What is Health Anxiety?
Health Anxiety refers to excessive worries about one’s own health. In the past, this was called Hypochondriasis. Since 2013, the American Psychiatric Association has distinguished between preoccupation with actual physical symptoms, i.e., Somatic Symptom Disorder vs. preoccupation with illness when mild or no physical symptoms are present, i.e., Illness Anxiety Disorder.
What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?
Somatic Symptom Disorder involves the presence of:
- One or more physical symptoms (such as pain or fatigue) that the person finds distressing and disruptive of daily life
- Excessive thoughts, feelings, or behaviours, about symptoms or illness, such as:
- Excessive worrying about the seriousness of the symptoms
- High levels of anxiety about the symptoms
- Excessive time and energy devoted to the symptoms (e.g., repeated doctors’ visits, avoiding physical activity)
What is Illness Anxiety Disorder?
Illness Anxiety involves:
Constant worrying that one has or will develop a serious illness
The worrying is present even without physical symptoms, or from minimal symptoms
When a risk for illness is high (eg strong family history) the worrying is excessive or disproportionate
Excessive health-related behaviours are present such as checking (scanning the body for signs of illness, repeated reassurance seeking) or avoidance (avoiding doctors and hospitals)
Health Anxiety Treatment can help you to:
- Manage troubling/obsessive thoughts related to illness or physical sensations
- Reduce time spent dwelling on physical symptoms, e.g., excessive reassurance-seeking, body scanning, or medical visits
- Reduce non-productive avoidance behaviours, such as avoidance of medical care or physical activity
- Put aside worrying, so that you can spend more time doing activities that matter to you
Why is Health Anxiety Treatment Important?
While caring about your health is important, excessive preoccupation with health can deteriorate your quality of life, impacting not only your anxiety levels but also your relationships with others. Treatment can help you to make more balanced decisions about your health, so that you can prioritise your overall well being, as well as other important aspects of your life. By reducing your stress, you can increase your overall health.