People with health anxiety are preoccupied with unhelpful thoughts about bodily symptoms and they will often seek out medical information that appears to confirm their worst fears. In a previous Sharepost I outlined some of the common signs and symptoms of health anxiety whereas the focus of this post it to consider some ways of coping.
There are some very good reasons to curb concerns over health. Just think of the time you may already have spent fretting over health matters. Any kind of attention given to some sensation or action tends to exaggerate it. The same is true of pain and even skills that seem very familiar. Ever watched a professional golfer miss a hole they were just inches away from? It’s partly a problem of over-thinking and of being over-concerned.
So far as health is concerned one place to start is to keep a record (nothing fancy, just a piece of paper) of how many times in a day you seek reassurance. If you do this over a few days you’ll have a measure of the problem and something to compare to when you take action. The action is very simple. All you need to do is make a conscious effort to reduce the number of times you seek reassurance. You’ll find that this may increase your anxiety in the short term but will actually reduce it over the longer term.
Distraction is a very good technique. People tend to worry more when their mind is occupied on other things. The busier you are the greater relief you will experience.
Body checks, such as prodding, squeezing, or looking in the mirror are very common. If this sounds familiar adopt a similar strategy of counting the number of times you self-check and then make a concerted effort to reduce that number.
The biggest problem is finding ways to stop worrying. You can’t stay busy all the time but you can try to stop the things that fuel your concerns. Stop reading medical stories, watching them on television, listening about them on the radio or searching for things on the internet. Ask your family and friends to support you. Try to replace health worrying thoughts with more balanced thoughts. It won’t change overnight, but when a worry comes into your head make an effort to counter it with an alternative
Now consider all the things you’ve been avoiding because of worries about health. Reintroduce yourself to them - one at a time if it helps, or make a plan to remind yourself of the things you’ve been avoiding and then list them in the order you’d like to pick up on them.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.