What is health anxiety?

Find out the facts & what to do to help stop your health worries taking over

In small doses, worrying about our health can be a positive reminder to make healthy lifestyle choices, like to give up smoking, eat a balanced diet and exercise more. For some people though, worrying about their health is hard to control and can affect their day-to-day lives.

We’re all dealing with coronavirus updates right now. The constant breaking news may be hard for us to take in. Those living with an anxiety disorder will probably be finding it really tricky. Anxiety is a feeling that everyone experiences at some point in their lives and comes in lots of shapes and sizes. It’s the body’s normal, natural way to cope with stress or danger. But for some, feeling worried, out of control and fearful is a feeling that never goes away.


Could I have health anxiety?

Let’s set something straight. It's normal to have times in your life where you may be worried about your health. Let’s say you have stomach pains, you may worry that it could be a sign of something serious. Maybe you’ve had an illness in the past, which explains why you’re feeling a little anxious before an upcoming routine check-up. Being concerned about your health though, is not the same as having health anxiety.

Health anxiety is a type of anxiety where someone spends a lot of time worrying they’re ill or that they’re going to get ill, even when they have no symptoms. So much so that it takes over their life. It’s common for those with health anxiety to:

• Always worry about their health

• Keep checking their body for signs of illness, such as lumps or pain

• Keep asking people to tell them they’re not ill

• Worry that their GP may have missed something

• Keep looking at health information on the internet or in the media

As anxiety itself can cause physical symptoms like headaches or a racing heartbeat, people with health anxiety may mistake these for signs of serious illness.


What can I do at home to help my health anxiety?

Whether you're someone who has experienced health anxiety for a while, or if these are new feelings for you, it's important to find ways to help you when you’re feeling anxious.

Find distractions

Write down how often you check your body every day and try to slowly reduce this number over time. Find ways to distract yourself when you get these urges. Train your brain to replace your usual reactions with more positive ones. Maybe walk round your garden, text or call a friend, take an online quiz or try reading a book. Learning to breathe more deeply with relaxing breathing exercises can also help to calm your mind. You can find lots of different guided breathing exercises on the Headspace app.


Limit your health news intake

Being concerned about the news is OK, but for many people it can make existing mental health symptoms, like anxiety, worse. Especially at the minute with the constant health news updates about the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, we all want to keep up-to-date, but try having a news detox, or set yourself a time limit for catching up on the latest events. Be careful about what you’re reading and who it’s written by.


Challenge your thoughts

It’s super important to remember thoughts are not facts. They’re just thoughts and we don't have to believe everything we think. A lot of anxiety is caused by worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen. Those experiencing health anxiety may often feel like their worries and concerns are out of their control, and there’s nothing they can do to change the situation they’re in.

Instead of letting your worries take over. Challenge them. Try drawing a table with two columns. Write your health worries in the first and then in the second think about more balanced thoughts. For example in the first column you may write about how you’re worried about a headache you’ve got. In the second you could write down how you know that headaches can often be a sign of stress and anxiety.


Where can I get support if I’m worried about my mental health?

If your health concerns are stopping you from leading a normal life, or you’re worried about new symptoms you have, always speak to your GP. No matter how you’re feeling, there’s help and treatment to help you feel better again. There are also support groups available, including Anxiety UK and Mind, which provide help and advice for anyone who’s struggling with their mental health.