We’ve all heard the mocking phrase, “You’re such a hypochondriac!” and maybe even said it to someone we know—but health anxiety can be a serious condition, and it’s much more common than you might think – including among entrepreneurs.
Depending on the resource you look at, the number of people with health anxiety is somewhere between 1 and 6%, and the condition ranges from very uncomfortable to completely debilitating.
That means that if you were on a typical city bus with all the seats full, from one to four of your fellow riders would be likely to be suffering from this form of anxiety.
What Is Health Anxiety?
Health anxiety is medically called hypochondriasis, and more descriptively, illness anxiety disorder. It is a condition that causes excessive worry that you have (or will soon have) a serious illness or disease.
Sufferers tend to turn a minor symptom or even just physical feelings into symptoms of a serious illness in their mind. The thoughts can repeat and worry about the disease grows until the person is experiencing extreme distress.
Beyond the uncontrollable thoughts, health anxiety can have the same physical symptoms of other types of anxiety, including racing heart, stomach pains, chest pressure, dizziness, lightheadedness, and tingling sensations in the hands and feet. When these symptoms align with the signs of the disease you are concerned about, they can compound the anxiety, making it even more important to get help.
What Can You Do About It?
It’s very important to get professional help. When you think something is physically wrong with you, go see a physician, but if they tell you there’s nothing wrong, but you can’t stop believing there is (and especially if you think it’s the worst thing possible, like your headaches must be caused by a brain tumor) then you need to get the right kind of support for getting that under control.
Depressive disorders are the most common conditions that occur along with health anxiety, so if there’s a chance you are struggling with beliefs contradictory to what your doctor tells you, it’s best to take action to get the health anxiety under control before it gets worse.
Feeling like your heart is beating irregularly could just be a weird feeling or it could actually be an irregular heartbeat. If a medical billing services examine that there is no problem with your heartbeat, and you continue worrying about it, the tendency is to notice it more and more and get more and more scared about what it means. That’s why it is important to learn to accept what the doctor tells you.
Mental Health Support Is Necessary
The uncontrollable thoughts that cause health anxiety are a mental issue that needs to be addressed. Getting help with the mental side of illness anxiety disorder doesn’t have to be an extensive course of psychiatric treatment, but it does require treatment, usually in the form of working with a therapist.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Has Proven Effective
Many people have had great results from cognitive behavioral therapy, which is short-term and goal-oriented treatment that takes a practical approach to solving problems.
This kind of therapy helps deal with health anxiety by increasing the patient’s awareness of their thoughts and giving them activities to help get better control over them.
Retraining the brain takes work, so it is important to attend the therapy appointments. They also need to do any practice that the therapist recommends so they can learn to override the thought patterns that are causing the distress.
Medical Doctors and Mental Health Support Work Best Together
When your doctor and therapist are in communication, each of them can be more effective. Your therapist will know that you’ve had the appropriate physical exams and testing, so can be confident in addressing the related symptoms as health anxiety.
When you try to get reassurance from the doctor by getting further testing, etc. they know who to send you to, so that you don’t just go off looking for a new doctor who will confirm your suspicions. If they don’t suggest it themselves, encourage your doctor and therapist to work together and give them each other’s contact information.
When your own mind is messing you up, it’s very important to have the support you need, and for you to cooperate with them.
Avoid Self Diagnosis
The internet, source of all wisdom, can be a terrible trap for those with illness anxiety disorder. It’s common for all of us to look up our symptoms on the internet when we feel something strange or just don’t feel right.
The problem is that for almost any symptom, you’ll find a wide range of possibilities. For a headache, causes can range from dehydration to a brain tumor. Online writers want to be thorough, so they include every possibility, and most readers will understand that the most common causes probably apply to them.
Hypochondriasis, on the other hand, makes the reader think the worst. Instead of attributing their headache to dehydration and grabbing an electrolyte drink, sufferers feel sure that their headache is caused by a brain tumor.
If they can talk themselves out of calling the doctor and demanding a brain scan, the thought will recur and make them anxious anyway. Then the next headache (or memory lapse, or any other symptom of a brain tumor that they read about online) reinforces the fear that they do, indeed, have a tumor.
So if you suffer from anxiety about your health, it is important to avoid researching your condition. Practice letting the professionals do their jobs.
A Note for Family and Friends
Unfortunately, reassuring someone with health anxiety that they are not really sick does not help – especially to entrepreneurs! Telling a person that their thoughts are wrong does not provide relief and can increase their anxiety.
If someone in your life seems to have serious anxiety or uncontrolled recurring thoughts about being sick, encourage them to see a doctor—and follow up with a therapist, if the doctor says there’s nothing wrong with them.
The best way to support someone with health anxiety is to keep them on track with the treatments their health care providers recommend.
Whether you or a loved one suffer from health anxiety, keep in mind that the condition can be managed with the right support and seek help before the condition worsens.