Managing Health Anxiety (During a Pandemic)

Managing Health Anxiety (During a Pandemic)

Health anxiety has been a condition that I have worked with personally for several years. Health anxiety is often defined as a misinterpretation of physical sensations such as the belief that a mild headache could indicate something severely wrong in the brain. 

 Health anxiety can have a detrimental effect on an individual’s life and is often underreported due to the judgement of family and friends. Many clients I have had the pleasure working with have repeatedly heard demeaning comments such as ‘there’s nothing wrong with you’ or ‘you’re just a hypochondriac’. Gradually these comments combined with the overwhelming anxiety that there is something fundamentally wrong with their body leads to isolation, frequent symptom checking and visitations to their local GP.

Currently with the outbreak of Covid-19 there is an increasing emphasis on health, personal hygiene and growing headlines of the ‘wide-spread’ of the virus. For many individuals, they may be experiencing their first exposure to health anxiety symptoms; these can come in many forms but most commonly include: intense focus on Covid-19 news, overly-frequent checking of symptoms online, interpreting physical symptoms as indicative of the virus and an increasing level of anxiety.

The majority of my sessions consist of not ignoring the possibility of developing an illness- but the likelihood and proposed ‘worst case outcome’. My top tips for dealing with coronavirus health anxiety include:

1)    It is important to identify whether you are overestimating the danger that is present and underestimating your ability to protect yourself from these dangers. In times of perceived ‘crisis’ we are hardwired to be concerned and anxious (thank our evolutionary mechanisms) however our worry is not always justified. Much like our parents worried when we left home that we would be unable to cook a dinner or change a bedsheet; (hopefully) they overestimated the concerns and underestimated our ability to survive. By rationalizing our thoughts, we can successfully reassert our control over anxiety.

2)    Limiting your exposure to media will allow you time to get on with the normal daily tasks that you typically do. Much like the ploys of many advertisers, bombarding yourself with information about a specific event will only serve to remind you of it. By minimising the amount of time, you take to watch news associated with Covid-19 the less you are likely to be constantly reminded of it. This is highlighted within several studies that suggest that obtaining clear information about a potential threat helps people feel better, but ambiguous information does nothing to reduce anxiety or the urge to seek reassurance.

3)    Distracting your attention can be one of the most useful tools when dealing with anxiety. When we fixate on dangers, anxiety grows, and when we turn our attention elsewhere, it often tends to shrink. Take some time to do an activity that you enjoy- running, completing that last bit of work or calling a good friend. If we can shift the focus of attention then we are less likely to ruminate and subsequently can successfully reduce our anxiety!

Sometimes health anxiety can be a vicious cycle that can very quickly lead down us down the rabbit hole. If you feel that your anxiety is becoming out of control or you are obsessively checking news sources, do not hesitate to contact us for a free 15 minute consultation. We will be able to provide a clear non-judgmental approach and aim to support your autonomy in overcoming any concerns that you may be experiencing.




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