Health anxiety is a form of anxiety where individuals will irrationally worry about themselves suffering from medical issues. There are both short-term and long-term ways to cope with health anxiety. Short-term ways include breathing, exercising, and journaling, whereas long-term ways include practicing cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), identifying triggers, and instilling mindfulness into your day.
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How To Cope With Health Anxiety
Every year, between 1 to 10 out of 100 people will struggle with health anxiety. Typically, health anxiety is characterized by individuals obsessing over their health, potentially degrading, and developing severe medical illnesses. This can present itself in ways such as:
- Having nonstop thoughts about one’s health
- Frequently visiting physicians and other medical professionals
- Spending large quantities of time reading about different medical conditions they may already have
To combat health anxiety, short-term and long-term tangible actions can be taken.
Short Term Actions
Short-term action items can be used for quick relief from health anxiety, as they will help you distract yourself and take charge of the present situation.
Attempt to take long, deep breaths. These are usually accomplished by breathing in for four counts and then breathing out for four counts and can be repeated for up to five minutes. Make sure to concentrate on your breath alone during this time. In doing so, you will be able to divert attention away from the overwhelming thoughts in your mind and slow down your heart rate.
Whether it’s a short walk, long run, or quick yoga session, exercise can be a great outlet for halting your negative thoughts. By getting out and exercising, you will be able to activate a type of neurotransmitter known as endorphins, which will enable you to feel a sense of relief. Exercise can also help take your mind away from your thoughts and help relieve anxiety.
A great way to get anxious thoughts out of your mind is writing them down. When you put pen to paper, you can get your thoughts out of your mind, which can make them appear less overwhelming.
After you write all of your thoughts out, you may also be able to identify specific causes as to what is prompting these thoughts later on.
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Long Term Actions
These actions may take time to perfect and become effective. However, when they are used over long periods, you should note progress in yourself as these actions will help sustain your ability to defeat health anxiety.
CBT has been known as the most effective way to treat all forms of anxiety, including health anxiety. It is a type of thinking that is often taught by therapists that enables individuals to think about anxiety-inducing situations differently.
The primary understanding behind CBT is that thoughts we hold about a situation can impact how we feel and behave. For example, an individual may fear cancer; thus, they may feel anxious often and will overly visit their physicians for checkups. If an individual practices CBT, they will notice this thought they are holding and then correct their mindset once they have built up the tools.
By adopting this mindset with CBT, individuals will adjust their irrational thoughts and then change their problematic behaviors. Ultimately, by practicing CBT, one will view anxious situations differently.
Spearheading off of CBT, one of the most helpful ways to combat health anxiety is to spot your triggers. Whether through talking with someone or keeping track of your behaviors, identifying your triggers will enable you to challenge these thoughts.
For example, if one is suffering from health anxiety, they may often worry about their heart and be hyper-aware of their chest and heartbeat; if they can recognize this thought, they could reframe it and consider the bigger picture.
Mindfulness is a behavior we use when we place close attention on our thoughts, surroundings, and actions in a significant way. Through mindfulness, we can perform acts of self-care where we put ourselves first and divert energy away from anxious thoughts.
An example of a mindfulness exercise is the 5-4-3-2-1 strategy. This exercise is done by saying five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Through doing this activity, you will feel grounded and turn your attention entirely to these new thoughts.
Some may like to practice mindfulness by listening to music and practicing guided meditations. By listening to music, we can focus on the music and lyrics we are listening to. Additionally, with guided meditations, we can have the ability to relax our bodies and provide relief to any physical stress that may have been placed on the body.
Health Anxiety Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Understanding health anxiety and determining whether or not you may be suffering from it can be complicated. Check out some of these commonly asked questions and answers below that revolve around health anxiety.
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How might health anxiety present itself?
Knowing whether or not you have health anxiety can be a huge mental hurdle to overcome. In this table below, take a look at specific thoughts, feelings, and actions that some may exhibit when dealing with health anxiety.
|Thought Process||Feeling||Actions Taken|
|Worry about being seriously ill||Anxious, nervous, worried.||Avoiding hospitals, ill people, or medical shows on TV|
|Worry that you may become seriously ill||Fatigued, tired, unwell||Repeatedly checking your body for signs of illness|
|Worry that someone you love may become ill||Anxious, body symptoms associated with the worry||Encouraging others to repeatedly visit their physicians, scanning loved one's body’s for signs of change|
What causes health anxiety?
There is no direct cause for health anxiety; however, different factors may make one more susceptible to it. Some of these factors include:
- Personality traits that may make us more prone to worrying
- Genetic factors that may make people more predisposed to developing emotional problems
- Life experiences that shape the way we view health
What medical treatments are available for health anxiety?
There is not much medical evidence present that shows a link to reducing health anxiety symptoms. However, some medications that can treat health anxiety include clomipramine, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, and paroxetine.
Are there any other tips for combatting health anxiety?
Some other easy, quick tips that may enable you to fight health anxiety include
- Avoiding news that relates to health
- Avoid googling your symptoms
- Try and establish a daily routine
Health anxiety can sabotage individuals’ ability to be fully present and enjoy each moment, as overwhelming thoughts and worries about health will cloud individuals' minds. Although it may take time, health anxiety can be combatted by employing short-term techniques like breathing and exercising, or utilizing long-term strategies like CBT, identifying triggers, and practicing mindfulness.
By signing up for Mira today, you can access medical professionals who can help combat health anxiety. With Mira, you can also access urgent care visits, lab testings, and discounts on prescriptions for just $45 per month.
Madeline is a Senior at UCLA majoring in Human Biology & Society with a minor in Spanish. She's currently a Healthcare Research Analyst at Mira, writing content for the blog to help the public better understand certain medical issues, technologies, testings, and the importance of healthcare.