Do you tend to worry about your health and find it has a negative impact on you, your family life, or your work?
If you do have a medical condition you may be more focused on your health for obvious reasons.
However, at times the focus on health concerns can develop into a more problematic health anxiety.
Health anxiety often develops for good reasons, whether you have an existing illness or not. Some reasons may be:
- Having a serious illness as a child;
- Having a close family member or friend with a serious illness;
- The death of a close relative/friend;
- Being affected by an anxiety disorder;
- Having a belief that being “healthy” means that you do not experience any physical symptoms or sensations;
- Having close family members who themselves have health anxiety.
Signs of Health Anxiety
To gain a better understanding of Health Anxiety, we can start by looking at the signs and symptoms:
- Preoccupation with the thought that you may be currently, or will be, experiencing a physical illness;
- Being convinced that physical symptoms are indicators of serious disease or severe medical conditions;
- Scanning and checking the body for signs that you are developing a physical illness;
- Actively seeking tests and diagnoses, including seeking second and third opinions even when tests are clear;
- Carrying out constant self-examination and self-diagnosis;
- Disbelief over a diagnosis from a doctor, or being unconvinced by your doctor’s reassurances that you are fine;
- Constantly needing reassurance from doctors, family and friends that you are fine, even if you don’t really believe what you are being told.
Anxiety itself produces physical symptoms, which may in turn be interpreted as signs of physical illness. This may lead to repeated checking and reassurance-seeking.
Trying to figure out which symptoms are physical and which are due to worry can be confusing and overwhelming. It can also lead to others suggesting it is “all in your mind”. There is often a good reason why you have all these feelings and sensations, and you can benefit from therapy regardless of the origin of the symptoms.
Whether or not your symptoms are related to a known medical condition, the way you respond to your symptoms is important to how you handle your particular situation. Learning new skills and knowledge to support your health will help reduce your anxiety.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) currently has the largest amount of research carried out on its effectiveness. It should help you to:
- Adjust to physical symptoms;
- Reduce anxiety symptoms;
- Learn what seems to make the symptoms worse;
- Develop methods of coping with the symptoms;
- Keep yourself more active and optimise health and wellbeing, even if you still have symptoms.
Some people may benefit more from a different psychological therapy such as trauma-focused CBT, or supportive therapies including Emotional Freedom Technique to assist in the reduction of emotional distress associated with traumatic health experiences. Interventions are based on best available evidence, integrated with individual client characteristics, culture and preferences.
After correct diagnosis by a psychologist or psychiatrist, treatment for health anxiety can be tailored to your needs. If you have any acute or worrying symptoms you should consult your doctor to ensure you have any necessary medical treatment before seeking help for health anxiety.
Author: Mia Olsson, BA Psych (Hons), Dip Nurs, AMAPS.
Registered Psychologist Mia Olsson has had a broad interdisciplinary role in the health industry for over thirty years, including hospital-based nurse training, and an Honours Degree majoring in Psychology. She enjoys assisting clients with depressive disorders, anxiety, acute and chronic complex trauma, and health related issues.
Please note: Mia only consults under private health. If you have a Mental Health Care Plan please talk to the clinic about a seeing a psychologist who works under Medicare.
To make an appointment with Psychologist Mia Olsson, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Anderson, R., Saulsman, L., & Nathan, P. (2011). Helping Health Anxiety. Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions.
- Australian Psychological Society. (2010). Evidence-based Psychological Interventions in the Treatment of Mental Disorders (3rd ed.).
- Willson, D. V., & Veale, D. (2009). Overcoming Health Anxiety.
The information on this topic page is NOT a substitute for proper diagnosis, treatment or the provision of advice by an appropriate health professional.