Hypochondria. It’s a word with not many positive connotations. It’s a word we use to describe kids who frequently bust out the crocodile tears or over-dramatic people who are looking for attention for the most minor of inconveniences. But for a lot of folks – including me – hypochondria, also known as health anxiety, can be debilitating.
Photo by Hayley Seibel on Unsplash
A little back story…
I never used to have health anxiety. In fact, I never used to have any anxiety. But I’ve wrote about my own anxiety journey enough on this blog to not need to re-hash it again. So if you want the full story, check out this post. And health wise, I’ve been incredibly lucky. No serious physical health problems in my 26 years on this planet.
And before I continue, I just want to say how incredibly grateful I am for that.
But I grew up being aware of the importance of your health but not being consumed by it. Then as a teenager, I did a LOT of P.E in school, went to the gym and played sports. I was active and healthy. Still no physical (or mental) conditions to concern myself over.
But once my generalised anxiety disorder started, things began to unravel. Not at first. I was so consumed by my anxiety and this new life I was now miserably living that my physical health took a back seat. I lost loads of weight, I gained loads of weight, never exercised or ate properly.
What about now?
But over the last couple of years, health anxiety has started creeping in. Occasionally and first. I’d get fixated on something for a while. Do a bit of a Google search but then let it go. However it’s just got worse and worse and now, it can take over my life.
The last couple of months have been especially bad. And the funny thing is, I never really REALIZED I had health anxiety until now. Even though it’s evident that it’s been bubbling up under the surface for years now. I hopped onto the NHS website on the health anxiety page and it was basically a check list of all the things I’ve been doing daily for weeks.
So what is health anxiety?
Health anxiety is basically excessive worrying about getting ill or being ill that it starts to take over your life.
And it’s important to remember here that worrying about your health doesn’t mean you have health anxiety. Most of us will have health scares. If we find or feel something that isn’t normal for us, get test results back which aren’t positive or have a worrying symptom. That’s normal.
But health anxiety isn’t normal. And some symptoms of health anxiety include:
– Constantly worrying about your health
– Constantly checking your body for signs of something wrong
– Always asking other people for reassurance
– Obsessively searching for medical advice online
– Avoiding anything to do with medical / illness such as on TV and in films
Apart from the last point, I can quite easily tick all those off. And I didn’t quite realise how abnormal it was until I learnt that.
How does it affect me?
Well, it affects me pretty much how it says above. But personally, when I’m going through a particularly bad phase of health anxiety, I’ll check certain areas of my body every day – multiple times a day. Even if I know what they feel like or I know they don’t feel any different to how they did a week or a month ago.
Sometimes the checking gets so excessive that I’ll literally bruise myself or cause a lot of pain to myself. Not intentionally but just through the sheer AMOUNT of prodding and poking of such sensitive areas that I’m doing.
Then sometimes, if I do cause harm and pain to myself, I’ll then worry the next day if the pain is something serious. Even though I know I caused it myself.
Then when I get fixated on something, I’ll spend literally hours on Google, searching for and reading everything I can find on similar things. Anything from the NHS website, to forums, to news reports. I’ll read dozens and dozens of forum threads from people talking about something similar (or sometimes, not even that similar!)
Then as a subsequent result of all of this, I sometimes can’t function because it’s all that’s on my mind. I feel like I can’t go about my normal activities because health anxiety is always at the back of my mind. I’ll be watching a YouTube video thinking, “that was good… now I wonder if I have cancer?”
And speaking of YouTube, I’ve now also found myself obsessively watching videos of people’s health diagnosis, their symptoms and things like that.
And the worst thing?
As well as the constant anxiety, the constant prodding and poking and subsequent pain and the life ruining condition, the worst thing about health anxiety is that you feel like a COMPLETE ASSHOLE because there are people out there ACTUALLY going through what you’re worrying unnecessarily about.
All that time you’ve spent prodding and Googling and worrying, there are people going through actual treatments, getting actual diagnosis. And mate, it makes you feel like such a c***.
How can you help yourself?
