Health anxiety can be hard to deal with because of how scary bad health can be. From cancer to any other terminal illness, it’s normal to feel frightened about the possibility of getting seriously sick. Do you listen to your body and spend all your free time on medical websites, reading about the symptoms of terrible diseases? Then you might be suffering from health anxiety. Health anxiety is often called a disease of the 21st century. With the advent of the internet and medical materials freely distributed on the network, there are a growing number of cases of health anxiety. But what is it, and how do you deal with this condition? In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about health anxiety.
What is health anxiety?
Hypochondria is an anxiety disorder that manifests itself as a constant concern about one’s health. Hypochondriacs are convinced that they are sick when they’re in tiptop shape. They perceive any unusual sensations in the body as signals of mortal danger, even though a medical examination does not show signs of illness.
Sometimes, reading the symptoms of an illness online is the worst-case scenario. As a result, when we experience the combination of those symptoms, we fear the worst. Or we hear a story about how someone died suddenly after experiencing the same symptoms we have. That’s when the anxiety creeps in.
Compared to the physical symptoms themselves, this extreme health anxiety causes stress that can be very disturbing. This disorder is a chronic disease that can vary in intensity of symptoms, possibly worsening over time. However, psychological counseling (psychotherapy) and some medications can help relieve your anxiety.
How health anxiety affects people
1. Fear of illness
The fear of illness determines the life of those affected. To protect themselves from possible diseases, they constantly check their pulse, measure their blood pressure, and examine the appearance of individual parts of the body. It goes from a mild check to an obsessive check. You might start buying devices that calculate your heart rate, use urine strips, and more even when there’s been no official diagnosis that anything is wrong.
Even a slight headache leads to uncertainty, and they suspect that there could be something bad behind it. Research on the internet often confirms these negative thoughts. It’s challenging to convince those affected with health anxiety otherwise, even after a doctor tells them that they are physically fit and healthy.
Therefore, if you continue to think you’re having health problems and are not in the best of health, you may become moody. What’s more, you may always feel that you are experiencing some major annoyance and may not recover from the problem that doesn’t even exist in the first place.
2. Increased body awareness
People suffering from health anxiety always keep a close eye on their bodies and notice when something changes. They also perceive normal and completely natural developments as abnormal. This distorted perception is a strong psychological burden.
Mostly, these people pay particular attention to a single part of the body or organ. They observe this very closely and imagine that it changes again and again. Usually, they often don’t accept medical opinions that prove otherwise.
For instance, a person may become obsessed with lowering their heart rate while wearing a fitness device on their wrist. However, if you’re a woman, your heart rate decreases around ovulation and increases back up drastically around the time of your period. Without knowing that this happens every month, you might think there’s a problem when it’s a regular cyclical event.
3. Anxiety attacks
Anxiety attacks are common in life; many people experience them. People with health anxiety are constantly afraid that something fatal, like a life-threatening disease, will happen to them. This feeling of impending doom makes it difficult for them to concentrate at work or engage in other activities because of their fear of ill health.
You will notice that you’re suffering from health anxiety if your health problems start to interfere with your way of life, relationships, and work. If your fear of health issues becomes an obsession, you end up hurting yourself more in the process because that’s when you’re no longer caring for yourself. Stress affects the body more than anything else. Obsessing and stressing about illness could be what ends up causing something to happen rather than the other way around.
4. Frequent visits to the doctor
There are health anxiety sufferers who avoid going to the doctor to not infect other sick people. But there are also those affected who behave oppositely. They visit a doctor far too often. It’s not uncommon for them to keep changing their doctor whenever the diagnosis is that they’re healthy and well. This change in doctors is due to a lack of trust in the doctor’s diagnosis.
Such people prefer to rely on their perception and want to have this confirmed by a doctor. If this is not the case, they look for another doctor and hope for confirmation there. In the end, you spend tons of money on medical tests that consistently show that you don’t have an illness and are in a healthy condition.
5. Obsessed with medical tests and their results
Health anxiety sufferers are usually obsessed with conducting medical tests for one or more diseases and health problems. People with health anxiety want to get as much information as possible from all of their sources to confirm whether or not they are accurate. People with health anxiety often have medical tests, including simple ones like blood pressure, and progress towards complex ones like an MRI.
People with health anxiety are also likely to take DNA tests to determine potential illnesses they could develop over time to be proactive about their health – even if the potential of the disease isn’t grounded in hard facts.
6. Stress all the time
Health anxiety sufferers always show stress-related health problems, which are usually part of their imagination. Even things as simple as a cough, indigestion, or headache put them under extreme stress. Even doctor’s guarantees and medical reports don’t provide relief for their stress.
