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I’ve lived with health anxiety on and off for most of my adult life. I’m anxious about lots of things, but it’s health anxiety that takes over my mind and often becomes an unmanageable burden. The more serious spells are unpredictable. Lovely long periods with next to no health worries suddenly turn into whole weeks where I’m gripped by the irrational fear that I’m about to receive a serious medical diagnosis.
It’s frustrating to feel powerless to this illogical thought process. An intensive course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) was a huge help and gave me a few years living largely anxiety free. Recently though, I’ve found myself overwhelmed by anxiety and am seeking professional support. The recent relapse has encouraged me to share a little about my experience, both to spread awareness and encourage anyone in the same boat to look for some support. It also serves as a wee bit of self-therapy for myself!
What is health anxiety?
According to the NHS, health anxiety (also known as illness anxiety disorder or hypochondria) is “when you spend so much time worrying that you are ill, or worrying that you will get ill, that it starts to take over your life.”
NHS says the main symptoms include:
- worrying about health constantly
- overly searching for any symptoms of illness
- touching base with people to question if they think you could be ill
- paranoid that a doctor or testing didn’t catch a diagnosis
- revisiting health concerns with various sources
- guarding yourself from potential alerts of serious illness (like stories and TV shows)
- living life as if you were sick (like avoiding certain activities)
I’ve experienced most of these symptoms – although I no longer look for health information online as an act of self-preservation. Dr Google is dangerous for anyone without medical training, never mind someone with health anxiety!
The hidden toll of health anxiety
What the list of symptoms doesn’t really convey is the impact health anxiety has on your quality of life; how the worry can consume your thoughts for every waking moment.
Less common struggles for me have included:
- Dreading getting older
- Strain on my relationship – my husband is an extremely talented physician in my (completely unbiased) opinion but my brain rejects reassurance no matter who it comes from
- Irrational worries. For example, I put off writing this article, scared that I’ll ‘jinx’ myself and unwittingly bring about an illness. I’ll often worry that if I let myself get too excited about something, I’ll definitely receive bad news about my health
- Scared to plan for the future (for reasons above)
- Insomnia – worries intensify late at night
- Guilt; for being unable to “pull myself together” when friends and family around me are dealing with their own health concerns and other life challenges. I try to grant myself grace – but it’s not easy!
Help and Support
When my worries increasingly get the better of me, I focus on what I can control – seeking help. These methods have really helped me:
CBT quite literally changed my life for the better. It’s one of many talk therapy-based options available to treat anxiety and other mental health challenges.
If you are able, speak to a physician for a proper medical assessment of symptoms and to discuss treatment – talk therapy and medication being the main options.
It’s my escapism from all sorts; anxiety, my feral children, the terrible mess that is my living room…Getting outside and being in nature helps alleviate my worries and allows me to feel present.
Talk to friends and family – or strangers!
I’m a reluctant sharer but I’m learning that it really helps to talk. A few years ago I would have cringed if you told me I’d be writing about health anxiety but here I am!
Talking about mental health is something many of us struggle to do – me included. If you are reading this and have a question or experience you would like to share, please don’t hesitate to comment. Or if you feel more comfortable, feel free to message me privately @ldb909.