If the above sounds like you, then first of all, I’m so sorry. Anxiety is crap as it is but health anxiety can be all consuming, all debilitating and life ruining. A couple of Sundays ago, I literally laid in bed and stared at the wall all day long because I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. Of course living a healthier lifestyle should be the first thing we do.
But honestly? I’ve not got to the bottom of this question yet. I definitely don’t have all the answers. However the NHS website suggests a few handy things for coping with health anxiety:
– Keeping a diary of all the times you check, ask for reassurance or look online for information
– And then try and gradually reduce how often you do these things
– Create a chart of 2 columns, first writing down your worries (whatever they are and however silly they may seem), then challenging those thoughts in the second column with more balanced and reasonable explanations. E.g, “I’m worried about headaches”, “Headaches can be a sign of stress”.
– Keep busy and occupied when you feel the urges to check come up
– Using relaxation techniques
You know I love Yoga already, so personally I’ve found putting a lot of energy into Yoga really helpful. It helps me relax and breathe and calm down. I also tried the chart thing and I’ve found that quite useful so far too.
But ultimately, it’s still a pretty big problem.
I’m not too sure to be honest. I just wanted to write this post and get my thoughts down (which actually, is another thing that really helps!) whilst I’m in the midst of my health anxiety. I asked on Twitter whether anyone would like this post and I was really surprised with how many people commented saying they suffer with the same thing.
A few days after this post was written, I went to see the nurse and quite literally, broke down in her office about my health anxiety. She immediately made me an appointment with the doctor that same day to discuss it (as well as my general anxiety too) and I’ve since been put on medication and referred back to therapy.
I really couldn’t have asked for better care from my local GP practice and felt like someone genuinely cared and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was getting my life together. I still suffer with health anxiety but I’m taking proactive steps to help myself.
It’s much more common than I thought. Could that be the nature of today’s society? When everything is online, everyone’s illness and story is only a YouTube video away? When there’s constant articles cropping up telling us that tomato ketchup causes cancer or owning a fish could lead to a stroke?
[…] a pretty severe bout of health anxiety which had me crying to my nurse, she promptly made me an appointment with the doctor to discuss […]
[…] a bit of a well-being journey myself over the last few months. Particularly since last Summer, when my anxiety got really bad and I ended up on medication for the first time in my life. Since then, my own well-being has been […]
[…] Health Anxiety: How Does It Affect Me and How Can You Manage It? […]
[…] even physically harming myself from prodding and poking so much. I wrote a more detailed post about my own experience with health anxiety last year but today I’m going to go into much more detail about how to deal with […]
very informative and your very brave I definitely sometimes will have rapid heart rate and chest pain . Thank you this article is helpful.
I know I have health anxiety or as someone put it illness anxiety disorder. I also have GAD.
I have had some serious health issues in my life. So if something feels off then my mind immediately goes there — to what has happened before. Others in my family have had serious health issues as well. Some still do.
It is not easy to live with. I appreciate your writing this post as it is helpful to know that others are out there with the same sort of issue. I am just sorry that others and myself have to deal with this.
Thank you for your comment x
Very interesting read….Im a psychiatric nurse and plan to write a little on the subject in the future!
Would be interested to read your thoughts!
I think people dismiss those with Hypochondria too fast. Thanks for bringing the issue to light.
They certainly do x
Well done you for being so honest, open and candid about your life! I had no clue something like this could be so difficult, you’re teaching me with every new post!
Thank you x
Thank you so much for sharing this. I think anxiety and mental health, in general, is a sensitive topic but I greatly appreciate you for sharing your story and your guide to helping to deal with anxiety.
I wasn’t actually aware that these were the symptoms of health anxiety. I thought it was about always thinking the worst when you have something small (headache = brain tumor or something). I had no idea about the constant checking etc. Thank you for educating me. I’m sorry you have to live with these symptoms and I hope you find some things that help soon x
This was such a personal and important post, hun! Thank you so much for sharing this! <33
Daisy xoxo | TheDeeWhoLived
Awh thank you x
I’d heard of health anxiety before but didn’t know a lot about it, so thank you for writing such an honest and informative post. My heart really goes out to you – it must be a really difficult thing to deal with. I’m so glad you’re getting some help with it though.
