Ways Out of Health Anxiety

By Wasim Kakroo

YOU’VE recently learned that someone in your office has been diagnosed with a rare disease, and you’re curious to learn more about it. This is a common reaction and a good proportion of us will feel worried about our own health at least to some minimal level momentarily in such a situation. For some people, however, health-related problems might be extremely distressing. They can even start to believe they’re showing symptoms of this rare health condition and may visit various medical professionals but may not feel satisfied by their reassurances about their health. If this sounds like you, you may have a mental health condition called Health Anxiety. You may stop health anxiety from interfering with your life by seeking professional help, effectively managing symptoms, and learning how to manage anxiety.

Here are few suggestions in this regard:

  1. Health anxiety might prohibit you from living a fulfilling life. You should seek professional help if your life is substantially impacted by health anxiety. Because you may constantly check your body for indications of illness or spend most of your time on a daily basis seeking reassurance that you are not dying from a major medical condition, you will have to go against your natural tendencies to check or seek reassurance by taking some steps that go against such tendencies.

  1. Patients with health anxiety are no strangers to the doctor’s office. If you have thoughts that you are yourself dying from a rare disease, see your doctor as soon as possible to rule out a physical cause for your symptoms. If you’ve been suffering from health anxiety for quite some time, your doctor is more than likely already aware of your concerns. Talk to your doctor and explain that you need a thorough investigation in order to get to the bottom of your problem. Most of the medical professionals respect such requests if asked for only a few times at the beginning of the treatment for health anxiety. Don’t force your doctor to go for particular tests that you feel are important, rather follow their lead.

  1. If your doctor gives you a complete reassurance of being healthy, it’s possible that your health issues are psychological in nature. You could be suffering from hypochondriasis, somatization disorder, or illness anxiety disorder, or even suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Only a trained mental health professional, such as a clinical psychologist/psychiatrist, can properly assess and diagnose your situation. If you suffer from health anxiety, you may be tempted to disregard your doctor’s assurances that you are not suffering from a dangerous illness. You may want to have a second opinion. Don’t go for it because it will trap you into a never ending repetition of tests and other medical procedures unnecessarily. Worries and fears about having a dreadful disease in this condition are only emotional in nature rather than having any strong physiological basis and hence visiting a clinical psychologist for treatment can be a wise decision. Clinical psychologists may use various psychotherapeutic modalities such as CBT, ACT, Metacognitive therapy, Psychodynamic therapy etc on need basis to help you deal with your health anxiety.

  1. Staying away from information about various illnesses, contrary to popular belief, does not alleviate anxiety. In fact, avoiding understanding about the health conditions that you are concerned about can simply increase your fear over time. For example, if you’re afraid of getting cancer, you avoid reading news and health articles about it. This approach may not reduce your fear; rather, it may make the cancer appear more dreadful in your mind. Create a 30-minute daily “worry window” in which you educate yourself about the medical conditions that influence your anxiety and then take notes that you discuss in your session with your therapist. This practice helps you in overcoming the avoidance aspect of your anxiety. It also aids in regaining control of the situation and in having a more realistic perspective on your fears.

  1. Obsessively examining your body for symptoms of illness is another common indicator of health anxiety. You must quit checking in order to reclaim control and overcome your fears. If you have a habit of checking frequently, stopping checking at once may be too difficult. To start with, reduce the number of times you check your body every day. Then schedule your checking for a specific time of day (maybe during your worry window). Reduce the frequency of checking until you only do it once a week or once a month.

  1. Another problematic feature of health anxiety is the need for reassurance. You may make frequent phone calls to your doctor’s office to report “abnormal” physical feelings. You can call your friends and relatives to express your concern about acquiring a serious medical problem. Stop it right now. Make a rule with your loved ones that you will not discuss your health symptoms. Only see your psychiatrist/Clinical psychologist for routine assessment and follow them religiously. When you ask a question, accept your therapist’s first response and don’t ask for clarification or a second opinion. The truth is that you’ll never be entirely sure of your health or free of the possibility of illness.

  1. If you’re taking therapy for health anxiety, the fundamental cause of your anxiety should be a primary focus of your sessions. Take keen interest in knowing how anxiety is leading you to behave erratically. Try to learn about the sources of anxiety in your life during the sessions. With your therapist, work on the source and nature of your beliefs. Also try to understand the triggers of your health anxiety. Try to understand the consequences of having health anxiety. Make efforts to understand how health anxiety affects your daily decisions of life.

  1. Taking control of your overall health and wellness is a wonderful way to better reduce health anxiety. Having a proper diet and increasing your physical activity through exercise etc. are usually the first steps. You should also make sure you get enough sleep each night as per the needs of your body. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein sources, low-fat dairy, and nuts and seeds should all be part of your diet. Fast foods and processed foods that are salty, sugary, and fattening should be avoided. Caffeine and alcohol should be avoided. On most days of the week, exercise for at least 30 minutes. Running, weightlifting, yoga, boxing, and swimming are all good options to keep your body active.

  1. It can be beneficial to develop a relaxation practice while you are learning to handle your health anxiety. Deep breathing, progressive muscular relaxation, meditation, yoga, massage, and guided visualisation are all examples of relaxation techniques. When you’re feeling anxious, even something as simple as being aware of your body and the ground beneath your feet can help you regain control. To aid recovery, learn how to use these techniques and incorporate them into your daily routine. Self-care on a regular basis may also aid with anxiety management. Each week, schedule some activities you enjoy, such as hanging out with supportive friends or watching comedy movies.

  1. Self-compassion is required to overcome health anxiety. You didn’t get this problem overnight, and hence it won’t go away overnight either. Begin keeping a notebook to keep track of your improvement during treatment. Small accomplishments, such as minimizing your body checks or being able to increase the gaps between doctor appointments, should be celebrated. Have patience, persistence and be hopeful while you are recovering.

The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (pass out from Govt. Medical College Srinagar) and works as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Therapist at Child Guidance and Well-being Centre, IMHANS and can be reached at [email protected]

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