What is Health Anxiety and How to Deal with It
Health anxiety is when you are experiencing physical symptoms that lead you to believe that you are suffering from some sort of physical condition even after receiving verification that nothing is wrong. Anxiety can have you convinced that you really are sick when you truly are not. Learn how to identify this very frustrating and consuming condition and ways to begin treating it right away.
- Preoccupation of having or acquiring serious illness
- somatic symptoms that are distressing and disruptive
- excessive amount of time devoted to symptoms or health worries
- excessive health related behavior
- parent who was anxious about illness
- loved one who suffered an illness
- death from illness
- previous illness
- doctor missed something
- unusual or painful sensation in the body
- flare up of a medical disorder (i.e. is it acid reflux esophageal cancer?)
- social media posts/TV
- overhearing someone talking about it
- something your doctor says ("everything is fine right now." But what about later?)
- discharge instructions - too much ambiguity
- labs outside of normal range
- waiting for test results
Behaviors you might experience once triggered:
1) Start avoiding people, going outside, going to doc
2) Dwell and worry
3) Compulsive checking
4) Seek constant reassurance
5) Experience physical symptoms and focus on them
What's actually happening? Adrenaline, aka fight or flight response, gets triggered. Once triggered, adrenaline causes physical symptoms. This is why it can be tricky to detect and diagnose. It's easy to get fooled into thinking that the problem is physical because the symptoms are physical when it is actually emotional/mental. However, this pattern of symptoms are highly predictable so it can be easier to diagnose when you know to look for it.
Why am I reacting this way? Input from your environment is received by the amygdala (emotional part of brain) first THEN it reaches the prefrontal cortex (logical part of the brain). This is why your initial reaction is emotional, not logical. What you do repetitively will create a neural network that eventually goes on autopilot. Over time, the connection gets much stronger
How to Treat Health Anxiety:
1) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - helps you to change how you think, feel, and behave. CBT starts to help you look at anxiety from a different point of view - stop trying to use the same way you have been looking at it to solve the problem. You need a new way of looking at it Try this: Consider yourself to be involved in a game with anxiety. Anxiety is the opponent that has a variety of strategies that are designed to keep you stuck
Strategies your opponent uses:
1) it lies - it wants to convince you that the thoughts that you're having are actually real and/or true
2) It engages you in a conversation that directs you to focus on your symptoms rather than living your life
3) Tricks you into doing what it wants you to do
How to fight back:
1) Personify and externalize anxiety
2) Refuse to believe your opponent's lies. You have health anxiety. Let this be your default
3) Live without absolute certainty. Be certain enough. To be free from anxiety you can't be certain.
4) Don't fall for your opponents tricks to engage you in a conversation. Don't answer his questions. Respond shrewdly.
5) Do the opposite of what your opponent tells you to do.
6) Focus on living your life and not on your health
1) What you focus on will grow
2) If you want to stop worrying about your health, you must stop your compulsive/avoidant behavior FIRST
3) Focus on where you have control and learn how to respond and not just simply react
How do I get better?
Keep in mind, these strategies are VERY HARD! But they are also VERY EFFECTIVE! They take a lot of practice. Keep with it and don't give up!
FREE HEALTH ANXIETY WORKBOOK:
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Blue Sage Counseling and Wellness, and the information provided by Ashley Francis, is solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Ashley Francis is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.