You might be surprised to learn how common health anxiety is, and it is also a type of anxiety that can really make your life miserable.
Health anxiety involves a lot of worry that something is, or could be, wrong with your physical body. You become overly focused on your health concerns and physical body sensations.
You have a tendency toward worst case scenario thinking, worrying that your body sensations or symptoms are serious or could cause death.
Uncertainty: The Big Problem
When you have health anxiety, you want reassurance about the symptoms, but the reassurance from doctors or from medical tests can become an ongoing need, especially if results show nothing is seriously wrong with you.
You’re afraid something was missed.
You have a hard time handling uncertainty about why you are having a particular symptom, so you continue to focus on it and worry about it (“what if….).
Health anxiety can happen if:
- You have an existing, diagnosed medical condition
- You have real, yet unexplained physical symptoms
- You are healthy with no known medical conditions
How Does Health Anxiety Start?
You may be prone to health anxiety if you have a diagnosed medical problem. This causes us to focus more on symptoms and body sensations, medical appointments, diagnoses, risks or side effects, etc.
In other words, having a medical condition trains your brain to focus more on your body, symptoms, and physical sensations. When you do that, your brain then fears things could get worse, be dangerous, or even deadly.
Health anxiety can also come up after you or a loved one have had a traumatic, serious medical issue. It can also arise after a loved one has died.
Also, if you grew up in home where others had health anxiety, then your own health anxiety could simply be a learned behavior or habit.
But I Have Real Symptoms!!!
When it comes to health anxiety, whether or not you have a diagnosed medical condition or actual physical symptoms of any kind is not really the issue.
The issue is how you are responding (thinking, behaving, and coping) with your condition.
Dealing with illness or disease is inherently stressful. Health anxiety is more about repeatedly having extreme or catastrophic responses to what is happening. You tend to focus on the worst-case scenario regardless of whether that is really likely or not. The uncertainty of it becomes a real problem.
Is it all in your head? NO! It can be hard to hear that from medical professionals because physical symptoms are very real.
But catastrophic and worst-case scenario worries about your physical symptoms ARE indeed a product of your head. By “your head” I mean that your mind is where worry and catastrophic thoughts live.
Just because you fear a serious threat does not necessarily mean there is an actual serious threat. So, the challenge is learning how to logically and rationally assess whether there is an actual threat, and how severe that threat really is.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series on Health Anxiety next month to learn:
- The 2 things that create and intensify health anxiety
- Strategies and tools critical to overcoming health anxiety