Think you might have health anxiety? Well, you’re certainly not alone. To discover more about it, and to hear my own experience of hypochondria, you came to the right place…
Health anxiety is something many people may go through in their lives, some more severe than others. For some people, this can just be a fearful thought here or there, and for others, it can take over their life.
Especially with lockdown isolating many in their homes, alone with their invasive thoughts, I have no doubt that many people have been struggling more so recently. As someone who suffers from minor health anxiety, I have definitely found my invasive thoughts becoming overwhelming, at times.
Anxiety can make people feel very lonely, but one of the greatest ways to show people that they’re not alone is by talking about it. So, today, I thought I would share with you all my experiences with health anxiety, and how I deal with it daily. Read on if you want a little comfort, and some tips and tricks to help you to overcome your own health anxiety…
What is Health Anxiety?
Health anxiety, or hypochondria, is a condition where an individual constantly obsesses over their physical health. This can be debilitating, both mentally and physically, as it can produce physical symptoms which often make the mental symptoms worse. Ultimately, it can overwhelm a person’s life.
Symptoms of Health Anxiety
The NHS have a comprehensive list of the some of the symptoms of health anxiety. Here, I thought I’d list these for you, and let you know how these symptoms manifest in myself so you can better recognise it in yourself:
- Always worrying about your health: every ache, pain, or strange symptom I experience, I will instantly think the worst. This will cause me to fantasise the worst possible scenarios in my head, to essentially prepare for the worst.
- Checking your body for lumps, bumps, and pain: I don’t do this too often, however, I do find myself checking my breasts every so often.
- Constantly seeking reassurance from others about your health: although I struggle to talk to people about my problem, I do tend to tell my boyfriend what I’m feeling, and his reassurance will often put me at more ease. For example, he will tell me that everyone gets aches and pains too; not just me.
- Worrying that your doctor missed something: I have been through this a fair few times, regarding various trips to the GP, and am currently going through this now as well. This occurs almost every time I have any test, be it a blood test, a urine test, or an examination.
- Obsessively researching health information online: I do this a lot, especially when I feel like I’m experiencing certain symptoms. For example, I recently convinced myself that I had botulism after eating some old pesto, and I was genuinely frightened, checking the symptoms online obsessively. It got to the point where I fell asleep making peace with the fact that I may not wake up again.
- Avoiding anything related to serious illnesses: a lot of the time, I don’t do this, and tend to watch TV programmes and movies that involve serious injuries, like SAW and medical programmes. However, there are times when I start to overthink, and have to pause it because I begin to experience the symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack.
- Pretending to be ill to avoid physical activities etc: this is the one symptom that I don’t have. However, it has affected my ability to socialise sometimes (although this might be social anxiety), and does make me procrastinate booking appointments with the GP, due to a fear of what they may find.
The NHS also say that you may experience other symptoms of anxiety, which may make you think you are experiencing more serious issues. For me, this has occurred before and, if I ever become on the verge of panicking in this way, I will often experience a racing heartbeat, shallow breathing, trouble swallowing, and tingling fingers.
When my anxiety gets really bad, these symptoms make me feel as though I’m experiencing a whole world of illnesses. Mostly, it makes me worried that I’m having a stroke, so I instantly begin checking for this, e.g. lifting my arms and trying to smile to check my face isn’t drooping. This thought occurs relatively often – perhaps once a week.
My 10 Top Tips for Dealing with Health Anxiety
Although an anxiety like this is unlikely to ever disappear, there are actions you can take to help you to ease the symptoms of hypochondria. So, from someone who suffers from health anxiety, here are my top methods for dealing with this, day-to-day:
1. Vocalise What You’re Feeling
One thing that really helps me to deal with the anxious and panicky feelings that come with health anxiety is to vocalise how I’m feeling. I normally do this by simply telling my boyfriend, “I feel anxious”. I don’t always do this instantly, as he will usually notice something is up, and will ask me if I’m okay. But, when I do this, it often helps.
