Most of us have had an experience of feeling anxious about our health at some point, such as while waiting for test results. But for those suffering with health anxiety, it’s much more than that. It becomes a constant process of worrying, checking and re-checking for signs and symptoms of a serious illness such as cancer, often despite reassurance from a GP. This type of anxiety can often have its origins in the death or illness of a loved one (especially if this happens when the person is in childhood or adolescence), or after the person survives a genuine health scare. Often health anxiety is perpetuated by unrealistic underlying beliefs. An example of is, “all discomfort and bodily changes are a sign of serious illness.”
This leads to the person paying ever-closer attention to minor symptoms such as a skin blemish or a slight ache, and interpreting them catastrophically, leading to even more anxiety. In the post-Covid world this has taken on a new dimension, as we now treat all cold symptoms as if they could be Covid. However this is different from health anxiety, where someone with a sniffle may convince themselves that they will soon die from Covid.
In psychological therapy we try to help patients to examine their underlying faulty thinking, as well as to limit their checking and reassurance-seeking behaviours, which can maintain the cycle of anxiety.
A very useful self-help workbook and info sheets can be found here:
Clinical Team Leader, Seed Psychology