How to Overcome Health Anxiety in 2023
Depending on how severely you are suffering, you can use a few methods to beat your fear of illness. However, the following tips are no substitute for a visit to the doctor. If you notice that you’re suffering from health anxiety, you must seek additional professional help and find a therapist. Here’s what you can do to overcome your fear of illness.
1. Focus on symptoms you don’t have
Even the most minor complaints often unsettle people with health anxiety. If you do enough research about an illness that you fear, you will quickly find that you are likely to be missing many other symptoms.
This exclusion method will help you realize whether you really are suffering from a particular disease or if you just imagine the discomfort. So focus on the symptoms that you don’t have and use them as evidence of your health. In this way, you’ll learn over time not to let small changes in your body unsettle you.
Looking for evidence that counters your beliefs is a scientifically proven method for treating health anxiety. If you’ve done all the medical tests, lack various symptoms, and are considered in good health, that’s a lot of evidence that you’re healthy and doing well right now. It’s a sign that you should continue on the healthy path you’re on.
2. Do relaxation techniques for your health anxiety
With health anxiety, you get deeper and deeper into your fearful thoughts and cannot get away from them. In the long run, this creates a lot of stress and puts you under pressure. Relaxation techniques could help you calm the mind, ease the tension in your body, and help encourage your good health.
There are many exercises that you can do on your own when fear torments you. Find a method and use it whenever the health anxiety is troubling you. In this way, you alleviate acute fears and do something about your anxiety disorder in the long term. Below are some relaxation techniques that are simple but effective.
Guided meditation has a calming effect. With regular practice, you relax well. You are in the “here and now” with mind and body during meditation. There is no room for negative thoughts. By focusing on the present, you free yourself from all other thoughts, including your fears. You can download the Declutter The Mind app to help you when your health anxiety unsettles you. Or you could check out this anxiety video to help relax you.
b. Autogenic training
One of the most popular and effective relaxation techniques is autogenic training. You put yourself into a kind of self-hypnosis and try to create a deep state of rest with auto-suggestive formulations. Once you have reached this state, you’re completely relaxed. Negative thoughts then have no more space in your head.
c. Progressive muscle relaxation
This relaxation technique is based on the alternating tension and relaxation of individual parts of the body. The entire body is relaxed one after the other. You can teach yourself the technique very easily and use it in everyday situations. Consider also trying a guided meditation for body scans.
d. Breathing exercises
With breathing exercises, you calm down very quickly in an acute attack of anxiety. The practices have a positive effect on your breathing. With proper implementation, you generate a deep, quiet breathing rhythm that your body brings to rest.
4. Find the causes of your health anxiety
To overcome your health anxiety, you first need to know how it comes about. Many people affected by health anxiety can’t understand their fear themselves. From a medical point of view, there is no clear explanation. Therefore, you must think about your past. In many cases, the causes are rooted there. If you had experiences of illness and traumatic death in your childhood, you’re more prone to health anxiety than other people. If you find it challenging to research the cause yourself, you can get advice from a doctor or therapist.
5. Get professional advice
Make an appointment with your family doctor or a therapist. In a personal conversation, you’ll report on your symptoms and receive professional advice. A therapist is sure to offer you some therapy options that will help you learn to overcome your health fears. Your doctor will also give you comprehensive advice on all symptoms and tips on improving your health and wellbeing.
6. Therapy for health anxiety
A psychotherapist will help you overcome your fear. He or she looks after you individually and caters to your personal needs. In the case of health anxiety, behavioral therapy that focuses on dealing with stressful behavior is recommended. Together with the therapist, you break down harmful habits. You’ll also learn to deal with expectations and to lower the demands on yourself.
Exposure therapy is another way to overcome your health anxiety and health fears. The best thing to do is to seek advice from a psychotherapist. In this form of therapy, you face your fears and become aware of the health triggers. Be confident and reassure yourself that you can overcome your fears. It’s not that easy at first because confronting it will scare you. Therefore, it’s important that you know exactly how to best act.
In exposure therapy, you learn to make yourself aware that the situation is harmless in itself and that the danger is your imagination and your thoughts. Breathe deeply, in and out, until you have calmed down. Don’t resolve the situation sooner, or your fear will worsen, and you will have another traumatic experience. Professional advice is crucial.
Anything in excess isn’t good, even when the intention is good, namely to maintain good health. Hypochondria can reduce a person’s quality of life, especially when the severity is high and leaves him or her unable to think of anything other than the disease they believe is present. Health anxiety is scary. If you feel like your mind is overshadowed by a severe illness that scares you, this could be an early symptom of hypochondria or health anxiety. When these feelings interfere with your life or work, don’t hesitate to visit a psychiatrist or psychotherapist for safe testing and treatment.