An irrational and obsessive worry about having a life-threatening medical condition is called health anxiety. Formerly it was known as hypochondria and is characterized by an excessive imagination of an illnesses’ physical symptoms.
A person with illness anxiety will misinterpret normal and minor body sensations as signs of a deadly disease. And even with the reassurances of medical personnel, these fears do not abate. When you have health anxiety you become more attuned to the mentions of illnesses around you. These cases may paralyze you with fear, that you too could be sick, or contract the mentioned illness.
So how can you tell the difference between a usual healthy concern for your health and health anxiety? When your body is unwell, it will send you signal that it is. Interest, in this case, is expected, and a visit to a physician well advised. But if what is troubling you is a constant belief that you could be sick, and the worry becomes disabling, then you have illness anxiety.
Causes of health anxiety
- A poor understanding of diseases and their symptoms and your body’s sensations
- Experience in dealing with a life-threatening illness especially in childhood.
- The presence of a family member who is excessively fearful for their or your health.
- The occurrence of stressful situations in your life
- A history of childhood abuse
- A personality prone to worry and anxiety
- Self diagnosis on the internet
Symptoms of health anxiety
- An obsessive preoccupation with having a life-threatening illness
- Being obsessively preoccupied about an existing disease
- Seeking medical help excessively when you have very mild symptoms
- Excessive worry about your family’s medical history
- Spending too much time checking on signs of illnesses online
- Continually screening your body for imaginary diseases
- Using the information on the internet to self diagnose
- Avoidance of doctor’s appointments due to the fear of diagnosis
- At least six months of anxiety over the presence of an illness or multiple illnesses in your body
- A worry that doctors have misdiagnosed you
- Avoiding exposure to severe diseases even on TV
- Acting as if you were ill by for example by avoidance of physical activity.
The danger of unresolved illness anxiety
Health anxiety will eventually create actual physical symptoms in your body if you do not challenge the anxiety head-on. The more you get stressed out about your health,, the more the anxiety build up and starts to make you unwell. Some symptoms of these signs of ill health includes;
- Stomach problems
- Blurred vision
- Muscle tension and tightness
These signs will make you more wary and confused about what is happening to your body, though your anxiety is their source. You might begin to worry about your family’s cancer background or suspect you have the symptoms of multiple sclerosis or some other illness you had read about online. The fear will build and start to interfere with you daily life.
At this point you will be worried enough, having read all you can about the disease you think you have on the internet and naturally will want to talk to a physician. The results of a medical workup will come back clear, but the symptoms you sense have not abated. This means the fear of a deadly illness still looms in your head, and you will fear more that the physician cannot accord you much help. This creates a vicious cycle of worry, anxiety and their symptoms that will not end until you get professional help.
How to treat health anxiety
To help you improve on these symptoms and your quality of life you should undergo psychotherapy as well as use the medication the psychotherapists assigns you. Psychotherapy will employ cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to assist you to acquire skills to help you manage the illness anxiety. The CBT will assist you to;
- Correctly identify the causes of your illness anxiety
- Help you to explore the various ways anxiety affects you
- Teach you how to cope with anxious thoughts
- Boost your functioning in your relationships
- Help you know if you are affected by other mental disorders like bipolar disorder or depression