Health Anxiety (otherwise known as Hypochondriasis) is an anxiety disorder that is often housed within the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum. Sufferers of health anxiety have an obsessional preoccupation with the idea or the thought that they are currently or will be experiencing a physical illness. Famous sufferers of health anxiety include Adolf Hitler, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Andy Warhol.
Unfortunately, hypochondriacs have a reputation as being time wasters or fakers. As with all types of anxiety disorders, sufferers are sometimes embarrassed to admit they are in need of help. But mental health is not something to be ashamed of, and it can usually be treated if people are just brave enough to reach out. As a sufferer of health anxiety myself, I wanted to share some tips with you that have helped me cope with my symptoms.
When you are feeling anxious, exercising may be the last thing on your mind. But research on anxiety and exercise shows that the psychological and physical benefits of exercise can help improve your mood. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine.
Emotionally, exercise can help you gain confidence, take your mind off intrusive negative thoughts, and most importantly help you cope in a productive and healthy way. Exercise also keeps you at a healthy weight, thereby reducing your risk of a number of conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. My health anxiety is always less intense when I am doing regular activity.
Eating a healthy diet could also improve your symptoms of health anxiety. One of the main reasons sufferers fear getting ill is because it’s not something they can control. But many studies have shown that eating a healthy diet rich in fruit and veg will actually reduce your risk of developing diseases like cancer. A balanced diet is very important to the immune system, helping to ensure that the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients necessary to its efficient function are available. A healthy immune system means a healthy body, and a healthy mind.
Cutting back on alcohol
People with health anxiety often find that alcohol provides temporary relief from their intrusive thoughts, because alcohol depresses the central nervous system and causes a sense of euphoria.
But alcohol actually affects the chemistry of the brain. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, panic attacks, agitation and elevated blood pressure and heart rate, all of which heighten the symptoms of health anxiety. In addition, alcohol has been proven to increase your risk of cancer. If you have an anxiety disorder and are abusing alcohol, you should talk to your doctor.
If you are finding it hard to cope with health anxiety, your doctor may be able to refer you to a counsellor or a therapist for treatment. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a short-term psychological treatment which has proved successful with health anxiety in the past. CBT helps to challenge negative thoughts, feelings and behaviour, like those experienced with hypochondriasis.
There is now a strong evidence base suggesting that CBT is an effective treatment for persistent health anxiety. It is certainly the best method I have found so far. Talk to your doctor to see if it could work for you, or see if you could be covered for private therapy on your health insurance policy.
When you are in the midst of a severe health worry, it can be easy to spiral into a panic attack. Relaxation techniques can help you take control of your breathing and stop the attack in its stride. Yoga is a popular technique for calming the mind through a combination of breathing and physical poses. The regular practice of yoga is supposed to lead to greater internal sensitivity. This gives students the ability to recognise an anxiety attack, and respond accordingly.
There are a number of medicines that can be used to treat anxiety disorders, which may or may not be right for sufferers of health anxiety. Benzodiazepines are used for the short-term relief of severe anxiety, but they aren’t prescribed for long term use because of addition risk. Antidepressants can be used to help the symptoms of chronic anxiety. However, you should always ask your doctor for advice on alternative treatments first, because medicine will only help with the physical symptoms and not with the psychological symptoms of health anxiety.
If you suffer from health anxiety, don’t keep it to yourself. See your doctor and explain that you are having problems, and he or she will be able to advise you on the best course of action. Health anxiety is a real condition, not something to be ashamed of.
About the Author:
Jamie writes on health for a health insurance comparison website.