It’s common to worry about your health from time to time, but if you find yourself constantly affected by the notion that something is wrong with you, you may have health anxiety disorder.
Commonly tied to hypochondria, health anxiety disorder can be described as a frequent fear or worry that your health is somehow in jeopardy. People with health anxiety disorder often seek reassurance from doctors to quell their anxieties while others avoid appointments altogether.
While typically physically harmless, health anxiety disorder can be harmful in that it can negatively impact your life, and your relationships with those close to you. The disorder may also present physical symptoms that you may mistake for a real illness. If you suspect that you may have health anxiety disorder, it’s important to understand the condition as well as take steps to alleviate its symptoms to ensure a high quality of life.
What Is Health Anxiety Disorder?
While health anxiety disorder is different from other anxiety disorders, people who exhibit its associated behaviors and symptoms are many times affected by other anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and depression, to name a few. They may also be dealing with somatization disorder, which is a condition that sees people with anxiety exhibit physical symptoms, including headache, stomachache and palpitations.
As people with health anxiety disorder often harbor unreasonable fear of illness, they are typically most afraid of acquiring serious illnesses that may possibly be life-threatening. These include various cancers, degenerative neurological conditions and AIDS.
If you have health anxiety disorder, doctors’ appointments may be far from ordinary. Health anxiety can cause considerable distress, which leads patients to overutilize medical services. If you have health anxiety disorder, you may seek constant reassurance from family, friends or medical professionals, but since people with health anxiety disorder often approach doctors with various unfounded concerns, they may not always receive the reassurance they seek.
Some doctors tell these patients to avoid reading the drug insets with prescriptions as the potential side-effects might elevate their concerns. Doctors may also advise these patients to refrain from researching their symptoms on the internet, which can lead to further distress. Interestingly, this type of advice does not alleviate the symptoms of health anxiety disorder as it prevents patients from confronting their fears.
What Symptoms Are Associated with Health Anxiety Disorder?
Although the mental effects of health anxiety disorder are often the source of concern for people with the condition and their loved ones, there are other symptoms that may present themselves. You may or may not experience physical symptoms with your health anxiety disorder, some of which may due to other causes entirely. Physical symptoms may arise as a result of the stress anxiety associated with your health concerns. These physical symptoms can include
- Heart palpitations,
- Increase in heart rate,
- Chest pains,
- Dry mouth,
- Aches and pains,
- Tingling sensations,
- Headaches, and
- Digestive disturbances.
How Can I Manage My Symptoms?
A number of methods have proven effective in managing health anxiety disorder and, in some cases, curing it all together. From medication to therapy, there are a variety of steps you can take to combat the anxiety associated with health anxiety disorder. You may choose to consult a medical health professional who can help you determine a proper course of action to overcome the emotions associated with your condition. As there is no uniform cure for health anxiety disorder, you may need to experiment with different methods of management in order to find one that is effective.
These strategies may help calm you during times of anxiety:
- Practice yoga, meditate, practice relaxation techniques or get a massage.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
- Limit the consumption of caffeine and alcohol, which can aggravate your anxiety.
- Exercise daily to maintain good health and confidence.
- Breath deeply – inhaling and exhaling slowly.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is just one effective therapy method used to help people with health anxiety disorder and similar disorders, such as hypochondria. This type of therapy involves sessions with a trained CBT therapist who can help you identify your thought processes and emotions and deal with them effectively.
CBT is aimed at teaching you to alter the unhealthy thoughts that may be fueling your health anxiety and channel them into more positive thoughts. Determining what triggers your symptoms is a good start in combatting them. CBT will also help you cope with your physical symptoms.
While it may be wise to consult a professional about your health anxiety disorder, you may attempt to alleviate your symptoms with certain exercises that may improve your state of mind. One study recommends the following strategies to help you cope with the physical symptoms of your health anxiety disorder:
- Pinpoint your symptom, and rate it in severity on a scale from 0 to 100.
- Spend about 5 minutes focusing on your particular physical symptom, paying close attention to the sensations you are feeling.
- After a five-minute period, write down how your symptom feels. Is it better than before? Worse? Use a scale from 0 to 100.
- Spend a 5- minute period doing another activity, such as watching television or simply writing on a piece of paper all the things you see in the room.
- After the 5 minutes, record the status of your symptom, using a scale from 0 to 100. Once you’ve done this, compare the ratings. Did the severity of your symptom change while you were focused elsewhere? Your train of thought may have more to do with your symptoms than you think.
This process is just one example of the steps you can take to help manage your health anxiety disorder.
Certain medications may be helpful in helping you manage your health anxiety disorder. There are a number of all-natural remedies that can help alleviate the physical symptoms and provide quick anxiety relief. These, when paired with a healthy diet and exercise, can go a long way in improving your state of mind and overall health.
Are you experiencing symptoms of health anxiety disorder? What techniques do you use to alleviate your symptoms?