Anxiety is the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition in the United States, affecting 40 million adults in the United States or 18.1% of the population. It can span a range of categories, from PTSD to social anxiety. For some people, anxiety centers around health. Formerly known as hypochondriasis, the DSM-5 replaced hypochondriasis with two new diagnostic entities. The new DSM-5 diagnosis for health anxiety is somatic symptom disorder (SSD) and illness anxiety disorder (IAD).
People experiencing this may have an overwhelming fear, even when diagnostic tests and health tests show up clear, that something is still wrong. Perhaps they fear a constant impending illness or injury that never comes. With the Covid pandemic, many more are understandably experiencing health-related anxiety.
What is Health Anxiety?
In the most basic terms, health anxiety is when you spend a lot of time or too much of your time worrying that you could be ill or that you will become ill to the point where it starts to overwhelm other aspects of your life.
When someone suffers from this, they may live in fear that they have a serious medical illness or condition that is undiagnosed and may worry more even when tests and lab results show that they are not unwell.
Someone with health anxiety may fixate upon the smallest of ailments and believe that they are symptoms of something more sinister, even when they are proven not to be. In addition, they may manifest physical symptoms of illness, however, these can end up being psychosomatic.
What Are Signs of Health Anxiety?
There are many signs and symptoms of health anxiety including:
- Feeling overwhelmed about becoming unwell
- Fearing being ill
- Feeling preoccupied with having a health condition
- Worrying that the smallest, minor symptoms could lead to a serious medical condition
- Being scared about the status of your health
- Not feeling reassured by doctor appointments or test results
- Racing thoughts about your health
- Feeling deeply concerned about your health despite negative results
- Increased heart rate
- Excessive worrying
- Living in fear of having an undiagnosed medical condition
- Frequently checking your body for lumps, pain, or signs of an issue
- Obsessing over medical information online or on TV
- Acting as if you are ill (i.e. avoiding being active in case you injure yourself more)
How to Overcome Health Anxiety
If you are concerned that you have health anxiety, then it is important that you seek help. Speak to a counselor or licensed therapist for guidance and advice. They can help you overcome your fears and move forward.
In addition, it can be beneficial to keep a journal or diary of how many times you have intrusive thoughts about your health, how many times you check your body for lumps/pain, and how many times you consume health information from the media. This can make you aware of your triggers and help you reduce stress over time.
You can also try to challenge your thoughts by writing them down on a piece of paper. For instance, if you notice you feel nauseous, you can write this on one side of the paper in a column. In the next column, you can point out that you could feel nauseous due to stress, anxiety, or even if you haven’t eaten that day.
Similarly, if you have a headache, write it down. In the second column, note that headaches are a sign of dehydration, tiredness, or stress. Note that this could be the reason for your headache—not an underlying health condition.
Try to be aware if you’re avoiding activities that make you anxious, and try to get back to doing the things you normally would avoid due to your health anxiety. Ensure you’re taking care of yourself by having a good sleep schedule, a balanced diet, and regular exercise. This can also limit your feelings of stress about your health.
If you would like help to overcome health anxiety, reach out to us today to learn more about how to manage health anxiety.