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Health Anxiety

Health Anxiety

Are Worries And Fears About Illness and Disease Taking Over Your Life?

Have you found yourself preoccupied with the concern that you or someone that you love have a serious illness? Do you schedule excessive appointments, tests, and procedures in order to try to achieve “certainty” about your health?

Maybe you are constantly checking your body for abnormalities, taking your temperature, or researching on Google and WebMD your symptoms and physical sensations. Or perhaps you are repeatedly turning to your family and friends, or doctors, for reassurance to try to decrease the fear and uncertainty that you have regarding your health.

Health Anxiety Disorder Can Develop For A Variety Of Reasons

Health anxiety disorder, (also called hypochondriasis or illness anxiety disorder) is a mental health condition in which one is preoccupied with the feeling that they have, or will get, a severe illness. That means you may feel anxious and fearful about your health in spite of a lack of symptoms or perhaps in the presence of mild somatic symptoms, such as increased heart rate or sweating. You might also experience fear despite the fact that a doctor has ruled out any medical issues.

On the other hand, you may develop health anxiety disorder due to an actual, verified medical condition because your concern is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by your medical status. For example, you might have a benign cyst, but you worry excessively about developing cancer, despite confirmation from your doctor that the growth is benign.

Fortunately, with help from a therapist, you can identify how anxiety about your health and safety behaviors are keeping you stuck and preventing you from enjoying your life. Then, with targeted treatment at the OCD & Anxiety Center, you can learn how to face your anxiety and fears, learning skills so you can take back control.

Sickness Happens, But Catastrophic Thinking Does Not Need to Control You

It is completely normal and common to have worries about your health or your loved one’s health. Harvard Medical School indicates that 4-5% of people suffer from health or illness anxiety. However, they acknowledge that this data is most likely underreported, suggesting that the percentage could be closer to 12% or 24%.*

Everyone will experience sickness, illness, and uncertainty with their health, but individuals with health anxiety disorder feel compelled to engage in behaviors meant to reduce their anxiety and uncertainty about their health. While these behaviors may provide relief for their anxiety in the short term, it only increases their anxiety in the long run. With support, an individual can learn how to manage and tolerate anxiety that comes up from their body symptoms.

Support Is Available

Uncertainty and unknowns with health are common and constant, but being unaware of how to maneuver this can be even more distressing. You may feel alone when these worries consume a large part of your day or take over your life.

An anxiety specialist can help you learn how to face the feelings of isolation health anxiety can create and the fears that other people will not understand your situation. Through therapy, you will be provided with education regarding the health anxiety cycle and skills that can help you to break that cycle.

Health Anxiety Treatment Can Help Prevent Uncertainty From Controlling Your Life

As many individuals with health anxiety, you may interpret benign bodily changes as signs of illness and are constantly checking your body for signs of disease. But this mental filter only contributes to and reinforces your health anxiety.

Neither avoidance nor excessive health care appointments can help you break the anxiety cycle. However, treatment can teach you to face your anxiety and the thoughts, body sensations, and uncertainties of health so that you have more time for pleasurable and desired activities.

What To Expect From Treatment Sessions

Our treatment sessions for health anxiety disorder are designed to teach you to tolerate uncertainty or fears about your body sensations, bodily changes, or medical results. Therapy sessions are systematic, individualized, and skill-based. You will learn about the anxiety cycle, what behaviors maintain your anxiety, and how to reduce these behaviors.

More specifically, your therapist will teach you about the role of your loved ones and providers in maintaining your health anxiety and may be asked to include them during treatment. For example, when your loved ones see you experiencing distress, they may oftentimes step in and try to help, offering words of reassurance. While this might be helpful at that moment, it only continues the cycle, requiring you to go back and get that same piece of reassurance or information again.

You will also learn how to identify unhealthy thoughts and how to adapt them. And, lastly, you will get the opportunity to practice facing your fears so that you can take back control of your life.

Health Anxiety Treatment Methods

At The OCD & Anxiety Center, we strive to provide the most evidence-based treatments possible. Exposure and Response Prevention therapy (ERP), a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, has been proven to be the most effective treatment for illness anxiety disorder.

Through ERP, your health anxiety specialist will create various types of exposures to help you get used to your fears, see your anxious thoughts as just thoughts, and allow your anxiety to subside. This may include, for example, reading medical articles, visiting doctor’s offices, talking about feared illnesses, or facing physical sensations without engaging in your safety behaviors. We can also help you create a plan to decrease checking Google, asking loved ones for reassurance, or visiting the doctor’s office excessively.

It may feel hard to imagine right now that you would learn to control your health anxiety. But with our support, you will discover that you can have scary thoughts, yet they do not need to control you.

Perhaps You Are Considering Health Anxiety Treatment But Still Have Some Concerns…

I am currently undergoing medical treatment. Can my doctor be involved?

Here at the OCD & Anxiety Center, we find it essential and beneficial to collaborate with anyone who is part of your treatment team. In fact, it is important for us to work alongside your doctor to assess what is a medical concern/symptom and what is your anxiety. Together, we can set clear guidelines and come up with a health care treatment plan that everyone can agree upon—specifying what is an emergency, what concerns warrant a scheduled appointment, and what thoughts, sensations, or symptoms can be labeled as anxiety.

My significant other/parent is an important part of my life but does not understand my anxiety. What role will they play?

We welcome the participation of parents, caregivers, significant others, etc. Additionally, we often see that loved ones need to get involved in order for our clients to achieve the desired progress. Your health anxiety specialist can provide education to you, as well as your loved ones, regarding how to best support you and not reinforce your anxiety.

Therapy is expensive. Is it worth the investment?

Treatment does require time and financial commitment. However, numerous medical appointments and tests due to your health anxiety can also lead to higher deductibles and monthly payments.

Health anxiety treatment will systematically help you to face your fears, decreasing the reliance on appointments and medical tests in the process. ERP is the most evidence-based treatment for health anxiety, and you can learn a lot and make a lot of progress in a short amount of time. While it might require a financial investment, therapy will save you a lot of money and time in the long run.

You Can Learn to Break Health Anxiety’s Control Over You

If anxiety regarding your health takes up so much of your time everyday that it is difficult for you to live the life you desire, treatment with The OCD & Anxiety Center can offer you the right tools to break the cycle. To address further concerns or schedule an appointment, please call us at (630) 522-3124 or email us at info@theocdandanxietycenter.com.

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