Health anxiety? Stop before you make yourself ill

You spend your life worrying about every little symptom, every freckle, every headache, yet nothing but a clean bill of health concludes. Yet that’s not enough. Being told you’re ‘fine’ doesn’t stop the constant racing of thoughts, the sinking feeling in your chest when you check your symptoms online, the worry and panic that you have found something. Some have been diagnosed with an illness of some kind, but that illness turns into an obsession, enough to interfere with everyday life.

I can’t help but feel I have some minor traits. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve obsessively checked symptoms and convinced myself I have something specific, usually quite a serious disease/infection – I panic over it and think of the worst but usually it ends with either my symptoms going away or a doctor concluding I’m fine!

Health anxiety is a real problem affecting many people’s lives. I didn’t realise just how severe this problem can be, how much of a hold it has on a sufferers life, until I read comments on a related forum online. It is a constant obsession you are seriously unwell. The simplicity of having a mild headache and relieving it with the recommended dose of painkillers is not a course of action someone with health anxiety would take, at least not entirely. You can’t help but think ‘how can this person seriously believe there is something sinister going on inside their body based on a mild headache?’ But that is exactly how it affects you, it creates a completely irrational interpretation of what is wrong.

Two types of health anxiety:

Constantly seeking information and reassurance – This can be obsessively researching illnesses from the internet, making numerous GP appointments, and having frequent tests carried out showing no problem was discovered
Avoidant behaviour – Some will avoid visiting their GP, avoid certain exercise or activities which could worsen their condition, even avoiding watching medical programmes on TV, all of which could be triggers of the anxiety

Now it has been studied and research shows that suffering with health anxiety can actually lead to health problems. Not a good thing to hear if you are a sufferer!

I read an article in The Guardian which stated: A study of more than 7,000 Norwegians found that people with health related anxiety had a 73% greater chance of developing heart disease over 10 years, compared with those who weren’t anxious.

Anxiety in general is linked to the thickening of artery walls and the activation of  stress hormones – both of which increase the risk of heart disease. What we learn is worrying is not good for your health, but what if it is out of your control?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (cbt) can help those who suffer from health anxiety, finding the cause or trigger of your anxiety and learn how to manage your thoughts and feelings in order to reduce the anxiety. Others may benefit more from a psychotherapy relating to a particular psychological condition or maybe a trauma-focussed therapy.

If you feel your worries are affecting your daily life, consulting a health professional and explaining how you feel may be the best course of action to start alleviating your worries.

Are you experiencing symptoms or traits of health anxiety? Maybe you’ve been diagnosed – I’d be interested in hearing your views.

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