Identifying and Coping with Health Anxiety
By: Michelle Solomou, LCSW-R
Winter often brings an increase in colds and other illnesses. Most people don’t worry much about these symptoms, however if you have health anxiety, hours may be spent worrying and researching symptoms online.
It is normal to be worried at times about your health. The difference between occasional worry and health anxiety is that people with health anxiety worry when they have no symptoms or mild symptoms. Significant time may be spent researching the symptoms and not being as present in daily activities. Often times these symptoms are caused by anxiety including chest discomfort, headaches, dizziness, and heart rate changes. The worries may lead to physical sensations, googling symptoms, news in media, and self-diagnosis. The cycle continues with new symptoms or worries.
How do you know if you might be struggling with health anxiety?
- You read something in the media about a disease and you start worrying you have it
- You seek health information online frequently
- You do not have symptoms, however still worry you are sick
- When you receive tests or a doctor reassures you that you do not have an illness, it does not relieve your anxiety
- Health worries interfere with your life, work, family, interest in activities and hobbies
With health anxiety, there is a ‘false alarm’ and a misinterpretation of normal bodily sensations as being harmful. When a person believes the symptoms are dangerous, it causes anxiety. The beliefs are false even though the sensations are real. Paying more attention to symptoms may also make you more aware of sensations you might have not noticed otherwise. These sensations then become even louder and last longer.
There is help for health anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a mental health treatment, is the most effect form of therapy for health anxiety. It is a model that focuses on the way we think, our behaviors and the way we act. We designate meaning to certain situations. So it is not the actual situation causing the anxiety, but rather the meaning, whether it is accurate or not. CBT can help you challenge irrational thoughts and learn to tolerate some discomfort and uncertainty. Learning these techniques can help you feel more in control of your body and your thoughts and can lessen the intensity and frequency of any health related concerns you may have.
If health anxiety is something you are struggling with, engaging in therapy at Behavioral Health Partners may help. Behavioral Health Partners is brought to you by Well-U, offering eligible individuals mental health services for stress, anxiety and depression. To schedule an intake appointment, give us a call at (585) 276-6900.
Goodman, K. (2020). Health Anxiety: What It is and How to Beat It. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/health-anxiety-what-it-and-how-to-beat-it
Harvard Health Publishing (2020). Always Worried about your health? You may be dealing with health anxiety disorder. http://www.health.harvard.edu
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