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
Example: How To Transform Negative Thinking
Original thought: I’m anxious about today’s doctor visit. My test results are back and I just know its going to be bad news.
Self, how valid is this thought – is it based on fact or worry?”Worry.
“By interpreting it this way, am I promoting calm and self-compassion, or anxiety and fear?”Anxiety and fear.
Is this thought a repeat offender?Yes.
Which thinking trap does it fall into?Fortune-telling.
“What must I believe in order to interpret it differently, in a positive way?That there’s an equal or greater chance my test results are negative.
What evidence do I have to support this new belief?”My doctor didn’t seem worried. My physical exam was normal, and she ordered the test mostly to provide me with reassurance.I have no family history, and few risk factors, of the illness I fear.
Based on this belief, what new positive, rational thought will replace the original negative, irrational thought?Original, negative, irrational thought: I’m anxious about today’s doctor visit. My test results are back and I just know its going to be bad news. New, positive, rational thought: “My test results are back. Of course, there’s a chance they’ll be positive, but most of the evidence indicates it’ll be negative. Whatever the result, today’s doctor will make me better – by providing either a treatment for the illness I fear, or the reassurance I need to put my fears behind me and begin living a healthy, fearless life, free of anxiety.”
Notes From The Podcast:
The mind is easily disturbed and that can manifest in all kinds of fears blowing up out of control. Sometimes its health, sometime we fear for loved ones, sometimes we are crippled by social anxiety.
Everyones mind has its vulnerable spots and thats where anxiety will strike – especially if we are stressed and sensitised
Invest your mental energy in educating yourself about health instead or worrying about it. Learning about health and how to improve it is proactive and calming, worrying about health is reactive and stressful.
The truth is, when real stuff happens, we cope. Anticipatory anxiety is awful it robs us of our peace and present tense. We may dread one form of cancer, then get a test or some re-assurance then the mind will find something else. Build your inner strength. Action is always better than sitting with a head full of anxiety.
The saying an idle mind is the devils workshop is true. So fill your head and your heart with good information.
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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.
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.
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Working With Your Thoughts And Images
Thoughts and images are a key part of health anxiety. People with health anxiety often engage in worry & rumination, experience intrusive thoughts and images, and think in other unhelpful ways about their symptoms. People with health anxiety often interpret situations in particularly threatening ways, resulting in strong feelings of anxiety. CBT says that it is not situations that determine how you feel, but the thoughts and interpretations you have about that situation . Some of the unhelpful thinking styles that people with health anxiety have can include:
- Catastrophizing: jumping to the worst possible conclusion, overestimating the probability of something awful happening, underestimating your ability to cope
- Intolerance of uncertainty: not feeling comfortable unless you have a definitive explanation for what you are experiencing
- Selective attention: only paying attention to signs of illness, or ignoring information that does not support your view
- Thought-action fusion: believing that thinking certain things can make them happen
Important steps in CBT treatment for anxiety include learning to recognize and then challenge your negative thinking. Psychology Tools has a number of resources that are helpful for this:
Don’t Turn To Dr Google: 7 Ways To Beat Health Anxiety
Got a bump somewhere?
You know it’s probably not cancer.
But if you move from bump to bump and lump to lump and choose to turn to Dr. Google over your doctors clean bill of health, you might want to talk to somebody about health anxiety.
About 40 million adults in the United States live with anxiety disorders, making it the most common mental illness in the country. But only one-third of those with the disorders receive treatment.
People who develop health anxiety already have a background or tendency to be more anxious, explains Dr. Lisa DeLeonardo, a Hockessin-based psychologist.
Health anxiety differs from the anxiety someone may feel if diagnosed with a significant illness such as cancer. Minor symptoms, like a headache, turn into worries about serious illnesses like a brain tumor. And no matter how many doctors’ appointments and negative test results, you make you can’t shake the feeling you are unhealthy.
In the age of Google and Internet, it’s all too easy to fall down a rabbit hole. Most people with this type of anxiety disorder may think they chronically have HIV, AIDS, cancer, heart attacks or Alzheimer’s disease.
“We will see people stop living their lives,” DeLeonardo said.
