Over the next few posts I’m going to offer a structured method for changing the ways you think about your health. The first step in any self-help program is preparation, so this is my focus.
You may already know that various things contribute to your anxieties about health. You’ll know, or others will have pointed out, that your frequent checking for signs and symptoms of illness is accompanied by reassurance seeking and avoidance of situations that you believe may be harmful. Self-help involves challenging these thinking patterns as well as the behaviors that trap you in a cycle of health anxiety. Depending upon the severity of your situation you may find that self-help isn’t enough. All self-help strategies rely on a good degree of openness to ideas and the motivation to carry out suggestions. This is a tough call and sometimes it’s simply better to work with a therapist who can guide your actions, offer feedback and answer questions. However, if you’re prepared to try self-help you may find this course of posts helpful.
If you’re reading this there is a good chance your health anxiety has reached a point where it’s interfering with your life. This won’t be an overnight fix so to overcome the problem you must be prepared to dedicate time, a matter of weeks perhaps, and then some. I’ll be asking you to undertake courses of action you’d rather not do and you may feel uncomfortable and anxious doing them. These are the costs associated with getting out of the fix you’re in. But there are many benefits to be had.
All those things you’ve been blocking and avoiding will, hopefully, dissipate. The discomfort you’ve been experiencing should lessen greatly. Anxiety is a part of life, however, so there’s often no getting rid of it entirely. What we can do is reduce it’s worst effects and in so doing replace it with self-confidence and self-esteem. Before you embark on this journey you’ll need to weigh up the costs and benefits as you see them. This doesn’t need to be an exercise you do alone, especially the benefits part, but you are the best judge of your situation, so this is your starting point. Get a sheet of paper. One on side put the heading as ‘costs’ and the other ‘benefits’ – and off you go.
The next step is to examine how perceptions and unhelpful thinking styles contribute to health anxiety as well as worrying bodily sensations.
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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.