How To Break The Cycle Of Health Anxiety
Excessively worrying about your health to an obsessive or irrational degree can be debilitating. It can result in frequent doctor visits, taking excessive medication, and even avoiding normal situations and activities.
Illness health anxiety is also known as somatic symptom disorder and hypochondria (former term). It is a common disorder, diagnosed by a health professional, that can be both sporadic and chronic.
Health anxiety can take many forms, such as excessively worrying about illnesses, diseases, and even bodily harm. In any case, it is not to be taken lightly.
Since you are here, you have already taken a good first step by recognizing that you have health anxiety. The next step is breaking the cycle, and this guide will offer a few methods on how you can do it — slowly but surely.
Establish The Cause Of Your Health Anxiety
The first step to treating health anxiety is to understand the source or cause. By knowing where it started, you can begin to understand the problem and address any triggers that are associated with it.
Health anxiety is often caused by past trauma, such as a personal health scare, a health scare of someone you know, past injury, or the illness or death of someone close. It can also fit in as part of a broader diagnosis such as general OCD.
Do you identify with any of these? It might be the case that there is more than one source of your health anxiety. Whichever it is, knowing what caused it is the first step to understanding it and treating it.
No matter whether you understand the source of your health anxiety or not, it is possible to recognize the triggers that cause your anxieties.
Think about moments in the past or recently where you experienced health anxiety. There might be more severe cases, as well as mild cases. Write these down and try to think about the triggers that caused them.
Triggers might include the symptoms of an illness itself, certain food, certain activities, situations that seemed dangerous, public areas, or even things such as leaving the house, crossing the road, or touching public surfaces.
When you have recognized these, it is also worth noting the physical effects you experienced and commonly experience. Health anxiety might occur with shakiness/jitters, nausea, elevated heart rate, fast breathing, sweating, and lightheadedness.
Educate Yourself On Illnesses
In many cases, health anxiety strikes due to irrational fear of specific symptoms of an illness that can be either false or overly common. The solution to breaking this cycle is to educate yourself on any illnesses that trigger you and the symptoms related to that illness.
By doing this, you can better understand the illness(es) and what the real symptoms of that illness are. Oftentimes, symptoms can be broad or common, which makes it irrational to excessively worry about them.
If needed or desired, seek a health professional who can help you to truly understand any illnesses and the symptoms that are worth worrying about or not.
Redirect Your Attention
Anxiety, or OCD, in general can be reduced or avoided by teaching yourself to change your focus of attention when you recognize a bout of health anxiety starting.
To do this, you have to first know what your triggers are. The next step is to remember that the feelings or thoughts are most likely irrational. When you have done that, try to redirect your attention to an activity that works for you.
This can include a hobby, doing some chores, engaging in a mental activity (such as a crossword or puzzle), taking a walk or doing exercise, gardening, or doing something creative, like writing, sketching, or playing an instrument.
Whichever you find beneficial for you, make it a habit to recognize triggers, irrational thoughts and feelings, and then change your focus of attention.
Challenge Your Anxieties
Having health anxiety can come with many different fears of certain places, situations, and activities. These are often the triggers that cause health anxiety to start, which you should learn to recognize.
Once you know the triggers for your health anxiety, try to challenge these anxieties by taking small steps to confront them.
Whether it’s a place, situation, or activity, attempt to put yourself in these situations or engage in the activities to help build your confidence and also realize (and overcome) any irrational fears you may have associated with them.
If it helps, confront these anxieties with a friend or family member who can provide you with the support you need.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common method of treatment for a variety of anxiety disorders, including health anxiety.
In general, cognitive behavioral therapy involves educational discussions and classes, and putting patients through progressive exercises and situations to help rewire thought processes and reactions to different triggers.
If you feel that the above methods do not work, or you would like extra help, there is nothing wrong with seeking cognitive behavioral therapy as a means to overcome your health anxiety.
In most cases, cognitive behavioral therapy is a successful method of treatment that can help break the cycle of health anxiety and eliminate it altogether.
Living with health anxiety, also known as somatic symptom disorder and hypochondria, is difficult. It can prevent being able to live a normal life or even a happy life due to a range of obsessive fears and worries that are hard to control.
Health anxiety is not a permanent condition, however. While it might have been caused by a past traumatic experience, there are steps you can take in alleviating triggers and even overcoming health anxiety altogether.
If you feel that health anxiety is negatively affecting your life on a daily basis, always make sure to seek professional help or even confide in someone close to you.
In any case, try to establish the source of your health anxiety, realize your triggers, educate yourself on illnesses to recognize irrational fears, and challenge your anxieties in small steps to slowly get better over time.
Author: Michelle Landeros, LMFT
Michelle Landeros is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). She is passionate about helping individuals, couples and families thrive.
Last updated: November 29, 2023