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Health Anxiety

Illness anxiety disorder, also known as hypochondria, and previously hypochondriasis, or now simply health anxiety is when you experience an irrational and excessive amount of worry about being or becoming ill, so much so that it starts to take over your life.

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What Is Health Anxiety?

Health anxiety is an anxiety disorder that normally starts in early or middle adulthood.  It varies in severity and can becomes more intense as people get older, often getting worse when individuals are experiencing stress in other areas of life. It centres around obsessive fear and subsequent worrying about illness and for some, dying, or in the case of older people, losing their memory.

 

People who experience health anxiety can feel anxious about their own health as well as the health of close others like their children.  Individuals will focus on physical sensations, and check for irregularities, feeling severe anxiety when they notice minor things like muscle twitching or fatigue.  They will often take this as evidence that they have a serious illness.  For this reason health anxiety is extremely exhausting, frustrating, distressing, and disruptive for sufferers, and often their loved ones.  It is the anxiety, rather than the physical sensation that is the issue.

What Are The Symptoms?

Avoidance

You may avoid anything to do with ill-health.  This can include medical themed TV shows because they’re triggering; medical appointments for fear of being diagnosed; or activities, people, and places because you’re worried about the risk to your health.

Behave As If You're Ill

The belief that you are ill can be so strong that you start to behave as if you are, so you might avoid physical exertion for example.

Body Checking

People with health anxiety will repeatedly check their body for signs of illness or disease.  They may be looking for lumps, pain, tingling, and heart rate fluctuations and pay extra attention to anything they had not noticed before.

Doubting What Doctors & Tests Say

You might feel no reassurance from medical test results that show you aren’t ill.  Also maximising anything you are worried about and ignoring things that might cast doubt on your beliefs about being ill.  You also worry that doctors may have missed something.

Excessive Worry

Sufferers can become easily alarmed about their health.  They can worry when they notice minor body sensations and tend to misperceive these as signs of a serious illness.

Extreme Distress & Disruption

You may experience such high anxiety and distress because of your worries, that you find it difficult to cope and manage daily life.  This can mean you take sick leave from work, or avoid socialising, or find relationships become strained.

Frequent Medical Appointments

People who experience health anxiety may make repeated trips to the doctor or hospital, and even pay for private consultations and second and third opinions.

Obsessive Information Seeking

Many with health anxiety will often obsessively search online for information about signs and symptoms of illnesses they’re worried about.

Phantom Symptoms Or Anxiety Induced Symptoms

Some people believe they are experiencing physical sensations because of an illness.  Sometimes these sensations aren’t really there, they are actually ‘phantom’ symptoms.  Or the symptoms are brought on by the anxiety itself, for example, an increase in heart rate, or headaches.

Preoccupation

This is when someone is hyper focused on developing or having a particular medical problem that runs in the family, for example, a heart condition.  They will often talk about their preoccupations with others.

Reassurance Seeking

Sufferers can feel such a frequent need to seek reassurance about their health from friends, family, and those in the medical field, that people stop responding to their requests for reassurance.

What Causes Health Anxiety?

As with most mental health conditions, it is not known exactly what causes health anxiety.  There are several factors that can create a predisposition to developing it:

Family; if you grew up around parents or other close family members that worried a lot about your health, or their own.

Childhood experiences and subsequent perceptions; you may have experienced serious illness as a child, or had frightening experiences relating to your health (for example, treatment at a hospital).  Subsequently, any physical sensation in the body is perceived as frightening because of what you interpret it to mean.

 

Childhood abuse or trauma can also be a risk factor for developing a mental health condition, such as health anxiety.

 

Being a ‘worrier’ or having obsessive tendencies that have become focused on health are also a risk factors.

You may have had a number of ‘health scares’ which were not serious but have caused a vigilance about ill health.

Using the internet excessively to research health conditions and concerns can increase the risk of developing the disorder.

A major life stressor can also make someone vulnerable to developing health anxiety.

How Phinity Therapy Can Help

We are experienced in working with individuals who suffer with health anxiety and will start by taking a thorough psychological assessment of your life, your history, current concerns and how the problem is negatively impacting your life, as well as clearly outlining your goals for therapy.  If you agree, we may use diagnostic questionnaires that relate to health anxiety to understand the severity of the problem.

Your goal will likely be to help you better cope and reduce anxiety and its impact on your life.  We can work with you in various ways to do this.  You may also wish to better understand how health anxiety developed.

Some recommended therapies for health anxiety include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which may involve some exposure therapy, and behavioural stress management.  Or integrative therapy, where we combine different approaches as necessary.  After your initial assessment, we will discuss therapeutic recommendations with you and seek your input throughout.  It is important that the approach(s) we use work for you and this is why your input is valued.

What Causes Health Anxiety?How Phinity Therapy Can Help

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5 months ago
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7 months ago
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9 months ago
Thanks Rehanna, I feel the best I've felt in YEARS and I've had a few therapists before so that's a credit to you.
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10 months ago
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11 months ago
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11 months ago
I just want to thank you for helping me to feel again. I numbed myself with medication for so long, I forgot how clear my mind could feel without it and I have been able to feel the good feelings again now too, I feel motivated, something that has been missing for years, I really didn't think I'd ever feel this way again. Thank you so much Rehanna.
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1 year ago
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1 year ago
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1 year ago
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