Health anxiety, or hypochondria as it is sometimes known, is when you obsessively worry about your health to the point that it has taken over your life. Read our article below for more information on the symptoms, causes and treatments for health anxiety.
What is health anxiety?
Health anxiety is an anxiety condition. It Is often categorized as on the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum of disorders. Health anxiety causes its sufferers to be obsessed with the thought that they are currently or soon will be physically unwell.
Those who suffer wit health anxiety are convinced that harmless physical symptoms are indicators of sever medical conditions. For example, tightness in their chest might be a heart attack. Because health anxiety is an anxiety disorder, sufferers may also perceive the symptoms of their anxiety to be symptoms of an underlying health issue.
Symptoms of health anxiety
You may have health anxiety if you:
- Obsessively worry about your health
- Frequently check yourself for signs of illness (e.g. lumps, tinging, or pain)
- Frequently ask people for reassurance you’re not ill
- Worry that your doctor or medical tests have missed something
- Constantly look at health information on the internet
- Avoid anything about serious illness, like medical TV dramas
- Act as if you are ill (e.g avoiding physical activities)
What causes health anxiety?
As with many mental health issues, the cause of health anxiety isn’t entirely understood. It is thought to be linked to the following factors:
- A family member or members who worried about their health or your health excessively
- A past experience of serious illness in childhood
Treatments for health anxiety
If you feel like your worries are preventing you from leading a normal life, you can speak to your GP about how you’ve been feeling. Treatment will typically involve psychological (talking) therapy, sometimes paired with medications.
The most common psychological therapy that may be used is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT can help you to manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. Occasionally other forms of psychological therapy may be used. These therapies may include exposure therapy and behavioural stress management.
While going to therapy you should still have regular appointments with your doctor. If you doctor believes you are responding well to therapy alone, this may be all that is used for your treatment. However, if you aren’t responding as well as they would hope, you may be offered a prescription.
Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) as most commonly used for health anxiety. SSRIs may be combined with other medications to treat other conditions, like mood or anxiety disorders.
There are some activities you might like to try to self-manage your health anxiety:
- Keep a diary of when you check your body, ask people for reassurance, or look at health information and slowly try to reduce how often you do these things
- Challenge your negative thoughts. You could try drawing a table with two columns, one for your health worries and one for more balanced thoughts. For example, in one column you could write “I’m worried about my headaches” and in the other column you could write “headaches could be a sign of dehydration”
- When you get the urge to check your body or research symptoms, distract yourself by going on a walk or calling a friend
- If you’ve been avoiding activities because of your health anxiety, slowly try to start doing these again