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Health Anxiety – Is It All in Your Head?

Every once in a while, we all experience bodily sensations that may seem like symptoms to us. With poor health and disease getting so much cover in the media right now, it’s difficult not to be a bit more aware of our own health.

But if the state of your health is always on your mind, it may be an indication of health anxiety.

Signs to look out for:

  • You often worry about your health.

  • You visit your doctor a lot, despite reassurances that nothing is wrong. You might change doctors to get another’s opinion and constantly request more tests.

  • You’re terrified of becoming sick or ill.

  • You become highly distressed when you see serious illness in the news, movies or hear about it from friends and family.

  • You’re always researching your symptoms.

  • You experience a lot of distress when you notice bodily sensations.

  • You overthink your bodily sensations and the worst-case-scenario usually seems highly probable to you.

  • You’re anxiously trying to minimise any risk of getting sick/ill. You may avoid hospitals,overly clean your living environment and obsess over what you eat.

Does this sound like you? If so, don’t fret. Here’s a list of things you can do to help you

manage your anxiety:

Reassure yourself.

  • Learn more about how the body works. Understanding where all the noise is coming from within your body can reassure you that everything is working as it should.

  • Understand that everyone experiences bodily sensations, even people who are perfectly healthy. Our bodies are active and noisy machines that work day and night and are easily affected by changes in our lifestyles.

In It’s Not All in Your Head (2005), Drs. Asmundson and Taylor state that the most likely

cause of your ‘symptoms’ are changes in diet, activity levels and sleep, as well as minor

(harmless) alignments and stress.

  • Know that your perception might be biased. If you have health anxiety, you likely monitor your body and regularly check for any sensations. People with health anxiety tend to report and notice more sensations than others – as they’re actively looking for them and paying more attention to their bodies. It doesn’t mean they experience more sensations; it just means that they notice them more.

  • Make a note of your worries. One exercise suggested by Drs. Asmundson and Taylor is to make a list of all the health-related worries you may have as they arise. For each, make a list of evidence in support for your concern and a list of evidence against it. Most often than not, seeing your lists compared on a piece of paper in front of you will help you see that there is nothing to worry about.

Learn how to relax.

Stress likely makes your symptoms worse. As Drs. Asmundson and Taylor state;

Anxiety is associated with many bodily changes and sensations, including shortness of

breath, pounding or racing heart, chest tightness, muscle tension, fatigue, dizziness,

stomach upset (for example, nausea, bloating), diarrhea, flushing or hot flashes, and

trembling or shakiness.

If you struggle with health anxiety you might experience more IBS-like symptoms, such as

bloating, gas, indigestion, discomfort, diarrhea and even pale stools. Stress activates the fight or flight response in our bodies and makes food travel faster through the digestive tract.

Learning how to put yourself in a space of relaxation is the most powerful tool in helping you

deal with increased levels of stress and anxiety. Here’s a list of activities to help you unwind:

  • Soothe yourself. Catch yourself whenever you’re having anxious thoughts about your health. Close your eyes, put your hand on your belly and take a few deep breaths.

  • Create a happy place for yourself. Close your eyes and imagine a scene where you feel most at peace. It can be your favourite place like a coffeehouse you love or a meadow, an imagined place like floating gently on the softest cloud or an image from your past like having the arms of a loved one wrapped around you. Include all your senses in this experience – focus on what you can see, hear, touch, smell and taste. This is your happy place. Come back to it each time you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • Stop holding onto tension. We often don’t realise that we’re holding onto physical tension in our bodies. Scan your body – are you clenching your jaw or teeth or tensing your chest or abdomen? Take a deep breath and let go of the tension. Soften your gaze and let your shoulders drop.

The journey to healing your health anxiety can be full of ups and down, progress and setbacks. Try to determine where your health anxiety might be coming from and allow yourself plenty of

time to heal.

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