Mental Health

Health Anxiety: How Does It Affect Me & How Can We Manage It?

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.

Health Anxiety

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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.

Health Anxiety

Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

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.

And 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.

What now?

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?

So if you suffer too, I hope this post was helpful (?) or at the very least, made you feel less alone. If you have any of you own coping techniques, please do share below!

Health Anxiety

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Jenny in Neverland

Twenty-something lifestyle blogger from Essex. Book lover, Slytherin, organisational wizard and enjoys Motorsport, Disney and Yoga.

108 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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

    Sophie
    http://www.glowsteady.co.uk

  3. Daisy says:

    This was such a personal and important post, hun! Thank you so much for sharing this! <33

    Daisy xoxo | TheDeeWhoLived

    1. Awh thank you x

  4. bethany jane says:

    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.
    Brilliant post.
    Beth x Adventure & Anxiety

    1. Thanks so much x

  5. 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

    1. I think most people do that to some degree. I hate Google for that reason!

  6. Heather Nixon says:

    I have anxiety but not health anxiety – I find distracting myself and reading helps x

    1. Distracting yourself just isn’t possible sometimes with health anxiety x

  7. Boss Babe Chronicles says:

    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.

    1. Glad you found it informative
      X

  8. Very honest Jenny. Enjoyed this and can definitely relate as someone who’s been diagnosed with cancer.

    1. Thanks so much Steve

  9. 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.

    1. It really has. Knowing my nurse really cared helped massively.

  10. 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.

    https://littlemissmelanie.com/

    1. Glad you found it informative!

  11. 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

    1. I have generalised anxiety too and only just started medication for it. I’m hoping it’ll make a difference in the long run!

  12. Michelle Blackadar says:

    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

    1. Thanks so much Michelle xxxx

  13. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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

  14. 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.

    Jas xx

    1. Thanks so much xx

  15. 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.

    1. Sorry to hear that x

  16. 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

    1. 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!

  17. 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.

    Abigail-xo

    1. Thank you, I hope so too.

  18. So sorry to hear about this anxiety of yours. I hope everything gets better soon.

    http://www.fashionradi.com

    1. Thank you, it’s an ongoing process.

  19. Imogen says:

    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

    1. Me too, I couldn’t have asked for better care from the doctors during that time. Thank you!

  20. 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.

    1. I sure do hope so!

  21. 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!!

    1. Sorry to hear you suffer with anxiety too. But taking better care of yourself is NEVER a bad idea!

  22. 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…

    1. It definitely helps to talk about it – I felt much better just writing this post actually!

  23. 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.

    1. 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!

  24. 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.

    1. Thanks so much and so glad this post could be informative for you!

  25. 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

    1. 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!

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