Health anxiety is a condition that can greatly affect the day to day lives of those experiencing it. It’s normal to have health fears to a degree, whether you have had a relative die from a disease like cancer or heart disease, or whether there’s something big going on like we have experienced over the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, those with severe health anxiety feel unable to enjoy life due to their health fears. They tend to obsess over their bodily functions such as their breathing and heartbeat, and sometimes things like skin blemishes. They feel preoccupied with the belief that they could have, or are likely to get, a serious illness. These people may pursue doctors for repeated reassurance, and while being reassured by the doctor can bring temporary relief, the cycle continues with each new thought or perceived symptom. Oftentimes, normal changes to the body can produce worries, such as saliva changes, depth of breathing, and balance.
First, it’s important to recognize what health anxiety is. It is simply an attempt to protect ourselves. However, being preoccupied with various bodily sensations can enhance them and cause them to last longer. When you find yourself constantly imagining the worst, your heart rate can speed up, you can begin to feel dizzy, lightheaded, and you may even begin to sweat. The symptoms are indeed real, but your idea of why they are occurring is not.
Here, we’ll take a look at a few ways to eradicate your health anxiety so you can enjoy life without constant worries.
Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is psychotherapy designed to address negative thought patterns and alter unwanted behaviour. It can also help to treat mood disorders like depression, and with time, can break and reverse the cycle which has kept these unhealthy behaviours going for so long. With the right CBT practitioner, you can work on addressing the thoughts and beliefs that are keeping you stuck, as well as reducing the coping behaviours used which keep your focus firmly on your anxieties.
Looking for a reputable practitioner with a portfolio of happy clients could be an effective way to begin working on these repetitive behaviours and empower you. In time, you will see that it is possible to care for your health without obsessing over specific illnesses and symptoms. Many who attend regular CBT sessions eventually find that they can live enjoyable lives. You won’t necessarily completely remove your fears, but you will be able to accept them without losing yourself in them.
Address Your Trauma
Sometimes, health anxiety can stem from unaddressed trauma. There’s trauma with a capital ‘T’, and trauma with a lowercase ‘t’. Most people have experienced lowercase ‘t’ trauma to some degree. It can look different for everybody: losing a pet, the end of a relationship, growing up with a depressed (not necessarily neglectful) parent, and so on. Perhaps somebody in your family was in an accident and you were there as your family pursued a wrongful death case with the accompanying litigation process. Things like this may have affected you in more ways than you can see right now. The only way to know for sure how these things have affected you is to explore them in a safe environment with an experienced professional.
When people find the strength to look back and assess their trauma, they often find that seemingly small and meaningless experiences made them form the unhelpful beliefs that they carry with them today. This won’t be fun at first, and you could end up experiencing a roller coaster of emotions as you do your best to unpick the root cause of your issues. However, once you are done, you should feel much lighter and will understand yourself so much better.
Identify Your Triggers and Avoid Them
Identifying your triggers is key if you want to prepare yourself for future instances where your health anxiety may flare up. For some, it could be certain media outlets and forums. It could even be a specific person in your life. You may not be able to avoid your triggers completely, but you can come up with a plan to face them from now on. You can also do your best to stay mindful throughout, and pay attention so you are able to pull back if you notice worries flaring up.
Look After Your Mind and Body
Taking care of your mind and body can give you peace of mind and will often help you to improve your mental health. Practice meditation and mindfulness, and you’ll be able to stay self-aware as you try to heal your issues.
Any type of exercise you enjoy is a great way to care for your body and mind, too. You can put this step into practice in a variety of ways, but you need to make sure you enjoy them. This will make the routine sustainable, and ensure you’re getting the most from it. While it’s equally as unhealthy to obsess over ways to stay healthy, trying to find balance will be beneficial. The most simple steps are often the best. For example:
- Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep a night.
- Drink 2-3 litres of water a day.
- Try to get outside for a little while each day, bonus points if you can walk for 10-20 minutes.
- Exercise a few times a week.
- Eat balanced meals that you love, with things like dessert in moderation.
Build A Good Relationship With Your Doctor
Building a good relationship with your doctor will ensure you feel supported and reassured when you visit. They will be able to identify when it’s reasonable for you to request an assessment for a certain condition, but will also encourage you to ask questions and research yourself. They won’t make you feel like you are a nuisance or a problem. A firm but understanding doctor can help you to continue moving towards a life where you don’t feel weighed down by your health anxiety.