What Is Health Anxiety And How Can You Treat It And Feel Better?
You keep questioning if you should go to the doctor. You find yourself Googling troubling symptoms late in the night, over and over again, but most of the search results don’t satisfy you. You feel like you’re dying. You worry that you are dying.
Health anxiety can wreak havoc on your daily living. You catastrophize that a single headache indicates a brain tumor. You fear that leaving your purse at home means you’re exhibiting early signs of dementia. The fear of illness alone can sometimes even exacerbate the physical symptoms you experience.
What can you do if you are struggling? Let’s get into what you need to know.
Somatic Symptom Disorder
Somatic symptom disorder refers to the excess worry over specific physical symptoms like pain or fatigue. This worry often leads to imagining worst-case scenarios, and the condition impacts your quality of life. The common symptoms of somatic symptom disorder include:
- Excess worry about a potential medical condition
- Assuming benign physical sensations indicate serious harm or medical emergencies
- Second-guessing medical diagnoses or evaluations
- Checking your body for abnormalities constantly
- Being unresponsive or excessively sensitive to certain medical treatments
- Experiencing more impairment than to be expected from a particular medical condition
It can be challenging to know when worry is excessive. After all, we’ve all heard the horror stories associated with ignoring symptoms or doctors misdiagnosing conditions. That said, if the worry is impeding your relationships, work, or overall functioning, it may be a sign to reach out for professional help.
Illness Anxiety Disorder
Frequently known as hypochondriasis, illness anxiety disorder refers to the excessive worry about becoming seriously ill. For example, you may have a minor symptom, like a stomach cramp, but assume that it indicates a severe condition. However, sometimes you feel worried even if you don’t have any physical ailments. Common symptoms of illness anxiety disorder include:
- Feeling preoccupied with having or getting a serious health condition
- Panicking that minor symptoms indicate a serious issue
- Feeling alarmed and anxious over your current health status
- Avoiding people, places, or certain things for fear of how it could impact your health
- Frequently checking your body for symptoms
- Frequently scanning the Internet for causes of symptoms or illnesses
- Making frequent medical appointments to seek reassurance
With illness anxiety disorder, you might feel worried about normal physical reactions (digestive noises, sweating, bloating). Even though these are normal functions, they can feel alarming, especially if something “feels off.” As a result, it can also feel challenging to know if your worry is excessive.
What If You’re Experiencing Health Anxiety During Covid-19?
During these difficult times, most people are experiencing heightened anxiety levels. You might be struggling with your sleep or appetite. You may be finding yourself feeling more panicked or stressed than usual. As we’re in a pandemic, these reactions are relatively normal.
Even our healthcare professionals are warning us to take note of our medical symptoms. We’re wearing face masks and practicing social distancing. We all must maintain diligence in washing our hands and avoiding touching our faces. People living in heavily affected areas may feel an increased fear of contracting the virus.
Therefore, most of us are feeling more anxious about our health- and the health of our loved ones- than usual.
Increased mindfulness can help reduce some of the worry associated with your health. Mindfulness focuses on staying in the present moment. It also encourages you to let go of all your external distractions. Incorporate more mindfulness by engaging in deep breathing, meditation, and guided visualization.
Maintain Your Routine
Anxiety can manifest when you feel out of control with your life. At a time where things now feel so different, it’s critical that you focus on maintaining some semblance of normalcy. This means sticking to a predictable routine. Wake up at the same time each morning, schedule exercise, and sit down for meals consistently.
Self-care is especially important during these vulnerable times. Taking care of your emotional and physical well-being can help mitigate anxiety symptoms. Some examples of self-care include:
- Journaling your feelings
- Taking a walk
- Listening to music
- Calling your close friends
- Taking a warm bath
- Eating your favorite food
- Snuggling with your pet
Remember that the best self-care is self-care that you can engage in consistently without feeling guilty. No matter the circumstances, you are allowed to take care of your needs. Remind yourself that as often as you need.
Embrace Finding Your Flow
Research shows that spending time in flow can help you feel more happy and confident. Flow state refers to being “in the zone.” When you are in flow, you are totally immersed with a particular activity, and time seems irrelevant. You’re not worried about the past or the future- you’re focused on the task at hand. Some activities that can cultivate flow include:
- Creative expression (writing, art, photography, cooking, sculpting, painting, playing a musical instrument)
- Exercise or team sports
- Household work, chores, or DIY projects
Just like children lose themselves in play, it’s important for adults to embrace getting lost in the moment. Doing so can strengthen your emotional well-being. It can also lead to increased creativity, performance, and concentration.
If your health anxiety is interfering with the rest of your life, self-help strategies may only help to an extent. At this point, you may benefit from professional support. Therapy provides a safe, compassionate environment to work on your anxiety.
At Willow Counseling, we specialize in treating all types of anxiety. We are here for you during these trying times. Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.
Willow Counseling, PLLC – Nashville, TN
Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.