Not only does this help by acknowledging what you’re feeling, it can help you to rationalise the situation. I’ll explain this a little more, next, as this is a really important task in overcoming health anxiety…
2. Rationalise the Situation
Rationalising the situation in front of you is a sure fire way to help you to overcome these bouts of panicking and anxiety. But, what do I mean by this?
Well, the rational and logical part of your brain full-well knows you do not have said medical condition. Although there is a small chance you might, the likelihood is that you don’t. So, attempting to let this logic shine through via rational thought is sure to help you to avoid experiencing a full-blown panic attack.
3. Distract Yourself
Sometimes, when I get into my own head about my health, television isn’t enough to distract me. So, I will ask Josh to play a game with me, like a card game or board game. Or, I will distract myself by listening to a podcast, grabbing a puzzle book, changing the TV channel, or even doing some housework or cooking!
4. Remove the Triggers
As we’ve mentioned, for some, one of the biggest triggers can be watching or reading anything health-related. If this is something that triggers your anxiety, remove yourself from this situation. This could be as simple as turning the TV to something less on-the-nose, and onto something you know will relax you, and put your mind at ease.
5. Encourage Your Mind to Live in the Moment
One of the best ways to overcome your health anxiety is to encourage yourself to live in the here and now. Even if something awful is going on inside your body (which it very likely isn’t), spending your waking hours worrying about it won’t change the outcome. If anything, you want to make the most of the time you have left, whether it be a long time or a short time.
The best way to do this is to focus your mind on what’s going on around you; the sun shining down on your face, the birds singing, the smells of cooking in the air. This will not only distract your mind away from your invasive thoughts, it’ll bring your mind to the now. This will help you to retrain your mind to focus on what you can control…
6. Focus on the Things You Have Control Over
This brings me onto the next strategy to overcome your health anxiety; focusing on what you have control over. Invading your mind with problems and scenarios that you can’t control is truly detrimental to your mental well being and happiness. So, if anxious thoughts start to invade your head, try to tell yourself that these are things you can’t control.
Think to yourself in that moment, what do you have the power over that you can change?
Well, you have the power to change what activity you’re currently doing, who you’re socialising with, what the conversation topic is, or what TV show or film you’re watching. Certainly not your health, though, so don’t dwell on this; only dwell on your actions from here on in.
7. Pace the Room, or Go For a Walk
I normally get panicky when I am sitting down and relaxing. So, one thing I have gotten into the habit of doing when I start to feel the symptoms of anxiety is to get up and pace. This distracts my body with something active, and usually reduces the physical symptoms of this anxiety too. Even better, get out the house and head on a walk to truly alleviate the symptoms.
8. Stay Off Social Media
Although social media doesn’t directly trigger my health anxiety, I do find that, when I’m off my phone for longer periods of time, the anxious and invasive thoughts occur less. This could be down to a number of things, but I’m pretty sure social media has a negative effect all-round.
One negative in particular, which I think contributes to my anxiety, is that scrolling through social media doesn’t allow you to focus on the now. It also doesn’t allow you to focus on what you can control so, ultimately, it’s not going to help your mind to live in the moment. So, where I can, I leave my phone in another room, and this often helps me to engage in what I’m doing there and then, thus helping to combat my anxiety.
Learning to breathe mindfully is also something that really helps me when I feel the panic setting in. This is simply the act of breathing in deeply through the nose and out through the mouth. Not only is this a great way to relax you, but it also helps you to live in the moment, and concentrate on the fact that you are, indeed, alive and well.
10. Do What You Love
Distracting yourself with menial tasks may not be enough to get rid of those anxious feelings. So, why not get involved in the things you love. Whether it be sport, reading, walking, or anything in between, these are all acts of self improvement, which will be sure to improve your mental health along the way.
Remember, Life is Precious…
Everybody deals with their mental health issues differently, depending on how severe yours is, and what works for you. For someone with relatively controlled health anxiety, the tips above really help me to manage the situation better. Because of this, I can dwell on my invasive thoughts less, and can live a happier life, no matter how long I have left.
If you find that these tips help you, in some way, to overcome your daily bouts of health anxiety, I’d love to know. Or, if you have any more tips and tricks, do leave them down below; I’m sure this would help so many people, so please get involved!