Most of us have concerns about staying healthy but fortunately we aren’t preoccupied to the extent it gets in the way of our everyday lives. Some people however worry a great deal about their health and no amount of reassurance seems to last for very long. In this Sharepost I’m looking at the signs of health anxiety, its causes and the ways in which health anxieties can affect people.
Health anxiety affects how people think, feel and behave. The most obvious symptoms are worrying about health when there is no medical reason and seeking reassurance from people around you that everything is fine. Some people with health anxiety spend a lot of time reading, listening to or watching programs about health and illness. Others may spend time examining their body, worrying about little bumps and bruises and noticing bodily sensations.
The sensations of health anxiety are pretty universal. Those affected feel worried, tense, tired and unwell, as well as woozy and detached. Feelings of dread may bubble up and the person feels unsettled and edgy. Thought processes involve worries that symptoms might not be taken seriously and that something may have been missed. There is often a feeling that something might be very wrong and that if this is ignored it will only get worse. The most common health concerns range from a general sense of being unwell through to thoughts of cancer, brain tumors, or the signs of a heart attack or stroke.
As worries build the anxious person will make repeat visits to their doctor, often with a new symptom they hope may finally shed some light on their condition. They will behave in ways that shows they feel ill and this isn’t difficult because the health anxious person their symptoms appear to support their illness. Physical sensations include headaches, sweating, dizziness, aches and pains, changes in breathing, tingling and muscular tension.
There is no one cause for health anxieties but we know it often becomes more extreme around times of high stress. For people who experience health anxiety most of the time we know there are a few things that seem to maintain the problem. There is an unusual focus on physical sensations so the more they focus the more heightened the sensation. This is often accompanied by mirror checking, prodding and squeezing of certain parts of the body. Unhelpful thoughts further underpin the problem, as they tend to be catastrophic in nature. A headache is seen as a symptom of a brain tumor, cancer or a stroke. Death or paralysis is bound to follow and the children will be left without a parent. Another habit that develops is the seeking of reassurance from others. It keeps symptoms in the mind and increases the chances of other people asking how they are feeling.
All these signs and symptoms probably say something about deep-rooted and possibly unrealistic beliefs relating to health, illness, vulnerability and negative thinking. In my next post I’ll be looking at some ways of coping with health anxiety.
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.