The not-so-imaginary invalid: What is health anxiety?
A little tingling in our cheek, an anomalous heartbeat, maybe slightly faster than usual, a pain in our back that doesn't seem to leave, a particular ache in a muscle… and, in a blink of an eye, we are immediately alerted, fully focused on our bodily signals scanning any potential change.
So many worries come to our mind: What is this? Am I having a heart attack? Is this cancer? Or maybe an aneurysm? All raised by a tremendous amount of anxiety.
If it happened to you, how would you behave?
It would be quite normal to gather information from books or the Internet about signs and symptoms of the disease you think you may have and very probably you will urgently book an appointment with your GP asking them to run several medical tests.
But, what happens to some of us is that books and the Internet will provide much information and many negative scenarios that will scare us even more, and very likely we may focus only on the information that confirms our worries. Moreover, even if test results will show that nothing is wrong with our body, we will feel reassured only for a short period of time, until the next strange body signal appears, which will prompt us to request other specialist exams. And so on…
What is happening?
What was once a normal and understandable way to react to possible abnormal symptoms has become a pervasive and exaggerated way of dealing with our body, which creates intense distress in the person experiencing it and hence several negative consequences and limitations to their everyday life.
This is the so-called hypochondria or health anxiety, a distressful condition where a person’s beliefs and worries are often considered by others as imaginary or fake, making the person feel even more misunderstood and lonely.
On the contrary, health anxiety is a real problem, the person’s symptoms are real and the worries are extremely distressful.
The good news is that health anxiety can be treated and cognitive behavioural psychotherapy is the most recommended form of therapy in these instances. CBT can indeed help you in acknowledging and changing the cognitive misinterpretations that maintain the problem and in finding new coping mechanisms to better deal with anxiety.
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About Ilaria Tedeschi
Ilaria Tedeschi is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist in Marylebone, London, with several years of experience working with depressive, anxiety, sleep and relational problems.… Read more
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