For some, anxiety is a common daily occurrence, and for each person, their triggers and feelings will be entirely personal. With the onset of COVID-19, there has been an existential rise in those worrying about their health, with this potentially leading to health anxiety.
Health anxiety can be split into two separate disorders:
● Somatic symptom disorder- when someone mistakes normal bodily functions for a symptom of a more serious illness. Common symptoms may include tiredness or pain, but the individual’s reaction to the mild symptoms is extreme.
● Illness anxiety disorder- when a person is overly obsessive with a specific disease or illness. Even though they show no physical symptoms, they still confuse normal bodily processes like bloating as a sign of the onset of the illness they are fearing.
The difference between these conditions is very minimal, with some individuals suffering from both conditions. For this reason, health anxiety is a more common term used to discuss a range of symptoms:
● The individual has no symptoms but is still fearful they are unwell
● A doctor reassures someone they don’t have an illness, but the individual does still not feel comfortable or experience reduced anxiety
● Constantly looking for health information online
● Reading about a disease and worrying they then have it
● Health worries affecting work, family life, socializing and hobbies
● Frequently checking the body for signs of illness
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK YOU MAY BE SUFFERING FROM HEALTH ANXIETY:
ACKNOWLEDGE HOW YOU FEEL
Being able to name and take note of your emotions and feelings will be an important first step to reducing anxiety. Sometimes, taking a few deep breaths or writing down how you feel can help you to process your feelings and anxiety. You can always come back to these points later to see if they are still triggering you.
AVOID HEALTH NEWS & ‘GOOGLING’ SYMPTOMS
Searching online trying to read about every covid (for example) update will not help to manage the way you are feeling – this will simply add fuel to your anxiety rather than reassure you. The same goes with health forums! What works or was the concern for one person, does not mean that it will be the same for you. Consider limiting how much you look at health online and seek health from trusted sources only.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR THOUGHTS
Dramatic, extreme thoughts can be distressing, and something you will need to take control over. Our thoughts are not facts, and being able to take control of that and word things in a more positive way will help in the long run. If you feel like you are in a spiral of thoughts, take yourself away from the situation – go for a walk, call a friend or watch a TV show.
If your health anxiety is impacting your quality of life, then it is best to seek specialized help.Methods including CBT can be helpful for those who suffer from anxiety. One of our favourite places to start is MIND charity.