Hypochondria (Health Anxiety)
When someone is sick or feeling unwell, they often feel some anxiety or nervousness about their symptoms and the consequences of their symptoms. However, for those with Health Anxiety (also known as Hypochondria), these fears are overwhelming and can consume hours of the day. Commonly, someone with Health Anxiety will spend long periods of each day doing compulsive behaviors, in attempt to reduce their anxiety and find certainty that they are free of disease or illness.
Common Hypochondria Symptoms
- Excessive worry about health
- Fear that non-problematic physical symptoms are evidence of a larger, more fatal illness
- Excessive research (online and in books) to ensure they do or do not have an illness
- Recurring reassurance seeking with family members, friends and health professionals
- Recurring visits to doctors and health professionals about feared illness
- Seeking excessive “second opinions” by different health professionals about their symptoms or feared illness
- Checking body for presence of, or absence of feared illness
- Checking body for changes in physical symptoms
- Avoidance of triggers that may increase their fear of illness (such as avoidance of TV shows about the medical field, magazines, newspapers, etc.)
- Avoidance of those who have recently been sick (or perceived as being sick)
- Panic Attacks
The Cycle of Hypochondria
The cycle of Hypochondria demonstrates how the compulsive behaviors of someone with Hypochondria can actually increase their chances of experiencing significant anxiety.
Example #1: Constant checking for signs of illness will usually result in finding something that will create more anxiety. If you look at your body for long enough, you will evidently find a bump or a rash or a red mark.
Example #2: Constant visits to Doctors will increase your chances of hearing about “the worst case scenario,” and in turn, create significant degrees of anxiety. When anxiety increases, we are more likely to continue the cycle by doing MORE behaviors that will create future anxiety.
In some situations, reassurance from a medical professional may decrease ones anxiety. However, it is only a short period until the fears return and the person with Hypochondria has to do more compulsive behaviors to return them to baseline anxiety.
Hypochondria Treatment and Therapy: Cognitive Therapy and Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is commonly known to be one of the most successful treatment modalities for Health Anxiety. The treatment for Health Anxiety involves learning how to identify distorted thoughts and restructure them into a more reasonable and rational thought, commonly called Cognitive Therapy. Treatment also involves Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which is a component of Behavioral Therapy, used to help a client to desensitize to their feared stimuli. Using a hierarchy created by the client, the client will slowly expose themselves to their fear and learn mindfulness tools to manage their anxiety (Read more about Mindfulness here LINK) and other emotions that they experience, instead of doing compulsive behaviors.
If you have some or all of these symptoms and you feel like the above information describes you, see a qualified mental health professional for an assessment. Click here to contact Kimberley Quinlan, LMFT