Anxiety in Adults

Health Anxiety

What is Health Anxiety?

We all worry about all sorts of things from time to time, such as finances, work, relationships and even our health. We all notice changes in our body and begin to wonder whether that change could be something serious, but health anxiety is not a momentary ‘wondering’ what these changes mean. Health anxiety is characterised by excessive worry about one or several areas of our health, an excessive focus on the bodily symptoms you are worried about, and difficulty accepting the answers given from health professionals about the cause of the symptoms. The thinking processes involved in health anxiety symptoms is what we refer to as ‘catastrophic’ or ‘worst case scenario’ thinking and is often characterised by a ‘what if’ sequence of thoughts.

Individuals who are ‘healthy’, who have existing medical conditions or who have ‘medically unexplained’ symptoms may experience health anxiety. It is important to note that the physical symptoms you experience are not ‘just in your head’ they are real physical sensations whether they are related to somatic changes in your body or a physical symptom of anxiety itself.

Symptom checklist

  • Do you worry often or become preoccupied about your health? Is your worry excessive, out of proportion and difficult to control?
  • Do you often focus your attention on the bodily sensations you are worried about?
  • Does your health worry lead you to do any of the following?
    • Excessively check e.g. google symptoms,
    • Seek reassurance from others e.g. friends, family, medical practitioners
    • Avoid e.g. doctor’s appointments, blood tests, situations in which your health worry maybe triggered

How Common is Health Anxiety?

Research indicates that health anxiety occurs in around 2-10% of the population, and it usually beings in in early adulthood. Health anxiety can significantly interfere with one’s ability to concentrate on other areas of life, including effecting work, study and relationships and early treatment is recommended to prevent a chronic condition.

What Treatments are Recommended for Health Anxiety?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been widely researched for the treatment of health anxiety symptoms. CBT for health anxiety involves identifying and challenging catastrophic thinking styles, practicing shifting attention away from bodily focus, and reducing behaviours such as excessive checking and reassurance seeking which we refer to as ‘safety behaviours’.  

Sources & Useful Resources