Overcoming health anxiety
Very few of us will avoid worrying about our health at some point – it's perfectly natural to be concerned about aches and pains, or to read about some illness on the internet and worry that we might have it. But if you have health anxiety (also known as hypochondria or hypochondriasis) these worries can spiral out of control until they completely dominate your life. If you have persistent headaches, for example, you may be convinced you have a brain tumour, whatever the doctors tell you. And if you think your heart is racing, you may be scared it means you're having a cardiac arrest every time. Again, just because medical experts assure you this is not the case, if you have health anxiety you are unlikely to be convinced.
One of the key phrases to remember when it comes to health anxiety is that 'the solution is the problem'. This means that the things you do to try and make yourself feel better are the very things that keep the problem going. These commonly include seeking reassurance from friends, partners, family or health professionals; either avoiding or obsessively reading about a certain illness, like cancer; becoming very sensitive to and often checking your body for symptoms, lumps, bumps or pains; and acting as if you are ill, by avoiding things like exercise that you worry will bring on a heart attack, say.
These problems – which are known in cognitive therapy as 'safety behaviours' – are things you need to stop doing if you are to deal with your health anxiety and get back to living a normal life. For example, it's perfectly natural to seek reassurance from people close to us wen we worry we might be ill. The problem is that this reassurance only makes us feel better for a short time; the more we seek it, the more it prolongs our anxiety, because it doesn't actually solve the problem.
The good news is that cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is proven to be extremely effective for health anxiety. If you would like some help you can arrange a session with me through my assistant, Dawn Cope. Contact her on 0208 318 5735, firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact form to get in touch.