How to deal with health anxiety

It is strange how, when everyone else is jumping for joy about evenings in the pub or holidays to Portugal you feel more isolated than ever. The restrictions left you lonely, sometimes feeling there is little point to life but suddenly going out, socialising, spending time near others is permitted and you feel terrified. Extreme fear about catching something. Getting ill.

You acknowledge that despite continually checking yourself for symptoms over the past year, you seem to be healthier than ever. Not that you believe it, you do not ever go a whole year without getting ill. There must be something wrong, if there is not anything wrong now there definitely will be when you step outside and start seeing people again.

There is an area of neuroscience called neuroplasticity, it refers to the way the brain changes in relation to experiences. Your brain can move functions away from damaged areas of the brain to undamaged areas and change its physical structure as you learn different things. Your brain is malleable, like plastic. The more you practise something the stronger the pathways in your brain become and the easier it becomes to perform that action.

The NHS website gives a symptom list for health anxiety as follows:

  • Constantly worrying about your health.
  • Frequently checking your body for signs of illness.
  • Always asking people for reassurance that you're not ill.
  • Worrying that a doctor or medical tests may have missed something.
  • Obsessively looking at health information on the internet or in the media.
  • Avoiding anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes.
  • Acting as if you were ill (for example, avoiding physical activities).

Related to the previous year:

  • Constantly worrying about your health (will I catch Covid?).
  • Frequently checking your body for signs of illness (daily checking when using the covid symptom checker app).
  • Always asking people for reassurance that you're not ill (current Government campaign to encourage everyone to have two lateral flow tests per week).
  • Worrying that a doctor or medical tests may have missed something (concern about the efficacy of PCR tests).
  • Obsessively looking at health information on the internet or in the media (watch or read the news daily).
  • Avoiding anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes. 
  • Acting as if you were ill (the order is ‘behave as if you have covid’)

Unless you choose to ignore Government advice you spent the past year with almost every symptom of health anxiety. You have practised the symptoms of health anxiety diligently.

As previously mentioned, when you practise something the pathways in the brain mould accordingly. You become better at it and more easily able to perform it. You have got good at health anxiety over the past year simply by following instructions given to you by your government. It is challenging to simply drop the practices you have worked hard to build.

The symptoms of health anxiety appeared typical when they came as a government order and you performed them alongside your peers. However now you notice those around you stopping. Increasing the feeling of loneliness, why are others no longer worried?

The first step to ridding yourself of health anxiety is to switch off the news and break up with Dr google. This feels like the scariest thing when you know that the checking is what keeps you safe. Except it does not keep you safe, it creates a hyper focus on illness and becomes the only thing you can think about. In addition, your brain does not differentiate between reality and imaginary. When you imagine something, your brain reacts as if that thing is happening. As you read stories your brain reacts as if they are your stories. Your belief in illness increases as does your anxiety.

As well as the constant overthinking and worrying, anxiety shows up physically. You might experience breathing difficulties, a pounding heart, shaking, sweating even aches and pains. The physical symptoms increase the fear of illness and the vicious cycle begins again. Mindfulness techniques can bring your attention back to the present moment. When your mind takes you on catastrophic journey use thought stopping techniques (you can learn through some hypnotherapy sessions) to stop practising the health anxiety.

Simplifying everything – you have been practising anxiety as if you wish to get an A* in an exam, you now need to do whatever you would do to fail the exam! It is certainly easier said than done. An option you have is to practise the opposite, positive affirmations will strengthen the positive pathways in your brain.

I recommend writing positive affirmations that are relevant to you on post it notes and sticking them around your house in places you will see them. Light switches and inside regularly used cupboards are good places to choose. Say the positive affirmation out loud to yourself five times every time you see the post it note.

When you remind yourself that you are in control of your own destructive thoughts it is easier to stop them and create a happier life for yourself.

Hypnotherapy Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Farnham GU9 & GU10

Written by Juliet Hollingsworth

Farnham GU9 & GU10

Juliet (DHP Clinical Hypnotherapy & Psychotherapy. MSc Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal psychology) is an AnxietyUK therapist. Her passion is helping people reach their potential through a combination of hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and transpersonal psychology. Juliet works online and face to face with clients across the world.

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