We think about our health more than ever, but there comes a time when anxiety about health itself can become a problem.
Over the past two years, the topic of health has become a priority in our minds. As the coronavirus pandemic has spread, our fear has of course spread. It’s natural – there are very few of us who can be unfazed by a virus of this magnitude. As awareness and media coverage increased, more and more of us are worried about our health. What does this headache mean? Is it a new continuous cough, or is it allergy? Does this chest pain mean anything, or is it anxiety?
Wearing a mask, washing your hands regularly, testing yourself and checking for symptoms are all part of our routine. Going through our day to day life with low level feelings of anxiety seems almost normal now. So when does this natural instinct for worry become something more problematic?
Health anxiety is what I’m referring to here, a term more of us are familiar with. Previously known as ‘hypochondria’, this form of anxiety occurs when we are constantly worried about our health, to the point of interfering with everyday life – and this is the distinction we need to be aware of. . Psychotherapist Michael Swift tells us that it’s completely normal for us to worry about our health, and Google the odd symptom here and there.
“The signs that this worry is getting harder and harder to deal with are when thoughts, emotions, behaviors or physical sensations interrupt everyday life and prevent you from doing what you want to do,” he explains. -he.
âMany people I work with often feel unable to go to work, spend time with their children, or enjoy social gatherings for fear of developing a serious health problem. For others, they may spend an inordinate amount of time researching their symptoms on Google or seeing their GP to rule out the possibility of a disease. When we see this transition from manageable worry to intense anxiety that interrupts your normal routine, maybe it is time to seek some extra support. “
It’s just about finding and learning a new way forward. It’s never too early and never too late to get help
For Maddie Ace, content creator at She Be Red, a family vacation that saw her entire family fall ill triggered the onset of her health anxiety. “I remember automatically going into protective mode when those around me couldn’t seem to handle the situation, and that feeling never went away.”
This led to obsessive and compulsive behaviors, which ultimately resulted in a breakdown.
âI don’t think I was very aware of it until he started to vehemently take control of my daily behavior,â says Maddie. âSometimes the gradual build-up of unconscious behaviors makes it difficult to recognize that you have a problem until you are already at the heart of all that has changed.
âAbout two years after the triggering event, I had an outage after a nationwide norovirus outbreak. I had too much to control and at that point my nervous system collapsed. After a few weeks at home, I remember looking at my college applications and realizing that I was not going to be able to live the life I dreamed of. So I walked into the living room and just said, âI think I need helpâ to my mom.
Maddie notes that getting the right support wasn’t easy and forced her to go the private route after the NHS support didn’t work. âBut the dream of going to college kept me going. The first thing you try might not be what you need for your own healing, so keep going until you find what you need.
If you think you have health anxiety, knowing the signs can help you know when to seek help.
âHealth anxiety presents itself in different ways for most people,â explains psychotherapist Michael. âHowever, there is a range of common symptoms, including:
â¢ Constantly think or worry about your health
â¢ Frequently check for body changes, including lumps, bruises, moles or painful areas
â¢ Seek reassurance from healthcare professionals, friends or family that you are not sick.
â¢ Concerns that healthcare professionals have “missed” a life-threatening illness or symptom
â¢ Avoid broadcasts or press articles related to medicine
â¢ Obsessively read online forums or google for health-related symptoms.
If these symptoms ring true for you, you are definitely not alone – Michael notes that health-related anxiety affects around 4-5% of the population. Understanding how to move forward with this knowledge is essential.
âI would always recommend speaking to your GP, as they will be able to support your treatment process by guiding you to resources, talk therapy, or starting medication if needed,â says Michael.
âThere is also a fantastic range of self-help tools available online for managing health anxiety that will walk you through relaxation techniques and help you deal with negative thoughts when they arise. “
In terms of what therapies can support, Michael says that for those with severe health anxiety it is recommended that you speak to a qualified cognitive behavioral therapist who is familiar with this area.
âCognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is evidence-based talking therapy that allows you to explore the interactions between your thoughts, emotions, behaviors and physical sensations. It works by breaking the cycles that maintain health anxiety and allow you to challenge negative thought patterns that you have developed.
Michael also emphasizes that the goal of CBT is not to stop worrying about your health altogether, but rather to be able to weigh the evidence for and against your thoughts, so that you can achieve a more balanced outcome.
For Maddie, even though she still has a rough day, she says therapy has helped her learn tools and strategies that allow her to take back control of her life.
âFor anyone reading this and thinks they may have health-related anxiety, just know that there is nothing wrong with you. You are not broken. Of course, your sanity is trying to protect you, especially after everything we’ve been through with Covid, but if we don’t know how to deal with emotions, the habits we build can harm rather than help us.
âIt’s just about finding and learning a new way forward. It is never too early and never too late to get help.
For more information and support for managing health anxiety, visit counseling-directory.org.uk