Health anxiety, also known as hypochondria, can preoccupy your every moment to the extent you stop being able to undertake or complete even minor tasks. Your mental health and wellbeing influences your physical health and maintaining good physical health and adopting healthy lifestyles has a positive effect on your mental health.
The specialists at Schoen Clinic have been successfully treating anxiety disorders for many years. We have the capability to offer you therapeutic and medical help to change negative and destructive thought patterns and preoccupation with your physical health.
What do we understand by health anxiety?
Health anxiety can present as the constant presence of worry that you are unwell or becoming unwell. This may have been triggered by a minor physical ailment like a cold, rash or generalised pain or numbness. People may experience a pre-occupation on this ailment to the extent they believe they may have a significant illness or even that they may die. This excessive worrying causes them to seek regular reassurance from those around them and numerous health professionals. Some may want diagnostic tests carried out when there is little indication they are required.
Health anxiety can begin at any age, however it most commonly develops in adolescence or in young adulthood. Health anxiety can either be long lasting or fluctuate depending on various life stresses.
Health anxiety can create a vicious cycle of ill health as the physical response to anxiety can in themselves cause distress and may be misinterpreted as physical ill health. The focus on your health may also bring about self-neglect, body tension and potentially cause you ill health. Minor physical conditions may also persist and become amplified as you focus more and more on the potential for a more debilitating physical illness being present.
Physical symptoms of health anxiety
Experiences of health anxiety can vary and be affected by the severity of the anxiety or culture. Individuals with health anxiety often misinterpret the physical symptoms of anxiety as a sign of a serious physical health concern such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness or faintness
- Muscle tension
Psychological & behavioural symptoms of health anxiety
- Relatively constant state of worry that you are ill or becoming ill
- Preoccupation with a certain condition(s)
- Belief that (harmless) physical symptoms are signs of a serious condition
- Worrying that medical tests or professionals may have missed something
- Frequent physical checks on yourself for any physical sign of illness
- Frequently seeking health information
- Avoidance of any themes of serious illness (e.g. medical TV programmes)
- Impact of anxiety on daily life (e.g. less social outings, less productivity at work)
- Behave as if you are unwell and unable to do certain activities
- Asking for reassurance from others that you are not unwell
- Intrusive thoughts or images
Causes of health anxiety: why someone may develop health anxiety?
There are several reasons that could be involved in why someone may develop health anxiety:
- Genetic predisposition, shown in a family history of anxiety disorders
- Experience of trauma, including abuse, neglect or bullying
- Experience of stressful life events
- A recent death or serious illness in a loved one
- Experience of physical health problems
- Having concerns about your health from a young age
- Having a generally anxious temperament