Beth x Adventure & Anxiety
Thanks so much x
Thanks for sharing your experience with health anxiety. I wouldn’t say I have it in the same extent as you do, however I do end up googling symptoms and thinking that it’s the worst case scenario. Great post. Just don’t worry about you know ‘offending’ someone.
Laura / https://www.laustworld.com
I think most people do that to some degree. I hate Google for that reason!
I have anxiety but not health anxiety – I find distracting myself and reading helps x
Distracting yourself just isn’t possible sometimes with health anxiety x
Thank you for sharing your experience with us about your struggles. I didn’t know health anxiety existed and I learned a lot from this post.
Glad you found it informative
Very honest Jenny. Enjoyed this and can definitely relate as someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer.
Thanks so much Steve
Thankyou for being so open about this, I am so glad your GP is understanding of this condition it must make such a difference to your wellbeing knowing a professional gets it.
It really has. Knowing my nurse really cared helped massively.
Thanks for sharing. I didn’t realise this was a thing so it’s great I’ve been able to learn a lot about it through your post.
Glad you found it informative!
I’m so glad your nurse and GP were helpful. It can make the world of difference. Best of luck with the therapy and medication. Thanks for writing so openly about what you are going through. I have generalised anxiety and depression and I’ve recently started meds. I’m in therapy which has been a gradual but rewarding process. Sending you lots of good wishes. Take care. Xx
I have generalised anxiety too and only just started medication for it. I’m hoping it’ll make a difference in the long run!
Hope it’s some help to you. best of luck with it!
first off i want to say how proud I am of you for being so vulnerable and sharing this with us. I don’t suffer from this but it takes a lot of strength to share it so openly and honestly. i think it’s amazing that you took and are still taking the proactive steps to help understand this part of yourself and how you can cope with it because you certainly don’t deserve to be a prisoner in your own mind. again, great post. very eye opening and i’m sure helpful to a lot of people. xx
mich / simplymich.com
Thanks so much Michelle xxxx
Wow, thanks for sharing this. I suffer with general anxiety and I thought I knew what health anxiety was but this proved I didn’t. When I had panic attacks in my teens they weren’t diagnosed and I had no idea what was wrong as a result I had health anxiety. The symptoms were all anxiety symptoms but I didn’t know that and worried about my health and went back to the doctors and once A&E. I remember how that felt and sometimes when I’m I’ll I’ll get anxious and think it’s worse than it is and used to imagine I’d get the side effects of tablets when I took them. But my health anxiety has never been as complex as you describe so thanks for educating us. I’m still bitter about my misdiagnosis as I believe if I’d had help them my entire life would’ve been different but that’s a long story.
I got very nervous about the potential side effects of my medication too but thankfully they’ve been super mild. I’m sorry to hear about your panic attacks and you had such a hard time figuring out what they were. That must have been really scary.
Yeah it was. Once I found out about them from a TV feature and got a book I managed to use CBT to help but GAD still lingered
This is SUCH a an important post. I love how openly and honestly you speak about health anxiety and how you’re also able to provide tips for others and educate people.
Thanks so much xx
I have social anxiety. I know how hard it can be talk about. I worry over every little thing. It gets so bad to the point where it hurts my relationship. Thank you for sharing.
Sorry to hear that x
Thank you so much for sharing this Jenny, it was quite cathartic to read as I suffer with the same thing and it’s awful. The main thing I worry about is cancer, and like you said it makes you feel like a complete asshole because you know there’s people out there genuinely going through it. I’m constantly asking for reassurance and I used to resort to doctor Google for the answers, which 9 times out of 10 would make me feel worse. Since I had CBT for my OCD it’s thankfully gotten a lot better, but I notice a spike in it whenever I’m stressed or overtired. In particular, just a few months ago I spent a whole weekend crying and feeling like crap because I had a voicemail on the Friday afternoon saying I had some abnormal test results and I couldn’t call them back until Monday. I convinced myself that I had cancer within 5 minutes of hearing the voicemail and I was so annoyed at myself for it. My GP managed to reassure me when I saw her that it was highly unlikely, but every now and again the thought pops back into my head and I have to try and think back to what she said.
