5 tips for managing health anxiety
People with health anxiety find themselves worrying a lot about getting ill, or that they might already be ill. In particular, they often have concerns about any physical symptoms they have and what they might mean. Anxiety is a natural response to a threat, or to something we believe is a threat – so it’s no surprise that the coronavirus outbreak has led some people’s health anxiety to get worse. It’s also caused others who’ve never had it before to start experiencing problems.
If you have health anxiety, you could be having a lot of negative or scary thoughts at the moment – for example, ‘everyone I care about is going to get ill’. You might notice that you’re constantly searching online for more information about the illness and the latest statistics. Anxiety can also have physical effects, such as a racing heart or nausea.
Here are five tips put together by Shazna Khanom, CBT therapist and UK Clinical Director with IESO, to help you manage your health anxiety symptoms.
1) Acknowledge how you’re feeling. There’s no right or wrong way to feel at the moment. The simple act of naming the emotions and feelings you’re experiencing is a really effective first step to reducing their intensity.
2) Avoid health-related news. This might seem ‘easier said than done’! But constantly searching news websites and social media, trying to soak up every bit of information you can about the coronavirus, is probably an unhelpful behaviour, and is likely to fuel your anxiety rather than reassuring you. Limit the number of times you look at the news to perhaps once a day, and make sure you’re only checking news from trusted sites and sources.
3) Stop Googling your symptoms. If you have health anxiety, Google is not your friend! An anxious mind will scan for worst case-scenarios, so you’re probably only taking on board all the scary stuff that’s out there. This means you’re not getting a balanced perspective on things.
4) Manage unhelpful thoughts. A common thought we’re currently seeing among people with health anxiety is ‘everyone I love will die from the coronavirus’. Thoughts like these can be really disturbing and distressing, but there’s a really good cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) technique that can help.
It’s really easy to believe that our thoughts are real, but they’re not facts – they’re just a way of looking at things. Coming up with a counter-thought can help us to get some perspective back. Write your unhelpful thought down. Are there any facts or evidence that support that statement? Next, is there a more rational statement that counters the thought? This might be ‘there’s no reason to assume my loved ones will catch the virus’, or ‘the facts say that most people who do catch the virus recover’.
5) Maintain as normal a routine as you can. Make sure you go to sleep and wake up at a regular time – and do get out of your pyjamas! Have something to look forward to in the day; find a way to treat yourself. Contact friends and family. Social distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing – we’re social creatures, so find creative ways to keep in touch.
If thoughts, worries and feelings about health are starting to dominate your everyday life, it might be time to seek support. For more advice, and to check if online CBT is available on the NHS where you live.