Do you worry about having or developing a serious illness?
Do you find yourself scanning your body and fixating on particular bodily symptoms?
Many wonder what Health Anxiety actually is. You may find yourself regularly checking your body for signs of illness. e.g. checking for changes in a rash or the size and colour of moles or feeling for lumps.
Do you seek reassurance from friends, family and medical professionals regarding your health concerns? Perhaps you experience a temporary reduction in your anxiety when you receive negative test results; however, doubt then creeps back in. What if something was missed?
Have you been consulting “Dr. Google”, frequently looking up symptoms and potential illnesses?
Do you avoid medical appointments, tests or other health-related information (e.g. in the media) due to your fear that you will be diagnosed with a serious illness, or your anxiety reminds you of health-related concerns?
If this description is you, it is likely that you have Health Anxiety.
You may be reading this thinking that your physical symptoms are real, and this we do not debate! It can be frustrating to repeatedly receive negative test results or have medical professionals, family and friends tell you that there is nothing wrong with you; yet you continue to experience distressing symptoms and fears of having the onset of a serious illness. You likely worry that something has been missed in your repeated checking of your body, or in the medical tests. Perhaps you have developed something since last tested, leading to further checking and reassurance-seeking. It’s a vicious cycle!
To alleviate your fears around your symptoms that you experience, it is important to understand that your body is naturally “noisy”. That is, that the body naturally has fluctuations, such as your heart rate, in order to maintain a relatively constant, stable internal environment. The “noise” is the sensations that we feel. These sensations are normal, and they show that the body is functioning correctly. It would be more concerning to not have such “noise”.
Clinical Psychologist Chantelle Martyn shares as exercise to assist you with your Health Anxiety –
Focus on your foot for one minute and make a mental note of what you notice in your foot. What sensations did you notice (e.g. tingling)? Were you aware of these sensations prior to you focusing on your foot? As the time passed, did the sensations become more noticeable or intense?
What we generally find is that when you focus on a particular part of your body you become aware of sensations you would ordinarily not notice. The more you focus on the sensations, the more intense they become and potentially, the more concerned you become about what you are experiencing. This then makes you want to focus on the sensations more! Another vicious cycle! The way in which you are paying attention to your body is likely contributing to you noticing and experiencing anxiety regarding various symptoms.
Tips for the future –
- Practice redirecting your attention.
- Try to reduce or stop reassurance-seeking and checking behaviours.
- If you feel that you MUST consult “Dr. Google” be careful about the sources of information you turn to. Remember, the media will likely report on rare diseases, cases of misdiagnosis and incurable or fatal conditions in order to “sell” their stories. We need to seek factual and reliable information, so look to consult the websites of reputable health organisations (e.g. hospital, government or university websites) and consider if a qualified health professional wrote the article (e.g. a GP).
Many who suffer with Health Anxiety are reluctant to seek mental health assistance as they believe their condition is medically based. However, a mental health professional can give you the strategies and support you need to effectively gain control so that you are less attentive to distressing bodily sensations or fearful of what they mean for your health. Chantelle Martyn is an expert in treating Health Anxiety, and she will work together with you to regain lost time spent Googling symptoms and diseases and checking your body for signs and symptoms of illness.
How would it feel to refocus on what is most important to you? Contact Chantelle today.
Written by Chantelle Martyn – Clinical Psychologist – www.creatingchange.net.au