Health anxiety explained – The 12 signs YOU are anxious about your health

Stacey Solomon admits she used to get anxiety over her weight

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Health anxiety is an anxiety condition and a form of OCD. People who have health anxiety aren’t just nervous about getting sick, they have an obsessive preoccupation with the idea that they are currently or will be physically ill. Sound familiar? reveals the 12 signs YOU have health anxiety, and what you can do about it.

Nobody likes being ill, especially these days with the additional worry that it could be coronavirus.

With flu season in full flow, feeling worried you may get ill is justified.

However, people with health anxiety spend so much time worrying they are ill or will become ill that it starts to take over their life.

These people convince themselves harmless physical symptoms and normal bodily sensations are something sinister or deadly.

Ever heard of the term hypochondriac? It’s the same thing, but this term was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 2013.

Today, people previously diagnosed with hypochondriasis may be diagnosed with health or illness anxiety disorder instead.

This condition is hard enough to manage at regular times, but the prevalence of Covid-19 over the last couple of years makes it much more difficult.

So what exactly is health anxiety and how can you recognise it?

The 12 signs YOU are anxious about your health

Your GP could diagnose you with health anxiety and refer you to psychological therapy such as CBT or offer you anxiety medication, so recognising the symptoms of health anxiety is the first step to controlling it.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Constantly worrying about your health
  • A preoccupation with having a serious illness that causes you distress and impacts negatively on your family, social and work life.
  • Frequently checking your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain
  • Worrying excessively about a specific medical condition or your risk of developing a condition because it runs in your family
  • Always asking people for reassurance that you’re not ill
  • Frequently making medical appointments for reassurance, or avoiding medical care for fear of being diagnosed with a serious illness
  • Worrying that a doctor or medical tests may have missed something
  • Obsessively look at health information on the internet or in the media
  • Constant online searches, self-examination and self-diagnosis
  • Avoiding anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes
  • Avoiding people, places or activities for fear of health risks
  • Acting as if you were ill (for example, avoiding physical activities)

The confusing thing about health anxiety is that it actually causes physical symptoms too, making the problem worse.

The NHS site points out anxiety itself can cause symptoms like headaches or a racing heartbeat, and you may mistake these for signs of illness.

Anxiety UK adds: “If a person experiencing health anxiety feels their chest is getting tight, they may believe that they are having a heart attack.

“Those with health anxiety frequently misinterpret physical symptoms of anxiety as a sign of an impending physical health problem.”

Significant health anxiety can be extremely distressing and most of the time a loved one cannot calm you down or make the situation better.

That’s why it’s so important to see your GP and get a mental health referral.

The NHS recommend keeping a diary and noting down how often you check your body, ask for reassurance or look at health information – this will help you and your doctor to understand the scale of the problem and then you can try to reduce the frequency.

Challenging your anxious thoughts, keeping busy, engaging in normal social activities, and learning ways to relax are important, but CBT will help you to rewire your brain and beat health anxiety most effectively.

You can refer yourself directly to this service here Find an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT) – NHS or pay for therapy privately.

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