To Always Be Worried About Our Health - Health Anxiety Disorder
It’s natural for us to have some concern over our physical health. In many regards, it’s merely our survival instinct reminding us that we’d like to continue living. However, for many out there, a health anxiety disorder is a very real and debilitating mental health condition.
Do you find yourself constantly internet researching minor symptoms you’re feeling? Do you automatically make drastic assumptions - like a sore throat just might be cancer? Do you still worry even when medical tests reveal that you’re healthy?
If so, you may struggle with a health anxiety disorder. A condition where healthy people are in constant fear of their body’s catching a disease. While it’s understandable that the current COVID-19 pandemic may have heightened alarm bells in many people, it’s just as important to take care of our mental health.
My interest in this began when I realized there were many out there experiencing the same condition through my personal experiences with a health anxiety disorder. Throughout this article, I will explore some of what I learned and what you can do to ease anxious tension.
It’s Good to Worry About Your Health Sometimes
As mentioned, it’s only natural for us to have concern for our health. Sometimes, a minor symptom is the first sign of a serious condition. Not to mention, those who have been through severe sicknesses may simply be worried about future results or relapse.
Health anxiety is much different - it’s when individuals remain worried about their health even when all signs indicate they’re healthy. For example, a person with health anxiety may experience stomach pain and automatically assume the worst. If this person receives treatment that makes them feel better and tests that indicate they’re healthy, they’ll continue to fret over the issue.
The problem here is anxiety in and of itself has been linked to a number of health conditions that can cause serious illness. By fueling this anxiety, you’re actually increasing your chances of damaging your health. Here are a few examples of where anxiety can lead to:
- Difficulty with responsibilities (i.e., work, school, relationships)
- Difficulty with sleep (i.e., insomnia)
- Digestive or bowel complications
- Headaches and chronic pain
- Other mental illnesses (i.e., depression or substance abuse disorder)
- Poor quality of life
- Social isolation
Our mental health and physical health are directly linked to one another. If we do fall physically ill, it’s likely our mental health with suffer. And the same is true vice versa. For this reason, it’s extremely important for us to mentally take care of ourselves.
Do You Struggle with Health Anxiety?
It can be difficult to identify whether or not your struggle with health anxiety. Especially if you’ve had previous illnesses or still aren’t sure whether or not you’re experiencing a serious illness.
Here are a few signs that reveal whether or not you’re dealing with health anxiety:
- You fear sickness even though you have no symptoms.
- You’re still worried even when a doctor or test results reveal you’re completely healthy.
- You’re constantly looking up health information on the internet.
- You worry about a disease when hearing about it on the news.
- Your anxiety about your health interferes with other aspects of your life.
People with health anxiety often show patterns over time. Beyond researching medical conditions online, they may call their doctor multiple times a week. Or, they may frequently ask for tests in which there was no risk factor. For example, someone with health anxiety may ask for an HIV test even when they haven’t had any recent sexual partners.
You Can Treat Health Anxiety
Health anxiety can be treated similarly to other forms of anxiety. However, being as much of what a person is experiencing lies in their head, it’s likely these individuals will face stigma. Possibly, even from healthcare professionals.
Dr. Timothy Scarella, instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, notes that it isn’t helpful to tell people with health anxiety that their symptoms are fake. “It’s often more constructive to encourage them to look at what the worry is doing to their life. How is it interfering with the things they enjoy?”
As the winter months creep in, there’s a chance the novel coronavirus will cause more health anxiety among everyone. While we should be concerned with this virus along with any other disease, we can’t let it control our lives.
As discussed, our mental health plays an integral role in our physical health. The more we practice everyday mental wellness, the more likely we are to lead healthier lives.
Written by: Paul James