Health anxiety is anxiety focused on physical sensations and symptoms. People who are affected by health anxiety worry that they’re suffering from serious illnesses when in fact they are not. How to recognize and overcome health anxiety?
What is anxiety? Anxiety is simply nervous energy. In the case of health anxiety, it is expressed as physical sensations and reactions to those sensations. The mind focuses on whether the body is ill or getting ill, and the body responds to the stress by developing symptoms like headaches, a racing heart and even pain.
Having anxiety also doesn’t mean you are “imagining things” or “making things up.” It can strike anyone, even the healthiest, and from any trigger, no matter how small. Sometimes it’s also focused on a loved one’s health, not your own health. Experts estimate that up to 12% of people might have health anxiety.
Health anxiety feels a little different for everyone who faces it, but when it is severe, it can feel like it’s taking over your life.
One of our brave members told DARE how it felt to have debilitating health anxiety:
Nothing seemed real to me, it was like a thick piece of glass was between me and the world. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye, couldn’t breathe, would stutter, and forget what I was saying, somehow lost my sense of taste and had lost over thirty pounds.
Anytime I left the house I had to have a blood pressure cuff, thermometer, finger pulse checker and a Fit Bit that I was addicted to. I used these devices constantly, all day and I would even wake up in the night and check my vitals.
Anxiety can feel like it’s stealing your thoughts and your freedom. Even with more mild health anxiety, you might still find yourself battling your own thoughts over and over again. You might catch yourself worrying if your upset stomach is from a parasite, or maybe your aching muscles are a sign of Lyme’s disease. These thoughts also tend to come more often at night, when your mind is tired.
If you do have sudden new symptoms, it’s okay to have them checked out. Being concerned doesn’t mean you have health anxiety! In fact, it’s important to see a doctor about any concerns about your health to rule out any serious issues.
Here’s an example of a health worry that is not health anxiety:
Anna was overall very healthy and had never had heart problems. One day she noticed a faint paint behind her chest, in the center, right as she was falling asleep. The next morning, the pain was still there, and it continued off and on for two more days.
She asked a friend what they thought, then called her nurse advice line. The nurse suggested seeing a doctor. Anna visited a local clinic, and after a quick checkup the doctor had her get a blood test and EKG. The doctor finally diagnosed her with heartburn, gave her some tips to avoid it, and sent her to the pharmacy for heartburn medication. Anna left, rejoicing that it was such a simple diagnosis!
People suffering from health anxiety in this situation would still be having anxious thoughts. They might jump online as soon as they got home, and keep researching possible other causes, or see another doctor because they didn’t trust the diagnosis.
Because health anxiety is a form of anxiety, it often causes increased heart rate, nervousness, lack of sleep, and muscle tension which only give the anxiety even more symptoms to feed on.
For someone who is facing serious health anxiety, intrusive thoughts about illness or death can come 10 or 20 times an hour or more. Even in these situations, you can recover.
The different anxiety related symptoms can also seem like they couldn’t possibly be “just” from anxiety. Anxiety symptoms can affect the whole body:
If you think you might have health anxiety, ask yourself if these are true:
A simple test you can use if you think you might have health anxiety is to run a “body scan” on yourself. Scan your body with your thoughts. Start with your feet and work your way up to your head and face.
What do you notice? Did your heart start beating faster? If you do have health anxiety, you probably feel more anxious. Your mind might have stopped on many different things and wondered if it’s a sign of something wrong. If you don’t have health anxiety, your thoughts might just skip quickly over each section.
It is possible to make a full recovery from health anxiety! Even if it feels impossible, the road to recovery is there. You don’t have to stop the sensations. You don’t even have to try to banish every anxious thought from your mind. The most important step you can take in making a breakthrough is to start to see health anxiety for what it is and commit to making a recovery.
With recovery comes a chance to give back to everyone who helps you in your journey, and to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures in life again. DARE has helped thousands of warriors overcome anxiety and conquer their own personal monsters. You can learn a clear and structured way to take back control of your life.
If you haven’t downloaded the DARE app yet, this is the first thing you should do! This app has helped thousands of people accelerate their recovery and overcome their anxiety. It’s full of supportive audios to help you on your journey, including a 7-Day Challenge specifically for health anxiety.
Whatever else you do — don’t start Google symptoms online. You are almost guaranteed to come across some rare and deadly disease that you surely must have!
Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of constantly measuring your heartbeat, blood oxygen and other indicators (unless your doctor has instructed you to do so). These types of measurements only feed anxiety.
Remember that anxiety makes negative or terrible situations seem much more likely than they actually are. When your anxiety tells you that you have brain cancer, remind yourself it’s much more likely your headache is from not getting enough sleep.
Remember that many symptoms are caused by anxiety itself! The mind and body are deeply connected and by healing your mind, you can heal your body too. Of course, if have new symptoms, you should first have these checked out with your doctor to rule out other health issues.
Health anxiety can’t physically hurt you! Even if you get a panic attack, it’s like having an aerobic workout for your heart—it’s not dangerous. Although what you experience is real, it can’t cause other diseases, and you can learn to recover from it.
If you find an intrusive thought spinning around your mind, think of a loved who doesn’t have health anxiety, and imagine how they would react to that same thought. Let the thought go.
“Fake it till you make it” is another powerful tool to win back your life from anxiety! Anxiety is in your mind and body, so by forcing them to focus on other things, you start on the road to recovery. No matter how much anxiety has been present, you can start with small things, like going for a walk, driving a new route, or refusing to check your heart rate when you feel a need to. Think of it like jiu jitsu — instead of trying to directly battle your anxiety, you’re letting it go past you.
Exercise calms the body and mind! It also tires out your mind so that your thoughts slow down – it’s harder to be anxious when you’re physically tired! Exercise is also proven to improve sleep which can help you have more energy to live each day. Thirty minutes of fast walking a day will also help you overcome fears about your heart or breathing.
By reading this post, you’ve already taken the first steps to overcome health anxiety! The road to recover takes courage and a lot of hard work. DARE is here to help you every step of the way.
We’re super excited to have a new 7-day challenge for people who are experiencing health anxiety! It’s a medication-free, supportive and structured way to start to understand and overcome your fears.
The challenge is in our therapeutic app that has helped thousands of DARE warriors break free from the never-ending cycle of panic attacks and anxious thoughts. The app also includes dozens of free and premium therapeutic audios to walk you through your tough moments and teach you ways to reduce your anxiety until it fades away completely.
With the 7-Day Challenge you’ll get access to a new audio every day, designed specifically for health anxiety. Every audio is packed full of content that will give you help.
Don’t let health anxiety run your life! DARE is here to help you find your inner warrior and ultimately recover. Overcome health anxiety. Sign up for the Health Anxiety challenge today and start your journey to win your life back.