Health anxiety is a common term to describe a condition where someone becomes overly concerned about having a health issue with very little proof that they actually have a particular health condition. Health anxiety is not a mental health disorder but a phrase to describe mental health disorders related to irrational health concerns. There are two primary types of mental health disorders where a person has irrational health concerns.
The first type of health anxiety is called Somatic Symptom Disorder (SSD). SSD happens when someone experiences high anxiety and distress about physical bodily symptoms that they cannot explain. People with SSD often have a clean bill of health regarding their symptoms; however, they cannot help but catastrophize their symptoms when they have them.
The second primary type of health anxiety is called Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD). People with this disorder have a persistent fear of having a severe or life-threatening illness despite few or no symptoms.
The mental mistake we make:
The mental mistake we make regarding health anxiety is that we cannot tolerate the what-ifs and yeah buts of our health worries. When a person has concerns about possibly having a health issue, they are typically able to be reasonable about their fears if there is a lack of poor health history or no evidence that they have a particular health condition. However, they quickly start to become unraveled when they begin having secondary thoughts in the form of yeah but’s or what if I actually have a health condition. These types of secondary thoughts often cause people high anxiety because the possibility of having a health condition in the moment cannot easily be disproven.
The mistake we make with our behaviors:
The behavioral mistake we make with health anxiety is that we get consumed by our health-related yeah but’s and what if’s that we start engaging in chronic and destructive reassurance-seeking behaviors from trusted health sources like medical doctors or WebMD. When we seek chronic reassurance for our health concerns, the act of finding out we are ok or being told that we are ok gives us relief from our worries. Over time, we become addicted to needing to be reassured and experience difficulties in providing ourselves with reassurance.
Let’s Deal with Anxiety: Dealing with health anxiety in 4 steps:
If the yeah but’s or what if’s of your health concerned thoughts are too much to handle, it means that you need to practice being more flexible to these thoughts.
Try being flexible to your yeah but’s or what if thoughts by acknowledging that they could be either true or not true and that you do not have the ability to know at that moment.
It is perfectly ok and expected to get assessed by a medical doctor if you have health concerns. However, if you have been given a clean bill of health and still have an urge to get more reassurance, realize that this may be a sign that you have started to become addicted to needed health-related reassurance.
Instead of seeking chronic health-related reassurance for issues that you have been given a clean bill of health, try making peace with your concerns through a skill called “I Accept…However! The way it works is by telling yourself that you accept that you have health concerns…however, there is no proof that you have a health issue at this very moment. If you are confronted by a yeah but or what if, simply repeat the same accept & however phase to yourself.
Here to help:
If you or someone you know struggles with health anxiety, please consider anxiety treatment for yourself or share this blog with someone you know who may be struggling. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable conditions, yet many still go without treatment. If you would like to become a new client at The Anxiety Treatment Center of West Michigan, please use the link below to schedule a new client appointment. If you have questions about treatment, please feel free to call 269-359-1873 ext. 2 for questions.
New Client Appointment Link