Sorry to hear you’ve not been doing too well anxiety wise, I hope you soon start to feel better and the therapy/meds help! Xx
Sorry to hear you suffer with similar. I think it makes total sense that it gets worse if you’re stressed or overtired, when your brain isn’t really at full capacity. I’m glad the CBT helped though!
Though I suffer with anxiety, I’m lucky to say I do not suffer with health anxiety but I know many people who do. This is such an incredible post that I hope that those who suffer can relate.
Thank you, I hope so too.
So sorry to hear about this anxiety of yours. I hope everything gets better soon.
Thank you, it’s an ongoing process.
I’m so glad your doctor was so prompt with their response. I wish you all the best with your new medication and therapy <3
Me too, I couldn’t have asked for better care from the doctors during that time. Thank you!
Thanks first of all for your honesty, I am sure what you have written will reach some people that need to read this and make them feel less alone. It must be difficult to deal with all the worry all of the time.
I sure do hope so!
I’m so sorry you go through this. I have really bad anxiety myself, but it eased in the last year since I stopped taking on too many responsibilities and started taking better care of myself. The chart idea sounds like a good one though- I’ll be sure to try it!!
Sorry to hear you suffer with anxiety too. But taking better care of yourself is NEVER a bad idea!
I really am sorry that people go thru this. But I think, one of the best things you can do, is talk about. I’ve often caught myself starting to obsess about things when there is contact information on an issue being thrown at me from every angel, like: on TV, radio, and every aspect of the internet. I am always available if anyone needs to chat…
It definitely helps to talk about it – I felt much better just writing this post actually!
Thank you so much for sharing this Jenny and all the research.
I thought I had health anxiety but reading this I’m pretty reassured that I don’t (I don’t tick a single box) but rather I just have a lot of anxiety about healthcare professionals and procedures and hospitals.
A part of that stems from having been labelled a hypochondriac as a child (I was 9 the first time I heard a nurse call me that) and being told that my ear infections and abdominal pains were all psychosomatic when I was 14 (and inpatient in a psych ward).
Yep, despite over a decade under ENT specialists because of the severity and frequency of my ear infections; plus 3 surgeries on my ears….apparently it was all in my head because I couldn’t face my emotions.
I’m so sorry to hear that you struggle with health anxiety and I really hope that it becomes a destigmatised condition to empower more people to seek help rather than be dismissed by doctors.
Crikey that’s so damaging for children to hear that they’re not taken seriously and not believed. I can’t imagine what affect that had on you growing up. I think it’s normal to worry about procedures and and things like that so I’m glad you don’t have HA!
Such a powerful post. I have to admit I hadn’t heard of this before which makes it even more informative as a way of checking what you’re doing and monitoring how you are behaving.
It’s great to hear that your local service is really helping at the moment in regards to giving you what you need – I hope it continues to help and that being so open and honest about it has helped as well.
Thanks so much and so glad this post could be informative for you!
This is such an honest post Jenny, well done you for posting it! Even though I have a chronic illness, I have worried about my health but I don’t think I have suffered health anxiety. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for you, I’m glad you’ve shared this though, you may have helped so many others who have health anxiety xx
Lucy | http://www.lucymary.co.uk
I really hope it has helped someone else. Getting comments from people with chronic illnesses really does make me feel awful because so many of you deal with ACTUAL things every day!
I have never heard of this type of anxiety but loved how you described it and shared how you live with it. Knowing what causes the anxiety and learning to live with it is one of the best ways to prevent further anxiety. 🙂
You’re such an inspiration Jenny! I appreciate you sharing this information about health anxiety. This is why it’s important to be kind to others because you never know what people are going through, I never knew about health anxiety. I appreciate you educating me and I’m wishing you success with your journey <3
Natonya | https://justnatonya.wordpress.com
Thanks so much, that’s such a lovely comment x
I’m going to be honest, anxiety is always a struggle for me and I feel you on lying on bed and can’t get yourself to do something because recently that just happened to me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and what you feel.
I’m sorry to hear that, it’s really tough.
