Every one of us experiences a variety of bodily sensations throughout the day. The difference between someone with health anxiety and someone without is the way these sensations are interpreted - which we explored in how to relieve your health anxiety. In this post I’m looking at some of the easily explained reasons for these sensations. Crucially, this points to differences between sensations and symptoms.
Disrupted routines are a common cause of bodily sensations. Anything from missing a meal to sleep disruptions can cause dizziness, headaches or aches and pains. All these sensations can be explained. In the example of skipping a meal, or perhaps not eating well, you may find your blood sugar levels fall. The effect of this can be increased heart rate, sweating and feeling faint. It is easily remedied by eating something. Lack of sleep can lead to dry eyes, headaches, and aches and pains. If you’ve had a liquid lunch (alcohol) it’s not uncommon to feel very drowsy afterwards. Standing up rapidly after sitting for long periods can make you feel unsteady and light headed, this is simply due to low blood pressure and it will correct itself.
This last point about inactivity can be extended further. As someone who is very anxious about their health you may have restricted your physical activity for fear of, say, a heart attack, or some other concerns. The danger is that you become more and more inactive which in turn may lead to worrying, but explainable, sensations. It only takes a short time for your body to react to inactivity. The less you do the more fatigued you feel. When you do move you may feel breathless and your heart rate may increase. All this combines with low energy and aches and pains (the back and neck being typical).
Minor ailments affect nearly all of us but for a person with health anxiety they signal some impending disaster. A headache may be a brain tumor, congestion in the chest due to a cold can be an imminent heart attack, and so on. Ailments are sometimes uncomfortable but ultimately harmless. The more anxious we feel the more likely it is that our bodies react to the anxiety. Therefore it is our perception and of these sensations that matters most.
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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.