itll do to their body.
Then theres the fear of death, medically known as thanatophobia.
Death anxiety is not a recognized disorder in the DSM, but psychologists say many IAD patients core fear is death itself. For others, its suffering.
What theyre doing with this worry is theyre trying to get rid of uncertainty, Cassiday said. Because they cant tolerate it, they want to handle that with a better safe than sorry strategy by just focusing on the worst outcome.
Coping Skills For Anxiety
You can try the following coping mechanisms for anxiety one at a time, or in combination to find what works for you. Practice your chosen skill once or twice a day for as many days as you need to accustom your body and mind and to establish a habit. While many of these techniques can be self-administered, some require the guidance and oversight of a professional therapist.
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Dont Hide Your Real Feelings So You Dont Hurt Your Friends
Let your friend know that youre there for them. Admit if you dont know the best course of action to help them feel better. Be willing to explore current research and effective techniques for minimizing the frequency and intensity of anxiety symptoms.
While it may not always make sense to you, understanding your friend or family members triggers for anxiety can help you best support them as they navigate challenging environments or situations.
Knowing How Anxiety Works Can Help You To Better Support Loved Ones Without Inadvertently Making Their Anxiety Worse
When I first moved into my spouses house in 2001, she didnt want to include my name in our answering machine greeting. Because of our big age gap and same-sex relationship, she was justifiably anxious about how her parents would react to my having moved in so she kept it from them for several months. Though I felt a great deal of compassion for her and her situation, I was also frustrated that her anxiety was affecting meand I didnt like acting as though we had something to be ashamed of.
Scenarios like this are common when someone in your life is struggling with anxiety. Your loved one may feel so fearful that they avoid taking action, or act in ways that are inconsiderate or that increase your own anxiety. This might look like a boyfriend constantly putting off important tasks or discussions, a friend complaining about being lonely but refusing to date, or a boss always focusing on what could go wrong, making everyone miserable. Its difficult to witness anxiety in someone you know, and its even harder when their anxiety triggers yours.
But what can you do to help anxious people?
While its upsetting and frustrating to see these folks suffer, there are things you can do to help. Here are some of the strategies I recommend based on my book, The Anxiety Toolkit.
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