Joel Schmidt, MA Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Tampa, FL
Are you constantly concerned about your health and well-being? Are you constantly concerned about your health? Do you feel the slightest unusual bodily sensations or symptoms that make it seem like something is seriously wrong? Are you often worried that, even though you’re being told by medical professionals that everything is okay, something undetected and undiagnosed is growing inside of you and slowly killing you? Do you find yourself checking stuff a lot — such as your heart rate or different parts of your body — looking for reassurance that nothing is wrong? Do you spend a lot of time researching medical conditions and symptoms that you may have, or are you just looking for them? If so, you’re probably dealing with disordered health anxiety: a health-focused anxiety that can cause a good deal of distress and an endless cycle of worry.
Although it’s never a bad idea to check in with the doctor every so often (get that annual physical!) or to do health screenings as recommended, excessive checking and reassurance-seeking may be making your anxiety worse instead of providing the much-desired comfort you’re hoping to gain from some of your behaviors.
What to Do?
Here are four things that you should stop doing if you have anxiety about your health. Followed by healthier ways to cope.
1. Stop googling symptoms.
We use Google to search symptoms in order to find reassurance. However, we do not realize that this type of reassurance is actually increasing our anxiety and reinforcing it.
2. Stop obsessing about your fitness watch.
If you’re constantly checking your heart rate, heart variability, or ECG results with your Fitbit or Apple watch, it’s best to get rid of it. Like googling symptoms, this sort of behavior keeps us too internally focused and increases the anxiety surrounding health — and only provides very short-term comfort and reassurance.
3. You should also pay attention to your other checking or reassurance-seeking behaviors.
Common checking behaviors include looking in the mirror for any discoloration or bumps, checking for new moles and bumps, checking your pulse or blood pressure, asking your family or health professionals about your symptoms, as well as posting questions online to get opinions on any health issues you may have. While being aware of your body and looking for unusual signs and symptoms can be smart and healthy, it is not wise to do so when you are anxious about your health.
4. Stop taking any unusual bodily symptom or sign as a sign that there is danger.
Our bodies can do strange things. Everybody experiences odd sensations and pains every once in awhile. It’s normal, and they usually come and go. The average person experiences these things as well but isn’t as internally focused and doesn’t pay the same level of attention to them.
It’s not easy to stop doing these things. It will be difficult, especially at the beginning. What you’ll likely find over time, though, is that stopping these things will liberate you from the prison that health anxiety can create that prevents you from living your life fully.
What to Do?
It’s best to replace old habits with new ones. Here are some things to consider. ShouldDo the following instead of the above four behaviors.
1. Every once in awhile, visit your doctor.
Get to the doctor to rule out any true medical concerns if you’ve been avoiding this, get your annual physical, do the recommended screenings, and follow through on your doctor’s recommendations. Follow your doctor’s advice and not your anxiety. Certainly seek medical help if you suspect something serious, but try to recognize when what you’re doing is just looking for short-term relief and reassurance. The comfort is fleeting and soon enough you’ll be on to the next thing.
2. Talk to a therapist.
Find a therapist that specializes in anxiety disorders – specifically one with experience working with health anxiety. A therapist can help you understand your anxiety and give you better ways to cope with it. They’ll also help you gain insight about how you got here and help you better recognize the thoughts and behaviors that are contributing to your anxiety. You can overcome health anxiety with the help of a therapist.
3. Recognize that there is a normal amount of anxiety about your health.
Every human has some concern about their health and well being. Our threat detection system becomes a little more sensitive when we have health anxiety. This can cause nonstop false alarms.
4. Accept the possibility of a certain amount uncertainty and be open to the idea of accepting it.
The only thing that would likely bring your health anxiety to zero would be knowing that your risk of experiencing future health-related issues is zero — and that’s just not going to happen. As you start to accept and tolerate some risk above zero, you’ll find that you also start to shift out of anxious thinking and into the kind of life you really want to live.
5. Remember how many times you’ve been wrong about your anxious thoughts.
“What ifs” are at the core of health anxiety — or any other anxiety for that matter. “What if this headache is a tumor growing in my brain?” “What if this stomachache is a sign of something really serious?” “What if this pain in my leg is a deadly blood clot?” How many times have you found yourself having these anxious thoughts and questions? How many times have these worst-case scenarios been wrong? Since you’re reading this, you’ve probably been wrong about most, if not all of them. Let this sink in.
6. Focus your attention outward.
An overly focused internal focus is a hallmark of anxiety. Try to shift your internal focus to something more outward if you start to notice yourself scanning your body and engaging in anxious thoughts. Find something you enjoy doing. Find a friend, go on a walk or read a book and engage with the world.
Overcoming health anxiety
Being afflicted by anxiety can make it feel like you are on a rollercoaster. This advice will help you to get off the rollercoaster and allow you to live a life you love. Connect with a therapist who understands what you’re dealing with and start making progress.
© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Joel Schmidt, MA, licensed Mental Health Counselor in Tampa (FL), granted permission to publish
The author of the preceding article wrote it entirely. GoodTherapy.org does not necessarily agree with the views or opinions expressed. Questions or concerns regarding the articles can be directed at the author or left as comments below.
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