What You Should Know about Health Anxiety in Middle Age

Health anxiety- sometimes known as hypochondriasis- refers to excessive anxiety about your medical health.

Health anxiety symptoms can occur at any time, but research shows that the onset typically occurs in early or middle adulthood. It can worsen with age, and it may be exacerbated if you or your loved ones have experienced concerning illnesses like cancer or dementia.

What Is Health Anxiety?

Most everyone experiences health worries from time to time. Nobody likes waiting for test results or experiencing strange physical symptoms. Sometimes, someone else’s unexpected serious illness or death makes those fears feel even more prominent.

Health anxiety, which is officially known as illness anxiety disorder, have persistent fears of life-threatening illness. This fear exists regardless of having symptoms or not.

Some people cope with this fear by making frequent visits to the doctor and seeking medical tests they may or may not actually need. If they don’t get the answers they’re looking for, they may turn to alternative healthcare providers.

Others might gravitate toward the other end of spectrum. They avoid the doctor because they fear it will confirm they actually do have a serious illness. Or, they assume that nobody will take their symptoms seriously.

If someone has somatic symptom disorder, they also worry about their health and fear having a severe illness. But unlike with illness anxiety disorder, they have physical symptoms, even though the medical tests can’t identify the reason for them.

Some of the other symptoms of health anxiety include:

  • isolation from certain places or people due to fear of getting sick
  • excessively researching different diseases/conditions
  • obsessive tendencies over body sensations or normal body functions
  • repeatedly self-checking for problematic symptoms (measuring your blood sugar, taking your temperature)
  • seeking reassurance that you are healthy from healthcare professionals and loved ones

What Causes Health Anxiety?

Like any mental health condition, there isn’t a single cause of health anxiety. Instead, a combination of potential risk factors may increase your chance of developing symptoms. If you generally struggle with high levels of anxiety, you may be more prone to experiencing concerns about your health.

Other risk factors include:

  • enduring a stressful life event (that may or may not be related to your health)
  • having symptoms that closely mimicked a serious illness
  • history of childhood illness and/or trauma surrounding doctors
  • having a parent or loved one with a severe illness
  • having past or current chronic pain
  • experiencing a co-ocurring mental health disorder like anxiety or depression

Some researchers also suggest that the Internet has likely exacerbated cases of health anxiety. Most everyone knows the experience of Googling their symptoms and reading about the worst-case scenarios.

While nothing is wrong with educating yourself, people with anxiety may be more prone to seeking confirmation bias. In other words, if someone assumes they are sick, they will find the data to confirm that theory, even if it isn’t true.

How Can You Cope If You’re Experiencing Health Anxiety?

It can be difficult to manage health-related anxiety. On the one hand, you may logically recognize your worries as irrational or excessive. But, on the other hand, you can’t help how you feel, and it’s important to be proactive about your health.

Ultimately, striking a balance is an important goal. Here are some ways to manage your struggles in daily life:

Be Mindful of Body Sensations

People with health anxiety fear that normal body sensations automatically indicate that they have a specific illness. An ordinary headache is synonymous with having a brain tumor.

But no matter what’s most concerning to you, remember that even minor symptoms of discomfort are normal. Implementing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, can help. Many people find that prioritizing stress management helps stabilize their extreme anxiety.

Try to Stop Self-Diagnosing

Paradoxically, seeking reassurance or checking symptoms online can actually make anxiety worse. At times, the Internet can be helpful, but it stops being productive when it perpetuates a constant fear that you have a serious disease.

Instead, trust that you don’t necessarily know everything when it comes to your health status. Talk to your primary care doctor about your anxiety, get a comprehensive physical exam, and consult with them about which of your symptoms do (and don’t) need further addressing.

Reframe Unhelpful, Negative Thoughts

Treating health anxiety often means gently reframing your worry. For example, if you automatically assume you have a serious medical condition, don’t just take your assumption at face-value.

You can challenge anxiety by asking yourself:

  • What would I tell a friend if they were worried about these physical sensations?
  • What is the worst-case scenario, and what is the best-case scenario?
  • What evidence do I have that supports having a serious illness?
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of believing I have this illness?
  • Am I basing this assumption on facts, feelings, or both?

Final Thoughts

Living with anxiety can be challenging, and if left untreated, the emotional and physical symptoms can seriously impact your overall functioning. If your anxiety has worsened or has impaired your daily routine, it may be time to seek professional support.

Anxiety disorders aren’t curable, but therapy can help you cope with your symptoms and reduce their intensity. I am here to support your concerns and provide you with the tools you need to manage your anxiety. Contact me today to get started.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

(512) 988-3363

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