If you’ve been on social media at all in the past few years, you’ve probably seen a meme or two about how you never know if your current ailment (e.g., headache, stomachache, sore throat) is due to allergies, a cold, fatigue, or because you’re dying of some rare disease. While these memes are spread to express humor about an experience shared by many, having health-related anxiety can be a serious concern. Some people genuinely worry that they are sick with a terminal illness or have something serious brewing in their body that they aren’t aware of. This used to be called hypochondriasis in medical circles; newer understandings have led us to new names – illness anxiety disorder and somatic symptom disorder.
One reason for the change in diagnosis names is because we know that many of the physical symptoms that people report are real. Just because your doctors can’t find something “wrong” with you doesn’t mean you aren’t in fact feeling something. One of the problems though is that many people start to feel anxious about their physical symptoms, especially when they believe there is something seriously wrong that nobody can find. Anxiety by itself can cause many physical symptoms, including racing heart, stomach upset, headaches, muscle tightness or soreness, and extreme fatigue. For people who have health-related anxiety, experiencing these symptoms can make them worry even more and they get stuck in a vicious cycle.
Recent research studies have found that cognitive behavioral therapy can be quite useful for helping people manage health-related anxiety, including illness anxiety disorder and somatic symptom disorder. A CBT therapist will work with you to identify your thoughts and feelings that are contributing the anxiety and help you change them to be less anxiety-inducing.
In addition to therapy, some things that may help manage some of that anxiety include:
- Relaxation exercises like diaphragmatic breathing or progressive muscle relaxation
- Mindfulness exercises like 4-7-8 breathing or body scan
- Getting a good night’s sleep
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
If doing these things don’t help enough though, then seeking out therapy is probably a good idea. Research has found that people who engage in CBT for these health-related anxieties have a significant reduction in their anxiety that lasts for at least a year.
To learn more about how I may be able to help you with anxiety, reach out to me today!