How Is Illness Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed
To diagnose illness anxiety disorder, healthcare providers refer to the criteria listed in the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders , 5th edition. Your provider may make a diagnosis or they may refer you to a behavioral health specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
A persistent fear about having a serious illness or developing one is the top symptom of illness anxiety disorder. Your provider may diagnose illness anxiety disorder if you have health anxiety for six months or longer even after tests show that youre not sick.
Health Worries Create Real Physical Symptoms In Your Body
The more you worry about your health, the more anxious you feel. Anxiety creates real physical symptoms in your body. Some of these symptoms include.
- sweating, trembling
However, you may misinterpret what is happening in your body.
Suppose your thought processes are concerned with severe illness. In that case, it will not make sense for your brain to think that symptoms you feel in your body may result from anxiety caused by worries relating to your health.
A vicious circle begins.
- Initial worry that something may be wrong with you
- Over time, these worries create anxiety
- The anxiety results in physical symptoms in your body
- The physical symptoms then become a source of concern, making you more convinced that something serious is wrong with you.
If you can see your health anxiety in terms of different points where you have an exit a chance to interrupt the cycle, you can teach yourself not to react to what you are experiencing in a way that is unhelpful to you.
Therapy, either through self-help or individual sessions with a psychologist, will do this for you. Still, you can start right away by trying the following.
The next time you get a thought in your head relating to your health, watch what you do next. For example, do you search on the internet, do you take your pulse?
Interrupt the things you do to get reassurance. For example, delay going onto google to check your symptoms. Decide to do something else instead and remind yourself it is just a thought.
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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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Pollys Fear That She Had Damaged Her Brain
Polly was in her mid-fifties and was worried that her brain was damaged. A few years previously she had been in a minor car accident she was taken to hospital for a check-up but was more shaken up than hurt. After the accident she became preoccupied with the idea that her brain had been injured. She noticed that she found it harder to concentrate and that she forgot simple things. She gave up her job in an office because she felt that she could not perform like she used to. She researched her symptoms on the internet and consulted a number of doctors. Despite extensive testing their results were inconclusive and she did not feel like her doctors really understood what was wrong with her. She often checked whether she had a feeling of being mentally sharp or whether she was feeling fuzzy and became concerned if she felt fuzzy. She experimented with a range of alternative therapies but did not find that anything helped very much.
Monitoring Your Own Reaction
So many of these unwanted thoughts are the result of the way you respond to them. When you feel shame or get upset at yourself for having them, you give them much more power and they’re more likely to affect your happiness and your mind.
You have to be careful, and try your best not to react this way. Force yourself as best you can to be “okay” with the fact that these thoughts occur. Remember, they’re just anxiety and they don’t mean anything. Once you cure your anxiety disorder the thoughts will go away. Until then, they’re just an inconvenience and nothing you should concern yourself with, no matter how fearful the thoughts are.
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Try Some Aerobic Activity
During periods of anxiety, your body is filled with adrenaline. Putting that adrenaline toward aerobic activity can be a great way to improve your anxiety. Exercise has numerous advantages for controlling your anxiety symptoms:
- Exercise burns away stress hormones that create anxiety symptoms.
- Exercise tires your muscles, reducing excess energy and tension.
- Exercise releases endorphins in your brain which can improve overall mood.
- Exercise is linked to healthier breathing.
- Exercise is a healthy distraction.
Aerobic activity, like light jogging or even fast walking, can be extremely effective at reducing the severity of your anxiety symptoms, as well as the anxiety itself.
Unhelpful Thoughts And Beliefs About Health And Illness
Thought processes and beliefs play an important role in health anxiety.
- Worry and repetitive thoughts mean that a concern is on your mind and ever-present.
- Intrusive thoughts and images can be very distressing.
- Thoughts about symptoms can become amplified, distorted, or inaccurate. It can be hard to think straight. People with health anxiety often overestimate the probability that they have a serious illness, and underestimate their ability to cope with illness.