First off I had no idea this existed. But it makes sense it does, and I’m so sorry you suffer with it. I love your candour and bringing this to light, I’m sure it will help others x
Thank you so much x
Thank you so much, I do hope so x
This has 100% made me feel less alone. I’ve had health anxiety for a few years now and a lot of the time I feel like absolutely no-one else gets it. I get so fixated on certain areas and like you poke and prod until it actually hurts, but I just find it so hard to stop. I still haven’t really found a solution and I’m expecting it to be a long journey getting over everything I’ve learnt and do daily, but I’m at that point now where I have to try something. So proud of you for sharing this, it has helped loads and I’m sure so many people will be able to relate xx
Tiffany x http://www.foodandotherloves.co.uk
I’m so sorry to hear you have this. I know how hard it is. And I’m always available for a chat, if you ever need it! From one HA sufferer to another <3
I feel like today’s society, with the ease of searching for ‘info’ using Google, really encourages people to give into this type of anxiety. Thank you for opening up about your own thoughts and experiences.
Totally agree, it 100% doesn’t help at ALL.
This is great. I really like the breakdown of these points. I think it goes without saying, but a lot of people, me included, need to hear this 🙂
Wow, I didn’t actually know this was a thing! I have a chronic condition plus arthritis, and my diagnosis journey was full of “hypochondria” theories. Until they realised I was for real. I’m so sorry that you to go through this… like you say, anxiety is bad enough – I can’t imagine what this must be like! I hope you continue to make progress😌
Sorry to hear you’ve not been believed with your conditions in the past. You’re not the first person to comment with something like that, it’s really sad to hear x
I’m so sorry to hear that you also suffer from anxiety darling, it can be so horrible. I’m sending you all of my love! 💜
With love, Alisha Valerie x | http://www.alishavalerie.com
Thank you x
I wish more people took hypochondria more seriously instead of using it as an adjective. 🙁 There’s so many types of anxiety – not just GAD and social anxiety. So glad you have written a post explaining it so well and educating people who don’t know too much about it x
Thank you – and I agree. Like I said, people are quick to use the word “hypochondria” as a passing remark about someone but it’s actually SO debilitating!
100% agree! Great to see people raising awareness x
I can imagine this takes a massive toll on your mental health and I hope you find something that allows you to resolve the issue eventually – I used to do with this searching symptoms online but not quite to the extent you’ve described. One thing I still do though is worry so much about the possibility of getting a migraine that I end up stressing myself, causing a migraine – not good! Health is a weird one too – thinking about illnesses can sometimes bring on false symptoms and I bet that makes it even worse.
Agh that’s so weird and horrible about the migraines!
This is an aspect of health that am learning of now so it is completely new to me. For people who suffer from this, a post like this is a very helpful read with useful tips to put in action. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you – glad you found it helpful and informative.
I know a few people who are like this and I can’t imagine how hard it must feel to constantly feel and think a certain way.
Thank you for sharing this because for someone who isn’t effected by this, I know now have a little more insight to how others feel about it and may be able to help
Jessica & James | http://www.foodandbaker.co.uk
Glad you found it informative!
So interesting to see someone else talk about this – such an important topic. I suffered with health anxiety quite a lot a few years back (and general anxiety too) but CBT did help me with it and gradually I have got better with it. It’s super hard when you’re in the peak of it though, no matter what you just are convinced something terrible will happen and it sucks!! Thanks for sharing xxx
Glad to hear CBT helped you! I’m hoping it’ll help me too when I finally start my sessions!
Anxiety can come in so many different shapes and forms. I had heard of hypochondria but never really connected it to health anxiety. People who tend to say they suffer from it are dismiss unfortunately. As in”you worry for nothing”. So i get it must be very hard.
Yep absolutely. It’s exactly the same thing.
It’s so nice to see someone being so open and honest about health anxiety as I don’t think it’s spoken about enough! I have suffered for years and, at my worst, it stopped me living my life properly and I could barely leave the house or sleep because I was so worried. I wouldn’t wish health anxiety on my worst enemy! Im sorry you have to experience it but I hope it’s gotten easier for you over time x
Emily || puttheworldtowrites.co.uk
I’m so sorry you’ve had it bad in the past. It should definitely be spoken about more, I agree!
