What is health anxiety?
Unlike generalized anxiety disorder, it is characterized by an obsession with your health, so much so that clinicians often see it as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People who suffer from health anxiety often worry about bigger health problems such as heart attacks, chronic or terminal illnesses and degenerative diseases. The constant worry has them googling their perceived symptoms, checking with doctors to run tests, and/or constantly checking their symptoms to prove their assumptions. Additionally, anxiety dramatically increases when a health anxiety sufferer gets sick even if it’s just allergies, a cold or a stomach bug and this was prior to Covid. Post Covid-19 and the pandemic, this type of anxiety has dramatically increased. It has people not only worried about a cough or a sneeze but worried about their overall health and the health of their loved ones.
The deaths related to Covid-19, side effects of long haul Covid and the isolation of the pandemic has had a traumatic effect on many people. There is still so much uncertainty about Covid, the vaccine and the effects of both that people have become hyper-vigilant about monitoring what’s going on with their bodies as a way to protect themselves. They might develop rituals like frequently washing their hands, checking their temperatures, checking their bodies for rashes, and checking their pulse or heart rate in an attempt to decrease any uncertainty. The problem is there is no way to be absolutely certain about our health, even prior to Covid and the constant checking, rituals and worry only reinforces the worry itself. It’s a vicious cycle that can be hard to get out of without effective treatment.
What causes health anxiety?
There are no known causes of health anxiety, but there are risk factors. One risk factor is being highly sensitive and acutely aware of what’s going on in your body, noticing every blip, twinge and anything remotely uncomfortable. The problem, however, isn’t the noticing. It’s the interpretation of what we notice as something dangerous when really it’s just normal. Another risk factor is a prior health complication or scare for yourself or a loved one. And finally, Covid-19, the vaccine and the side effects of both are other risk factors.
You’re not alone!
Covid-19 and the pandemic have triggered a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide and this includes health anxiety, so you are definitely not alone. Many are trying to figure out ways to better manage it and the good news is that just like most anxiety disorders, it’s 100% treatable. The first step is actually seeking medical attention from your physician if you’re worried about specific symptoms. If your physician rules out everything, the next step is to seek mental health support.