Health Anxiety and Illness Anxiety Disorder
If you are interested in counseling for Health Anxiety, call OakHeart at 630-570-0050 or 779-201-6440 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com. We have counselors, psychologists, and social workers available to help you at one of our locations in North Aurora, IL, Sycamore, IL, and/or via Telehealth Online Therapy Services serving Kane County, DeKalb County, Dupage County, and beyond.
What is Health Anxiety?
Individuals with Health Anxiety, also known as Illness Anxiety Disorder (formerly known as Hypochondriasis), are extremely anxious, pre-occupied, and distressed about having or acquiring a serious illness. These fears are inappropriate or excessive and may include a misinterpretation of benign internal cues (e.g., heart racing), medical conditions (e.g., muscle strain, headache, cough) or physical abnormalities (e.g., rash, mole). Some individuals with health anxiety may have a diagnosed medical condition; however, the pre-occupation with and fears associated with this medical condition are considered to be excessive or disproportionate in relation to the actual threat.
Individuals with health anxiety may spend significant amounts of time worrying about their health, checking/inspecting their bodies for signs of illness (e.g., feeling for lumps), monitoring or recording their symptoms, searching the internet for illnesses they feel they either have or will get, looking for reassurance from others, talk excessively about their symptoms to others, etc. They may go to the doctor repeatedly looking for reassurance, struggle to believe feedback from doctor's that they don't have a medical problem, and may "doctor shop."
They may also avoid triggers all together. For example, they may avoid going to the doctor or hospital for fear of being diagnosed or found out to have a horrible grave illness, avoid being around other's with illnesses, avoid physical activity, etc.
Sometimes, health anxiety follows a traumatic experience involving ones health (e.g., cancer) or involving a loved one (e.g., watching a parent die of cancer), and the trauma may need to be addressed in addition to the health anxiety.
How do you Treat Health Anxiety?
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective and safe treatment for Health Anxiety. CBT includes many components and is based on the principle that thoughts/beliefs (Cognitions), emotions, physical symptoms, and behaviors are all intricately related. Helping someone feel better in CBT will typically involve changing unhelpful thoughts/beliefs (Cognitions), emotions, and behaviors via a variety of tools such as cognitive restructuring, emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills, mindfulness, behavioral activation, coping skill development, interpersonal effectiveness skill refinement, trauma processing, behavioral experiments, exposures, etc. The goal of CBT for health anxiety is to help alter unhelpful ways of thinking and reduce or eliminate the avoidance, checking, safety-behaviors, etc. that maintain the individual's fears. In doing so, the individual can learn that they are over-estimating the likelihood of having/getting an illness and that they can tolerate and effectively manage their emotions and potential feared consequences.
OakHeart Health Anxiety Counselors, Psychologists, and Social Workers
Health Anxiety Related Blogs:
Of note, feeling anxious and worried about health can be a normal experience for many people over the course of our lives. And, anxiety itself is not necessarily a bad thing and is meant to protect us in the face of actual danger. It becomes a problem though when it becomes excessive, distressing, impacts quality of life, and when it occurs in response to unlikely or unrealistic threats. Individuals with Health Illness Anxiety Disorder tend to experience excessive anxiety, both in terms of intensity and frequency of that anxiety, and their fears tend to be out of proportion to the actual likelihood and cost of having what they are afraid of occurring. Their fears also tend to persist, despite reassurances that their fears are unlikely to occur (e.g., via doctor’s visits, tests, etc.)...(to read more, click on the link above).