- Some people with health anxiety find uncertainty uncomfortable. This can lead them to act in ways that are intended to increase their sense of certainty, but which may inadvertently prolong the problem.
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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.
Finally: Set Up Daily Support
Dont wait until it gets bad, set yourself up a daily self are routine – EFT tapping, Bach Flower Remedies, audio support these are things you can easily work into your day without taking too much time.
We recommend five minutes EFT Tapping as soon as you wake up to support yourself before your mind starts bringing you it’s fears. Get your flower remedies ready for the day, you can put some drops in a bottle of water and keep it with you.
Taking quick breathing breaks throughout the day, and tap during the day too if anxiety flares.
Use a guided relaxation in the evening, or before going to bed.
These will all help you get your anxiety under control again. And help your overall health too as stress wont be such an issue and we all know stress is one of the worst things for our health.
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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 Do Fear And Anxiety Feel Like
When you feel frightened or seriously anxious, your mind and body work very quickly. These are some of the things that might happen:
- Your heart beats very fast maybe it feels irregular
- You breathe very fast
- You have hot and cold sweats
- You get a dry mouth
- You get very tense muscles
These things occur because your body, sensing fear, is preparing you for an emergency, so it makes your blood flow to the muscles, increases blood sugar, and gives you the mental ability to focus on the thing that your body perceives as a threat.
With anxiety, in the longer term, you may have some of the above symptoms as well as a more nagging sense of fear, and you may get irritable, have trouble sleeping, develop headaches, or have trouble getting on with work and planning for the future you might have problems having sex, and might lose self-confidence.
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Health Anxiety Can Interfere With Your Life But It’s Highly Treatable
You spend hours on the Internet researching health information. When you get a scratchy throat you automatically think cancer not a cold. And even when medical tests come back showing that you’re healthy, it doesn’t make you feel better. In the back of your mind you still feel like something is wrong.
If this sounds like you or a loved one, it may be health anxiety.
Health anxiety is a condition that causes healthy people to worry that they are sick even when they have no symptoms, or minor symptoms like a scratchy throat.
“People with health anxiety for the most part tend to fear severe illness, such as HIV, cancer, or dementia. They worry far less about strep throat, twisting their ankle, or getting a cold,” says Dr. Timothy Scarella, instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. This fear that they have a serious illness can interfere with their daily life. It might lead them to seek out unnecessary testing, to waste hours in the doctor’s office, and to spend days consumed by worry. But it’s not only their own health that people with health anxiety may focus on. “Some people also worry excessively about their children’s health,” he says.
The Power Of Suggestion
We are all used to reading reference material and believing it but we continue to read papers for news even though we know most of it is very biased or exaggerated.
Now, in this situation here you are faced with page after page verifying all your worse nightmares. This suggests to you that your doctor could be wrong this then starts off another vicious circle of reassurance / worry.
This can take several forms. Some people seek several second medical opinions and insist upon a battery of tests and investigations, some people do the rounds of every complementary therapist in town seeking that miracle cure. Some hound their doctors as regular visitors and some suffer in silence but within themselves are sure that they are getting very ill.
Its hard to know what to do so you mull it over and over and over.
Your head tells you one thing and your instinct tells you something else.
This all teaches your brain that its an important issue and lodges it in your mind to be brought up every time you get a symptom or even a few quiet moments where youre not fully concentrating on something else.
This then develops into a habit or even a hobby and this is made even worse when the feelings or symptoms reoccur confirming your worst fears.
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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
Selective Attention / Focus On Body Sensations
Your ability to pay attention is an interesting thing. Most people are not very good at paying attention to lots of things at once, but once we are paying attention to something it can fill our awareness. This matters in health anxiety because the way that you focus on a symptom can easily amplify your experience of it. The more that you pay attention to a symptom the more you become aware of it, and the more intense it can seem to be. This can lead to a vicious cycle: the more intense and important a symptom seems, the more attention you will pay to it, and the more intense it will seem.