Do you always find yourself worrying too much about your health? If yes, then chances are that you are suffering from health anxiety. It is normal to worry about your health once in a while. However, if your worries about getting ill are too much to the point where it affects your health and daily life, then that is a clear sign that you are suffering from health anxiety. Fortunately, health anxiety is not a permanent condition. In this article, we give you tips on how to break the cycle of health anxiety.
What is health anxiety?
Health anxiety is simply a mental health condition where you worry too much about your health to the point where it interferes with your day-to-day life and causes a lot of distress. People who are suffering from this mental disorder are usually obsessed with their health and often go to great lengths to learn more about their health, including making frequent trips to the doctor for checkups and reassurance. They get obsessed over mental and physical discomfort about a certain disease that they heard from other people and often research extensively, self-diagnose and sometimes even doubt their doctor’s judgment. Research shows that 1 in 20 people have at some point experienced health anxiety.
How to break the cycle of health anxiety
1. Stop overthinking about your health
One of the best ways to break the cycle of health anxiety is to stop overthinking about your health. You should not interpret normal body sensations as a health risk. For instance, when you get palpitations, you should not interpret it as an impending heart attack. If you worry too much about normal body sensations, the symptom may worsen and even start mimicking the condition that you are worried about. If you overthink so much about your health, even normal things that don’t pose any health risk could affect you negatively. Learn to tolerate the sensations that your body experiences without worrying too much or seeking reassurance.
2. Change your focus of attention
Another way to break the cycle of health anxiety is by changing your focus of attention. Most people who suffer from health anxiety tend to focus more on a particular function or part of their body. For instance, you could be paying so much attention to your heartbeat. When you pay so much attention to a certain part of your body, then any change, including those that are not alarming could trigger anxiety.
If you feel that you focus too much on a particular function or part of your body try to redirect that thought to something more constructive. For instance, if you are undertaking a project, you could redirect your thoughts on that particular project instead of worrying too much about your body. You can also engage in activities that you love doing like playing your favorite sport. Regardless of what you choose, make sure it distracts you from thinking too much about your body.
3. Stop seeking reassurance
Seeking reassurance is a common behavior that people who suffer from social anxiety have. Seeking reassurance will not help to solve the problem. In fact, it will make it worse. Reassurance from family members, doctors, or online search will only provide temporary relief. People who suffer from social anxiety are often too doubtful and sometimes don’t even believe what their doctors tell them. For example, if your doctor conducts some tests and assures you that you are okay when you go back home, you may start wondering if the test was done correctly or whether the doctor is hiding something from you. The best way to avoid all these is to stop seeking reassurance.
4. Challenge your worrying thoughts
The reason why you are suffering from social anxiety is that you worry too much about your health. Remember that what you think about your health does not necessarily mean that it is true. Thoughts are just thoughts, they are not facts and you have the right to challenge them.
If you believe too much in your thoughts, with time you will tend to think that they are facts. For instance, if you believe that an increased heart rate means that you have a heart problem, with time you will believe that you have a serious heart condition that will eventually kill you. When you worry too much about your health, you will eventually believe that you are indeed sick even if it is just your imagination.
Cognitive defusion encourages people to challenge their negative thoughts. For instance, instead of thinking that you have a serious heart condition because your heart rate has increased, tell yourself that your heart rate has increased because you feel a little bit excited or because you have increased your walking pace.
5. Practice mindfulness
Another way to overcome the cycle of health anxiety is by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to the practice of paying attention to your surroundings, your actions, and your thoughts in a purposeful way. While most people associate mindfulness with medication, it has become a very useful tool in therapy. In fact, studies have shown that mindfulness is very effective in breaking the cycle of health anxiety. Practicing mindfulness involves deep breathing, body relaxation, guided meditations, exercise listening to music, and much more to help get rid of stress and anxiety. If done right, mindfulness will enhance positive thinking and eventually break the cycle of health anxiety.
6. Seek treatment for health anxiety
If all the methods listed above fail to work, then you should seek treatment for health anxiety. Start by calling your doctor. Although your doctor may not be an expert in the field of mental health, he/she will connect you with a mental expert who will provide the necessary treatment. The recommended treatments for health anxiety are Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These two therapies will teach you how to overcome negative thoughts about your health without seeking reassurance. The physician may also recommend mindfulness-based cognitive therapy to help you learn how to control your body sensations, thoughts, and emotions.