Your question: Why do I have anxiety about my health?
Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. Through this article I would like to explain why you feel such intense concern about your health, explaining the relationship between anxiety and recurring health-related concerns as well as some strategies for you to learn to cope with this annoying feeling.
Although it may be difficult for many to accept, illness is a part of life. Being sick is a very upsetting experience, and it can also be stressful, even if it’s just a simple flu brought on by the change of seasons. But even if no one ever wants to get sick, it is normal for it to happen from time to time.
Taking care of your health is important, however, when it becomes an excessive worry that drains your energy and consumes too much of your time, you are having a problem. This is called health anxiety(1), when worrying about health becomes so intense that people may think they are dying just because they have the flu, as they tend to exaggerate their symptoms even though the evidence and reality tells them otherwise.
This type of anxiety is common and can present in varying degrees and forms. Some people with health anxiety feel that they must constantly go to the doctor to verify that they do not have a serious illness, others suffer from intense anxiety when a mild physical symptom appears (such as a sneeze or a slight cough) because they think it is something much more serious.
The problem lies in the fact that they have a distorted perception of their own health.If this happens to you, I would like to tell you that it is not your fault. Many people may tell you that you are exaggerating, but for you, your symptoms are real.Therefore, you need to confront the underlying anxiety as well as all the ideas associated with health and illness, this is the first step in strategies to feel better and get you on the road to a normal and healthy preoccupation with your health.
When does your health worry become a problem?
We all have health concerns that are normal. For example, it is common to feel anxious while waiting for the results of a medical exam. However, excessive health concerns can cause chronic anxiety, making your life revolve around worrying about getting sick and observing symptoms that are not there or are harmless. Some signs that the concern for your health has become excessive and anxiety generating are:
- You constantly go to the doctor to have symptoms checked out that have no origin.
- You get upset when others say “it’s all in your head”.
- You feel deep fear when a mild symptom such as a sneeze or a headache appears.
- You believe that the appearance of a symptom is synonymous with a serious illness.
- You spend money on drugs and medical treatments you don’t need for illnesses you don’t have.
- You avoid going out and become controlling with what you eat thinking that this way you will avoid getting sick.
Why does your health give you anxiety?
You feel anxious about your health for different reasons, all of them related to the preconceived ideas you have about the act of getting sick and health itself. Some of the reasons why you feel anxious about your health are:
Previous traumatic experiences.
If you or a loved one experienced a severe and complicated illness in the past, it is likely that in the present you feel an intense fear and worry that you will get sick again, so that any slightest symptom means a serious illness for you.
You think that illness is synonymous with death.
Some people automatically associate anxiety with death, so health anxiety is also closely related to fear or anxiety about death. If you have an insistent preoccupation with death or the idea of dying, you are likely to be more susceptible to constantly believing that you are ill with something serious without any evidence that you are.
What can you do?
Managing health anxiety can be complicated because it affects both your mind and your body. Anxiety can make your body believe that it is sick when it is not, all to validate your excessive worries about your health.
Therefore, my recommendation is that in addition to applying the strategies that I will present below, you should see a doctor and a psychologist to tell them about your experience with health anxiety and receive specialized treatment for you.
A health diary is a record in which you can write down all the symptoms of the illnesses you feel you are experiencing, as well as the emotion that symptom generated in you. For example, if you came down with a cold, the symptom is recurrent sneezing, and the emotion may be fear. By pairing symptoms with emotions you will learn to understand your relationship with anxiety more broadly, and also to demystify ideas associated with health and illness. For example, telling yourself that there is no reason to be afraid when you have a cold or a headache, as it is a passing symptom that most likely will not go away.
Reform your belief system
It is hard work to change your thoughts. In my experience in cognitive behavioral therapy I have noticed that it is one of the things that is most difficult for people because their ideas have been ingrained since childhood. Some ideas that you should incorporate to your belief system, that is to say, that you should learn to believe and perceive as true, to help to diminish the health anxiety are:
1. Illness is part of life, you cannot avoid it. 2. Most illnesses are temporary and curable. 3. You will never be totally sure of your state of health. 4. Taking care of your health does not mean that you should stop living and enjoying life. 5. Symptoms can be psychological. 6. Doctors almost always tell the truth.
Go to the doctor on a regular basis
Having regular medical check-ups, one or two a month, can help alleviate your concern about the disease, avoiding looking up your symptoms on the Internet and thinking excessively about whether it may be something more serious than it really is.
In my experience…
Health anxiety causes many problems in people’s lives, financially, physically and emotionally. It makes it difficult to distinguish when you are really sick and when you are not, which overwhelms you and generates a deep despair. Although this experience is demoralizing, there is a solution to your problem with health-related anxiety.
It all starts with dismantling the dysfunctional thoughts you have about health and illness, understanding that illness is an inevitable part of life, and that no matter how many worries and concerns you have, you can’t avoid getting sick from time to time.
Your health is important, and your worries and perception of illness is real, even if others say it is false and “all in your head”, under your subjective perception, what you feel is real, and it is important to recognize it. However, it will also be helpful for you to understand that what our internal perception tells us is not always true, and that it is necessary to question it if you know there is an underlying anxiety problem.
Remember that you have the ability to improve your psychological state, even if during moments of anxiety or depression you feel hopeless. We can always make small changes that will pay off in the long run. The fact that you are contacting me to seek professional attention in psychological counseling is already a step, and I recognize and applaud you for that. You are already doing something and wanting to change always leads you in the right direction.