Do you ever find yourself monitoring your own body?
Scanning yourself for changes or focussing on the slightest twinges?
Magnifying your attention in to anything you think might be different or to an area of your body that you might notice a new sensation.
Those who suffer with Health Anxiety have an obsessive preoccupation with being seriously ill.
If this sounds like you, then take a look at the information and advice about health anxiety, and how you can apply self help to treat it.
WHAT IS HEALTH ANXIETY?
Health anxiety is ultimately the misinterpretation of bodily sensations that most would consider normal, as dangerous or life threatening.
Healthy bodies produce all sorts of physical symptoms that might be uncomfortable, painful, unexpected, and otherwise unwanted — but this doesn’t automatically indicate that they are dangerous.
Normal physical sensations that often produce anxiety and worry include things like your heart rate and blood pressure, saliva levels, changes in breathing, balance, changes to your senses, visual, hearing and tension. These are normal bodily sensations and are often harmless. But when a person misinterprets them as symptoms of a terrible disease, it creates fear and worry.
Non sufferers of health anxiety often fail to realise that the physical sensations the sufferer talks of are real and they are actually felt. So health anxiety is not simply “in your head”. But it’s important also to realise that they are often not symptoms of a disease.
Anxiety can produce very real physical symptoms: Dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, tension, hyperventilation, chest pressure, headaches, and so on and so on. And with these symptoms comes negative thought. The symptoms only fan the flames. Now you really believe you have evidence that something is seriously wrong. Or do you? Perhaps it’s anxiety. So how do you know if these symptoms are serious?
You might find yourself repeatedly asking family and friends, or online communities, or even visiting the doctor, to hear the words you long to hear "everything is fine - there's nothing seriously wrong with you".
Seeking reassurance from doctors, repeated medical tests and visits to the hospital are common if you have health anxiety.
And for some sufferers, this will be all it takes to remove that certain worry, so it seems helpful, but the reality is, that this behaviour is only reinforcing the belief that you need this reassurance.
It’s inevitable that these worrying thoughts will come back again, or there will be some other health condition you’re convinced you have, and then the cycle begins all over again. When sufferers of health anxiety worry, they tend to focus their attention on the part of our body they think is in poor health, and they check it - by looking, by feeling, or by constantly thinking about it.
And they don’t just check this area once, they repeat this checking many times, and all that does is keep them thinking about it, and it increases the worrying negative thoughts, and in return for this constant checking, anxiety levels rise - which then stimulates adrenaline and other chemical imbalances, which then makes the sufferer feel worse.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT?
Firstly, aim to reduce visiting your doctor or asking others for reassurance. If you ask your friends or family 20 times a day, aim to reduce that number over the period of a few days.
It might be a good idea to write down the number of times you ask, because writing it down helps you notice, and also helps you think twice about doing it! You can also notice your success at reducing the need for reassurance over time.
Of course, there are still going to be times when you should visit your doctor. You could even discuss this with your doctor and agree how many visits or how often is appropriate.
Generally, over-the-counter medications suggest visiting your GP if your symptoms are still there after a week of suffering. You might agree to extend this to two weeks. However, you must seek medical attention if you have a high temperature, severe pain or your physical condition worsens.
You should also try to reduce the monitoring and checking of your body. You can aim to do this over a period of several days. If you notice yourself checking, then write it down, write down how many times you check every day, and try to reduce that number every day - and in return you will start to notice that you worry less.
It’s unrealistic to suggest that you can just stop monitoring and checking all at once, so give yourself one opportunity per day to get it all done with. Maybe first thing in the morning, or last thing at night. Once you have checked, then make reinforcing statements in your mind telling yourself that you have already checked and there’s no need to check again.
Of course, we can never be certain that you will never develop a serious illness, but the chance of it happening is a lot smaller than we usually imagine.
Have a think about whether there is there anything you can to make yourself feel healthier? (e.g. stopping smoking, changes to your diet, exercising more) And if there are things, then do them!