The thought of having a serious or life threatening illness is an incredibly frightening concept. Health anxiety relates to when an individual becomes preoccupied with worry regarding having or acquiring a medical condition(s). Oftentimes people with heightened levels of health anxiety engage in checking behaviors, which can include actions such as:
– Researching symptom-related information online
– Asking for reassurance from doctors, family, or friends
– Comparing one’s symptoms to medical condition’s symptoms
Another common response to health anxiety is avoidance. The thought of receiving information that confirms the person’s fear of having a certain medical condition becomes too overwhelming and so the individual actively avoids medical health professionals.
Treatment for health anxiety includes differentiating when it is necessary versus counterproductive to consult with medical professionals. The underlying factor perpetuating health anxiety relates to the individual’s need to be absolutely certain that they are in good health. Treatment focuses on helping the individual become more aware of how their worries and checking behaviors are actually maintaining their anxiety and making them unable to live in and enjoy the present moment. Another aspect of treatment is to help build the individual’s ability to tolerate uncertainty. Exposure work targeting both the person’s fears and bodily sensations is also helpful for helping the individual overcome their health anxiety.