Woman squeezes stress ball

With a pandemic sweeping the nation, it’s understandable that many people will experience some health anxiety. Here are some tips on how to recognize and cope with your own health anxiety.

Health Anxiety: What is it?

  • Anxiety about normal physical sensations, mild symptoms, or fear of having a certain disease.
  • Can occur in people without mental illness. More common in people with generalized anxiety, panic disorder.
  • Major feature of somatoform disorders (somatic symptom disorder and illness anxiety disorder, formerly
    hypochondriasis)

Health Anxiety: How to cope.

  • Practice mindfulness. Get better at noticing thoughts so you don’t get caught up in them.
  • Remind yourself: thoughts are thoughts, feelings are feelings, physical sensations are physical sensations. None of those are necessarily facts.
  • Exercise. Helps your mood and desensitizes you to physical sensations of anxiety.
  • Distract yourself. If you are thinking about something else, you aren’t worrying about your health.
  • Learn more about health anxiety and how others cope with it.
  • Avoid googling your symptoms.
  • Avoid asking for reassurance over and over.
  • Learning a lot about/fully understanding the illnesses you are scared of can help, but unless you can become a true expert, avoid it. Learning just a little can make the fear worse.
  • Know that you can never prove a negative when it comes to your health, so don’t try.
  • Don’t avoid or push the thoughts away. This gives them more weight.
  • Practice relaxation exercises.
  • Work on imaginary exposure exercises with your therapist or psychiatrist.
  • Medications, especially SSRIs and SNRIs, can be really helpful if symptoms are severe or don’t get better with these tips.

Hopefully you can pick and choose what’s best for you among these tips. As always, if you feel you need help or support, contact us or your PCP!

-Melissa Shepard, MD
Physician, Memory & Movement Charlotte

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