Anxiety is an emotional response that comes from the brain’s amigdala, not from the pre-frontal cortex which control’s decision-making, says Dr. Mary Kennedy, a Newark psychologist and author.”With anxiety it’s hard to use logic to talk someone out of it,” she said.
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What Is A Panic Attack
A panic attack is when you feel overwhelmed by the physical and mental feelings of fear the signs listed under What do fear and anxiety feel like? People who have panic attacks say that they find it hard to breathe, and they may worry that theyre having a heart attack or are going to lose control of their body. See the Support and information section at the end of this booklet if you want help with panic attacks.
Use Lavender Scented Products
Lavender is an especially calming floral scent, which means that it can be great for anyone who suffers from chronic anxiety attacks. However, there are several ways that you can use it. Here are some ways that you can use lavender in your home to calm down and prevent panic attacks:
- Lavender scented candles are a great way to give your entire house a pleasant, calming scent.
- An essential oil diffuser can also spread the calming floral scent throughout your home.
- Using lavender sprays and perfumes can be a great way to stay calm when youre away from home.
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What Is Health Anxiety
Symptoms of health anxiety include:
- Preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness that persists despite receiving negative results on medical tests and reassurance from professionals.
- Anxiety that is excessive and out of proportion to the actual likelihood of having a serious medical problem.
- Repeatedly checking your body for signs of illness, frequently seeking reassurance about your health from medical professionals.
People who are healthy can develop health anxiety, as can people who have a diagnosed medical condition. To qualify for a diagnosis of health anxiety disorder your symptoms must have persisted for at least six months and must have caused you significant distress, or adversely affected your daily life.
We can separate the effects of health anxiety into thoughts, feelings, and behaviors:
Identify Your Anxious Behaviours
There are two kinds of anxious, or safety behaviours: Preventive behaviours and restorative behaviours .
Avoidance: Avoiding people, places or situations that you associate with symptoms, suspected illnesses or mortality. For example:
Avoiding exercise if you fear you have a heart condition.
Avoiding any location thats not within 10km of a hospital.
Avoiding noisy environments if you fear your headache is a sign you have a brain tumour.
Preparation: For the possibility of encountering such situations. For example:
Carry Aspirin in case you have a heart attack.
Draft a will, in case you pass away.
Worrying: Giving anxious thoughts undue attention over more important demands for your attention – including but not limited to career, education, family, friends and self-care.
Dependency: Relying on someone or something. For example, inviting a friend or family member to stay with you in case you have an emergency in your sleep.
Checking: Self-examining to check for new symptoms that may require medical attention. For example:
Checking your skin for lumps or lesions.
Checking your body for painful or tender areas.
Checking your pulse.
Taking your body temperature.
Cyberchondria: Searching the Internet for symptoms, illnesses, or remedies, and engaging in online discussion groups or forums, for the purposes of self-diagnosis.
Distraction: Making yourself busy to avoid the threatening situation or negative thought.
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Intrusive Thoughts And Images
You may have intrusive thoughts or images about yourself or others being harmed. The threat might be real or imagined and may be from the past present or future.
When anxiety dominates the picture, you may be overestimating the degree of danger to yourself or others. Your mind tends to think of all the possible bad things that could occur. This is called catastrophizing. Your mind will want to know for certain or have a guarantee that you will not die or suffer from a severe illness.
This leads to worrying about how to solve non-existent problems and to control as much of your bodily functions or to plan ahead to deal with all the possible problems that do not arise. The natural desire is to escape or avoid situations that are anxiety provoking. One problem is that your thoughts become fused with past experiences and accepted as facts in the here and now. As a consequence, you develop a pattern of thinking which is likely holding a prejudice against information that does not fit with your fears.
Well be emphasising the importance of tolerating uncertainty and recognising that thoughts about your health are just that thoughts, not reality. Learning to accept these negative thoughts and images willingly as just thoughts and not buying into them is an important part of overcoming health anxiety.
Physical Exercise For Panic Attacks
If you suffer from panic attacks, there are several different types of exercises that you might want to consider.
While conventional exercises can provide relief for many individuals, yoga is especially effective for many individuals.
Here are a few of the best exercises to try if youre suffering from panic attacks:
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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.
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.
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