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Debamita Banerjee

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Health Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Health anxiety refers to the obsessive worry about being sick or having a serious medical condition. It is also known as Hypochondria or illness anxiety. More often than not, health anxiety stems from irrational fear and panic. People tend to misinterpret their body's signals and magnify them to justify a bigger issue.  

It's okay to be concerned about your health if your body is sending you clear signs, but if you have health anxiety, any such pointer can cause extreme distress and aggravate your issue far more.  

Recently, health anxiety has peaked amongst communities worldwide due to the terror caused by the pandemic.  

Causes of Health Anxiety

Although medical professionals have not been able to pinpoint a specific cause behind health anxiety, certain factors can trigger the condition. The causes can be both physiological and sociological.    

Serious Illnesses in the Past  

If you or a loved one has suffered from a serious illness in the past, it can instill a long-lasting fear of diseases in you. You've experienced how brutal illnesses can be firsthand and hence, are wary of them. As a result, even false alarms can set you off into an anxious spiral that doesn't let you calm down.    

Genetic Inclination

If your parents or first-degree family members have a tendency to be overly cautious about every health issue, then there's a possibility that such habits have passed on to you. It's certainly a biological handover but it can also be a result of your upbringing. If you're raised in a household that fusses over every little symptom, then you imbibe this behavior and it can amplify as the years go by.  

Poor Understanding of Your Body  

If you've not taken adequate time to study how your body functions and reacts to things, you're not in tune with it. Therefore, you could misjudge the sensations you feel and mistake them as signs of serious health issues. As you start looking for more evidence to confirm your suspicions, you might panic and develop anxiety.

COVID-19  

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown everybody off track. Because of the mutating and perilous nature of the virus, people are puzzled by any abnormality in their vitals. As they cannot visit doctors in person, they are unable to receive the assurance they need either. Even a single cough is setting off a panic amongst the masses when it really doesn't have to.  

Recent studies show a clear surge in anxiety relating to health since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Googling Symptoms  

Articles on Google have been infamous for coming up with the most catastrophic reasoning for every symptom. Because of how essential the internet is to our lives, especially during a time when it's our primary source of information, such proclamations are bound to make people anxious.  

Self-Diagnosis  

There's a significant amount of people who are prone to self-diagnosis which in most cases, is wrong. They keep on using various devices at home to check their vitals numerous times a day. Fixating on every alteration at all times can easily trigger anxiety.  

It's also plausible that somebody suffering from anxiety might mistake their symptoms for a different health condition. Insomnia, excessive sweat, headaches, etc. are symptoms of anxiety but they can also be an indicator of other issues. Hence, diagnosing yourself without proper medical expertise is going to further aggravate your difficulties.  

Symptoms of Health Anxiety

It can be hard to effectively track the symptoms of health anxiety because our health indeed is essential to us and we need to put adequate thought into how we treat our body. But, you need to recognize when you're going overboard.  

Here are some symptoms of health anxiety. If you experience a majority or all of them, then you're possibly suffering from the condition.  

Being preoccupied with the thought of diseases  

If you spend most of your waking hours thinking about diseases, then it's likely that you're suffering from health anxiety. This includes compulsively researching all kinds of illnesses, checking yourself for any abnormalities multiple times a day, and worrying about death.  

Frequent Medical Appointments  

If you visit your doctor to discuss every minute change in your body, then you're clearly bothered by the thought of something terrible happening to it. You look for reassurance regarding your state very often and need to have perfect vitals.  

Low Productivity due to Distress  

If you're so heavily engrossed in thinking and researching about your health, then it's destined to take a toll on the other parts of your life. You will have no energy to spend time with your family or do your job. All your focus is going to be allocated to your health concerns and hence, your productivity will dropdown. 

Avoiding People and Places  

People suffering from health anxiety often start avoiding certain people, places, and activities that they associate with sickness. They're fearful of contracting diseases and hence, develop certain spots that trigger their anxiety.  

Sickness becomes Central to Your Life  

If the motive behind everything you do is to steer clear of diseases, it could be a sign of health anxiety. People suffering from this condition often talk about health ailments only. Their whole personality is modeled into fueling their habits. It's all they read, think, talk about.

Treatments for Health Anxiety  

Prolonged health anxiety is not just strenuous, it bars you from experiencing your life to the fullest. Being overly careful about everything can bring down the quality of your life.  

The impact of health anxiety can be lowered by adopting certain lifestyle changes and it could even be cured with medical assistance.  

Here are some things you can do to minimize your health anxiety.  

Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle  

The best way to battle your fear regarding your health is to take good care of it. You do not need to take a plethora of pills to do so, just focus on eating healthy, sleeping well, drinking enough water, exercising, and maintaining proper hygiene.  

When you're actively ensuring good health for yourself, you'll have the reassurance you need to not be deeply worried about it constantly.  

Get Health Checkups  

Get thorough health checkups annually or biannually. This can give you a detailed report on how you're really doing and provide you proof regarding your well-being. While going through health anxiety, it's better to not refer to numerous doctors altogether, but depend upon one who is trustworthy and understands your need for consolation.  

Manage Small Symptoms at Home  

Not every cold or itch is going to be fatal for you. Medical assistance is a valuable commodity when the nation is going through such draining times, so referring to your doctor for every little concern wastes both your time and theirs. Let your body run through its natural cycles and learn how to detect the difference between what's serious and what's not. This will enhance your awareness of your body and lower your anxiety.  

Seek Therapy  

Do not impair your mental well-being while you worry about your physical health. Rather, talk to a healthcare professional who can strategically help you move past your dread and hysteria. Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), your therapist can help you manage your reactions and cope with your fears.  

Sometimes a by-product of health anxiety can be depression due to the hopelessness one feels about their existence. Your therapist can diagnose any such unnoticed mental health issues and help you fix them accordingly.

Stay Positive  

To move past health anxiety, you need to bring a change in your mindset, even if it's forceful. Be more optimistic about life. Anything could indeed happen to anyone at any time, but we need to keep going nonetheless. To calm your mind, start your day with some deep breathing techniques. You can find a variety of them to choose from here https://www.iamears.com/blog/Breathing-Exercises-to-Reduce-Stress-and-Anxiety-33e75ff09dd601bb .  

Try to put greater focus on your work, hobbies, and spending time with your loved ones. When you're surrounded by things that make you happy and driven, you're much less likely to spend all your time fretting over health issues.  

 

Health anxiety can be a mentally exhausting condition to go through. You're perpetually fearful of what might happen to you and your loved ones without a definitive basis. You might feel like nobody around you understands the gravity of your worry. Visit iAmEars to vent out your emotions, troubles, and thoughts. iAmEars provides you with a safe space to discuss your mental health problems while preserving your anonymity. You can read through the stories of other people with similar problems as yours and exchange coping methods and kind words with them to feel supported. In case you're considering getting online counseling, iAmEars' panel of psychiatrists and counselors will readily listen to your issues and provide you well-backed advice as per your requirements.  

Conclusion 

We're all mortal. We will have to go through sickness at some or the other point in our lives, but being constantly bothered by it ruins even the days you're physically healthy. The primary method to get over your health anxiety is to let go of the fear. It's extremely difficult to accomplish once you've gotten into the habit of obsessing over your health, but it's your only way out.    

If your situation is getting out of hand, then do not let the stigma around mental health issues deter you from referring to a doctor. Along with your physical health, safeguarding your mental health is equally important.   

Reference

  1. Health anxiety, cyberchondria, and coping in the current COVID-19 pandemic: Which factors are related to coronavirus anxiety? - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7239023/