Most people are somewhat concerned with their physical health. However, health anxiety goes further than that and can be extremely distressing. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of health anxiety and to take action before it severely impacts your livelihood and wellbeing. Therapy is an effective way to treat health anxiety. Check out this awesome article to learn about existential theory and psychotherapy.
What is Health Anxiety?
Health anxiety is an irrational, often overwhelming worry about having a medical problem. Health anxiety used to be called hypochondria and it often shows up in a person’s imagination as experienced physical symptoms. Sometimes normal or benign bodily sensations can be misinterpreted as something seriously wrong with the physical body. Even when a medical professional checks the individual out, they may still feel like they have something wrong with them.
However, it is important to know the difference between normal concern about your physical health and abnormal anxieties. Health anxiety often disrupts a person’s wellbeing and may be more of a constant stress about physical health or belief that something is wrong. This stress or worry can be very distressing and may interfere with your daily routine or ability to function and form positive relationships.
Furthermore, with health anxiety, a person often feels the same or similar amount of anxiety even after they see a medical professional even if they perform sophisticated tests that return negative.
Health anxiety often developed in early adulthood, but it can occur at any point in a person’s life. For older individuals, the fear of memory loss or physical deterioration may cause health anxiety.
Health anxiety sometimes follows an event or situation that causes high levels of stress. Sometimes it even comes after someone finds that they are healthy after the possibility of an actual illness.
What Causes Health Anxiety?
There is no single cause of health anxiety and nobody is actually sure what causes it. However, there may be some factors that are involved in the development of symptoms associated with health anxiety.
One factor is a poor understanding of bodily sensations and illnesses. This can cause a person to believe that a serious illness or disease is causing unusual or typically unnoticed, but normal, feelings in the physical body. Then, the person suffering from health anxiety may look for evidence that confirms their fear even if there is overwhelming evidence that they are not ill.
Another possible contributing factor is when you have family members or close friends that worry a lot about your health. This may be a comforting parent, grandparent, or sibling, but the worry is excessive.
Also, another factor that relates to the past is past experiences with a serious illness. Past events often effect our current mental state and for health anxiety, one of the factors is a prior physical illness when an individual is a child. Then, when they get older physical feelings may cause fear or trigger anxiety.
Abuse as a child seems to be a contributing factor as well. People who tend to worry or have anxiety are also more likely to develop health anxiety.
Diagnosing Health Anxiety
Health anxiety is not defined by the American Psychological Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but it used to be called hypochondriasis or hypochondria.
Now, there are two possibilities for diagnosis that may be associated with health anxiety. The first is illness anxiety disorder and this is when a person does not show any physical symptoms or only shows very mild symptoms. The second is called somatic symptom disorder which is when a person has symptoms that are particularly distressing or when they exhibit more than one symptom.
In order to diagnose one of these health anxieties disorders, the doctor will perform a thorough physical exam. This ensures that there is nothing physically wrong that may be contributing to the concerns. Then, if you are healthy the doctor may refer you to a mental health professional who will do a psychological evaluation.
The psychological evaluation will typically involve questions about your family history, other anxieties, stressors, and any physical sensations or symptoms you have experienced.
Treatment for Health Anxiety
The most common treatment option for health anxiety is therapy. However, sometimes medications are used in conjunction with therapy in order to drastically or rapidly improve symptoms and your ability to function. This can quickly impact your overall well-being.
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is an effective therapy for treating health anxiety. CBT teaches the necessary skills to help you manage your own anxieties. CBT is done in individual or group sessions.
CBT can help an individual identify their triggers as well as their particular worries. It can also teach different ways of perceiving the sensations that have been causing the anxieties. Then, the individual can learn ways to respond to their body sensations or symptoms related to health anxiety in a positive, healthy way. A therapist can also work with you to see if there are any other symptoms of anxiety or depression that need to be addressed.
In addition to cognitive behavioural therapy, other therapies like exposure therapy or behavioural stress management may be used for health anxiety. Antidepressants may be added to your treatment plan if you do not improve with therapy by itself. The most common type of antidepressants is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs.
Final Thoughts on Health Anxiety
Health anxiety can be distressing and harm our ability to function. This can make it impossible to be productive like we should be or negatively impact our overall well-being. One of the main things to look for is the inability to feel your anxieties improve after receiving a healthy physical diagnosis by a doctor. If you are experiencing long-term anxieties about your health, then you may want to consider how much there are affecting your behaviour or mood.
If the symptoms are very distressing and never seem to fully go away it may be good to remember that there are treatments available. If you are experiencing anxiety symptoms, then you should consider seeking out a therapist or other mental health professional.