Your so brave for writing this post, I didn’t really understand what health anxiety is until this post. I’m so glad that your now getting the help you deserve as I hear bad things about mental health care! X
Thank you, I’m glad you found it informative!
Anxiety comes in some many different shapes and forms, and it is important that we respect, and help each person to what they need.
I’m glad that you are getting the support you need, and I hope it continues. But never feel like you can’t share your anxiety, we can all help each other!
Ellyn x | Life Of A Beauty Nerd
It sure does!
This is such a brave post, thank you for sharing ❤️ I think you’re right about it being a symptom of today’s society. We have so much more leisure time compared to our ancestors, and what do we do? Fill it with worrying about our health! But this is actually an evolutionary trait, where our mind picks up on anything that might not be quite right and then worries about it until it gets fixed. I guess health anxiety is the mind taking these worries too far
It definitely is. But it’s also making up worries which aren’t there!
I have always had bad migraines and get really nervous about my health 🙁 it’s horrible xx
Sorry to hear that x
I can’t imagine how difficult it is to have to deal with this. I have anxiety and that is bad enough. Given all my illnesses I am surprised I don’t have health anxiety though! I really appreciate you sharing this as I am sure anyone else dealing with this will not feel so alone. 🙂 x
Sarah 🌺 || Boxnip || Latest Post
I’ve had a few comments from people with chronic conditions who said they don’t suffer with this – maybe there’s something in that?
Ever since my mum had cancer, I’ve had this fear that I would get it too, considering genetics are a factor. But I’d say I’m more scared of being seen as a hypochondriac that sometimes I don’t tell people about genuine medical concerns I have. I have severe anxiety so I think constantly about everything, including the fear that people will hate me for addressing my own health. I don’t want doctors to label me as a hypochondriac and not take me seriously. I’ve been to the doctors a lot recently due to certain issues so I have stopped complaining in case I have to go back and they might tell me that it’s all in my head. These fears are real and I wish doctors would take people more seriously. It’s okay to stay safe and go to the doctor when you think something could be wrong; I wish the young didn’t get made to feel like villains for seeing the doctor.
I think it’s getting better with younger people going to the doctor and being more open about their illnesses and/or worries. But I do wish doctors would take everyone more seriously too .
there was a girl at my school that went to a doctor for migraines and was told it was exam stress but she had brain cancer and died. I guess I’ve been a bit skeptical of doctors since then and it definitely taught me that, if you have a health issue, you need to keep going back to them until they properly examine you.
Very honest and brave of you to talk about this Jen! I think it’s so important to cover all different types of mental health because like you said it can help people who also suffer feel less alone!
I also think it’s great to break the stigma and explain what mental health can really be like! the good and the bad.
Ashleigh – https://www.thestoryofashleighdavis.com
Thanks so much x
This is such a brave post pet. I just want to let you know that, although I don’t have health anxiety, having general anxiety I can understand to an extent. I have gone through periods in my life where I’ve been overly concerned about my health to the point where I’m convinced its Cancer or a serious, life long condition that the doctors aren’t getting. This was particularly a problem during the time my bowels were acting up. I was convinced I had gastroparalysis and no one was listening.
But like i said, it doesn’t happen often, thank goodness.
It is terrifying when your mind has convinced you that you’re ill pet, and I want you to know I’m always about should you need a chat.
Thank you – hope you got those problems sorted out. When you get something in your head, it can be so hard to shift.
A very honest post Jenny, it must have been difficult to open up but I know how much this will help others.
I don’t have health anxiety but I have suffered terribly since Mum passed away. She always thought she’d die young as her parents did. She was quite open about this fear. I never thought it to be true.
Now she has gone I am convinced that I’ll have a short life too. I am constantly worrying about getting ill, I visit the doctors much more now than I ever have before and I even get excruciating pain in my hip which is where mum’s tumour was. After doing some (A LOT!) of reading it does seem to be fairly normal and quite often the physical effects of grief.
But it is scary and I can’t imagine how difficult it is for you.
I really appreciate you sharing this x x
Oh Claire I’m sorry to hear that. I know it’s sad but that’s quite interesting what you said about your hip pain. Almost like sympathy pain?