Health anxiety isn’t a pleasant experience. Constantly worrying about your health and what might go wrong next can leave you constantly on edge and nervous about the future. If you have symptoms, you automatically conclude that you have the worst disease you could possibly have. So, how do you deal with health anxiety? Below are three suggestions.
Health anxiety is a real disorder
Today, health anxiety is a recognized medical condition. It’s a mental health problem where you compulsively think and worry about your health.
In mild cases, it is just an annoyance, but in severe episodes, it can significantly disrupt your life by putting a strain on relationships and damaging your work performance. Fortunately, there are several ways to fight back against health anxiety. Here’s what you need to know.
1. To deal with health anxiety, change your focus
At root, health anxiety is ruminating thoughts about your health. The more you focus on a particular body-related fear, the more mentally challenging it becomes.
The trick here is to change the focus of your attention. Instead of concentrating on physical sensations and fearing what they might mean, try to shift your mind to something else and trust that your body will take care of itself.
There are several ways to do this, and they’re all super simple. One option is to simply clean your room. Sort out of the mess, put it all away and then see how you feel.
Another is to potter around in the garden. Focus on turning your yard area into a welcoming and beautiful place. You can also try hiking, painting, or some other hobby that takes your mind off things.
If you continue focusing on the problem, you can often make it worse. Anxiety, for instance, changes the body’s biochemistry and can make it less able to deal with the challenges it faces.
Therefore, it doesn’t really matter what activity you choose, as long as you take your mind off the problem. Next, let’s talk about mindfulness.
2. Practice mindfulness
Another option (or something you might want to try simultaneously) is mindfulness. Research shows that it is particularly effective for people living with health anxiety.
There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, so just find one that works for you. One option is to listen to music.
Music bypasses the brain’s stress centers and, in many people, switches them off. You’ll notice that when you listen to music, you feel quite different from when you don’t.
Another option is to practice guided meditation. It can be helpful for people who’ve never meditated before as you have a guide. Instead of practicing by yourself, an instructor takes you through the process, explaining what to do and providing helpful cues along the way.
Guided meditations are available on the internet and in person. Choose the setting that works well for you.
Lastly, when you notice that health anxiety is taking over, perhaps because of fears about going to rehab, engage with your environment in a sensory manner. For instance, run through five things you can see, four things you can smell, three things you can taste, and so on.
This practice helps you focus your senses on the here and now. Instead of worrying so much about the future.
3. Don’t let worrying thoughts dominate your mind
Most people believe that their thoughts are their minds and that there’s no difference between them. However, you quickly discover this isn’t true when you start challenging them. (Who is the challenger?)
The truth is that a lot of ruminating thoughts are false. When you ruminate, your thoughts become a kind of perceived reality for you. Even if they aren’t true, you start believing them all the same.
For instance, if you think, “there’s something wrong with my bladder,” it can self-perpetuate. Eventually, you can believe that there is an issue, even if there is nothing wrong with it.
Challenging your thoughts can help you push back against them. Instead of immediately rushing to the worst-case conclusion, question whether it is valid. Are your health problems really as bad as they seem, or are you reading too much into how you feel?
If you struggle with the process of identifying and challenging negative thoughts about your health, work with a professional. A therapist can talk you through how to respond to them and give you tools and coping mechanisms to deal with them better.
Final words on dealing with health anxiety
Remember, health anxiety is similar to other anxiety disorders. Therefore, it tends to respond to similar types of treatment. If health worries are interfering with your life in any way, speak with a health professional about how to deal with them. Therapy can be very helpful and is nothing to be ashamed of.