Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Leann Poston, M.D.
Leann Poston, M.D. earned her medical degree from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. She completed an MBA from Raj Soin College of Business, focusing on healthcare. She is a full-time medical communication writer and educator.
February 5, 2021
How to Deal With Health Anxiety
According to Harvard Medical School, “Health anxiety is a condition that causes healthy people to worry that they are sick — even when they have no symptoms or minor symptoms like a scratchy throat.” It can manifest as obsessive behavior, such as constantly searching up psychosomatic symptoms online.
With so many unique physical and mental health conditions, it can be hard to distinguish one from another. You might feel pain in a specific area and head on over to the internet to see what could be causing it.
This is a common thing to do, and many people find relief in learning why they’re in pain. On the opposite end of the spectrum, this same act can wreak havoc in people who deal with health anxiety or hypochondria.
Health anxiety is also known as hypochondria in the medical community. This condition often develops during adulthood, and the United States sees over 200,000 cases per year.
Health anxiety is a form of anxiety that can lead healthy people into thinking they have more health issues than they do. It can also create a fear of deadly illnesses like cancer, HIV, or dementia.
For example, a healthy person might have worked out one day and noticed later that they have pain in their left arm. As someone without health anxiety, you might say they pulled a muscle or twisted their arm wrong during a workout. Someone with health anxiety might think they have a heart complication.
Thankfully, health anxiety is treatable by a medical professional or a wellness team that may include a therapist. Those suffering from hypochondria may experience it for a few short months, years, or their entire lives.
Like most other mental health conditions, health anxiety doesn’t discriminate. Between 4% and 5% of people are known to experience it at one point or another in their lifetime.
Experts suggest the real number may be closer to 12%. It’s most commonly found in adults but can occur during puberty as well.
Women are known to have generalized anxiety twice the rate that men do, but hypochondria is seen fairly equally in men and women.
Just because you’re worried about your health doesn’t necessarily mean you have health anxiety. With everything going on in the world, more and more people are becoming concerned about their physical and mental health.
It’s normal to experience anxiousness around certain health concerns, especially if you’ve faced a serious illness in the past. Such a reaction is an important part of our body’s self-preservation instinct: when something is wrong, we want to know what it is so we can fix it.
The main difference is how you interpret what you’re experiencing. People who have health anxiety will experience a normal ailment, but their brain turns it into an emergency.
If you have an upset stomach from eating too much dairy, your brain might tell you that you have an ulcer rather than simply an upset stomach.
Anxiety can create physical sensations that increase the feeling of nervousness itself. It’s not uncommon to get chest pain, increased heart rate, headaches, and dizziness from anxiety.
Here are some of the most common symptoms that come with having health anxiety.
Because health anxiety is a compulsive process, it can result in more physical symptoms. You may start with a pain in your arm, but as you research, your anxiety can give you chest pain and other symptoms that can worsen your anxiety.
The funny thing about dealing with health anxiety / hypochondria is that part of your healing process means not getting treated. If you or someone you love is dealing with health anxiety, it can take a toll on relationships, work environments, family dynamics, and more.
Going to your doctor over and over again can also strain you financially. It’s estimated that over $20 billion annually is spent on unnecessary testing, examinations, and medical procedures.
Although part of healing from hypochondria is not seeking treatment for imagined illnesses, you still can seek treatment in a different way––working on your anxiety and obsessive thought-processes.
Let’s take a look at the treatments available for health anxiety.
One of the best things you can do for yourself if you have hypochondria is to learn how to manage your stress. This can look like a lot of different things, depending on the individual.
You may want to incorporate some of the following de-stressors into your daily routine:
In addition, stopping yourself from searching for your symptoms online can help you from going down a rabbit hole of medical conditions. While what you’re feeling may lead to something bigger, it’s best to schedule an appointment with a medical professional to get an official diagnosis.
Focus on activities that make you feel good, especially if they’re outdoors. Keeping your body healthy by exercising and eating well can prevent the symptoms that make you anxious. You can do things that you’re passionate about, or that help others. This trains your brain to focus on something other than your physical health.
Try retraining your brain to recognize that everyone experiences physical aches and pains. Work with your mind to teach yourself that just because your calf hurts doesn’t mean you have a blood clot. The body gives off sensations all the time, and if you struggle with anxiety, your brain can make those normal things feel much worse than they are.
Working with your primary care physician and a therapist can help relieve the symptoms of health anxiety. Therapists use something called CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy, to reduce health anxiety fears. CBT is known for teaching people with hypochondria about identifying triggers and also provides coping skills.
Depending on the severity, your doctor might give you medication like an antidepressant, such as fluoxetine, for the time being. It’s not uncommon for hypochondriacs to resist the idea that what they’re experiencing is anxiety. Their brains have told them for so long that every ache and pain is a serious condition or illness. While it’s easier said than done, the more open you are about getting help, the easier it will be to find relief.
Online doctors are becoming an increasingly popular way to receive mental healthcare. They are especially useful for anxiety patients as there are fewer barriers to getting treatment. Online doctors provide the same level of care as in-person doctors for most conditions and they can deliver this care faster and more affordably.
EverydayDr is proud to be affiliated with top telehealth company PlushCare. PlushCare connects hundreds of thousands of patients with top doctors and therapists for mental health treatment, including necessary prescription medications.
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