Picture this. It is a cold Sunday evening, and you feel your throat becoming sore. Your first reaction is to Google the symptoms. You scroll endlessly through all the websites and multiple research studies and end up with an answer- that you might have cancer. After an episode of immense anxiety, stress, and excessive worrying, you get tested. It turns out you are as healthy as a horse. You should get a sense of relief, but you don’t. You perpetually feel like something is wrong with your health.
If you relate to the scenario above, you might be a victim of an illness anxiety disorder. Simply put, you may be suffering from health anxiety. You may worry too much about your health and perceive every bodily sensation negatively. While it is good to be concerned about your bodily functions, excessive worrying or an obsession with your health might eventually worsen.
Worrying about your health consistently may overwork your brain and body. This may lead to high levels of anxiety or even a panic disorder, which can cause constant distress to your mind and affect your thinking prowess. Once this occurs, you may begin to experience certain physical symptoms.
Continuous worrying and extreme stress can bring about various health issues. A stress response is also triggered when you face extreme anxiety. To understand stress, we must understand the two elements that a stress response is made up of. The first is the challenge-response stress which tends to be short-term. The second is the fight-or-flight response, which occurs when the mind believes the body is in immediate danger. This triggers a hormone known as adrenaline. Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster and the breathing rapid, which puts the brain on high alert.
The fight-or-flight response of the body also releases a hormone known as cortisol. This helps increase the sugar level and blood fats that can act as fuel or food for the body. A few physical symptoms caused by the hormone may include:
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing movements
- Muscle tension
- Lack of concentration
- Digestive problems
Excessive worrying may also have dire consequences, such as heart attack and low immunity. Read on to find out what hypochondria is and what are some common symptoms associated with it.
What is Hypochondria?
Hypochondria or Hypochondriasis is a disorder wherein an individual is constantly worried or fearful about developing a disease or an illness. Now termed health anxiety, it includes somatic symptom disorder and illness anxiety disorder. Hypochondriacs may become obsessed with their physical health and constantly monitor their body sensations, such as their breathing, or minor physical irregularities, such as a mole on their skin. They might misread the normal functioning of their body as an irregularity due to the fear of illness.
This disorder might negatively impact your quality of life, relationships, and career. Assuming the worst about your health can lead your body to actually showcase symptoms of anxiety. They can be in the form of excessive sweating, a racing heart, nausea, or distress in the stomach. Although most of those fears are just mere assumptions or thoughts, they may begin to seem extremely real to you.
Being proactive, having a healthy diet, and going on regular health checkups are reasonable concerns that we all must have. But health anxiety surfaces when you begin to fixate on your health and schedule multiple appointments with doctors to rule out diseases for which you show no symptoms of. It impedes your ability to enjoy or live in the moment due to the constant fear bubbling in your brain. While experts believe there are no exact causes of illness anxiety disorder, a few factors may heighten this condition. One factor includes a low understanding of your physical sensations and the diseases out there. You may also have a family member who is a constant worrier or maybe a family history of health anxiety. Childhood trauma or a previous experience with a serious illness might affect your way of thinking and make you fearful of the future.
Other risk factors may include child abuse, a worrying disposition, stressful events, uncertainty about the future, parents with serious illnesses, or a severe misjudgment of health disorders.
An example of this mental health disorder might be misinterpreting a headache as a sign of a brain tumor or a mere stomach ache as a sign of appendicitis. Even after multiple medical tests and reassurances from the doctor, you might still be wary of the disease and worry excessively about your body sensations.
To understand this condition explicitly, look at some common symptoms associated with this health condition.
Healthy anxiety involves being distressed about a health issue without exhibiting symptoms. But how do you know if you’re actually sick or just anxious about your health? The pointers listed below are some common signs of illness anxiety disorder:
- Excessive worrying – You may be extremely consumed by your bodily functions. A minor change in your health might make you imagine the worst and lead to panic attacks. It may impact your day-to-day activities, relationships, and career. You may have the fear of a disease without showcasing any symptoms.
- Constant checkups – You may incessantly check your body for signs of sickness, such as skin abnormalities, lumps, or an irregular ache. These checks are done frequently, without any cause.
- Seeking reassurance – You seek constant reassurance from your doctor or your loved ones about your health. During hospital visits, you may feel that your doctor has missed some crucial tests or the diagnosis is incorrect. In certain cases, you believe others to be wrong and are continually concerned about your body sensations.
- Obsessive research – Individuals suffering from health anxiety disorder obsessively read research articles or websites pertaining to health disorders. They are regular consumers of the health information present on the internet or other platforms.
- Avoiding public spaces – You may not venture out of your house or to crowded places due to the fear of an infection or a disease. Sometimes, the individual stops entertaining people altogether and looks for ways to avoid them.
Ways Your Mind Can Cause Physical Feelings
The flight-or-fight response is our body’s natural response to any danger. It activates the hormones in our body (such as cortisol, the stress hormone) that allow us to be prepared to fight or run away (flight) from said danger. Our heart beats faster to allow more blood flow, and our pupils dilate for better vision. We’ve all likely been there and experienced our bodies suddenly going on high alert. However, living with an anxiety disorder can be quite fatal, for the body is constantly in a state of high alert.
The symptoms of an illness anxiety disorder do not occur due to the disease you think you might have. These symptoms are usually a by-product of your anxiety. A few common signs of this condition include the following:
- Rapid heartbeat – Your heart may begin to palpitate. This happens due to an adrenaline rush caused by anxiety. You may also experience chest pains and be at a heightened risk of high blood pressure.
- Digestive problems – You may begin to experience irregular stomach aches, constipation, diarrhea, or even nausea. This may affect your appetite, and you might fall prey to irritable bowel syndrome, also known as IBS.
- Lower immunity – Constant anxiety can cause a weakened immune system due to inflammation in the body. This may expose you to infections such as the common cold or flu.
- Nausea or dizziness – During an anxiety attack, our breaths become rapid to allow our lungs to work efficiently, i.e., by increasing oxygen intake. This might make you feel dizzy, faint, or nauseous.
- Odd pains – You may experience a random array of pain in your body due to increased blood flow. There is a high possibility you may misinterpret these aches as signs of another disorder.
- Irregular functioning – Other physical symptoms of this condition may include difficulty swallowing, a dry mouth, fatigue, headaches, lack of concentration, muscle tension, shivers, low memory power, and constant irritability.
While the symptoms of health anxiety are many, these are a few common signs to look out for if you believe that you or a loved one may be suffering from this serious medical condition.
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How to Cope With It
Worrying excessively and suffering from high anxiety can be fatal for your mind and body. The symptoms caused by your anxiety are real, and you may be stuck in a fearful cycle of assumptions about your health. However, there are certain things you can try to mitigate anxiety and lead a healthier and more relaxed life.
- Exercise regularly – Being physically active can work wonders for your body. Besides improving the blood flow, it can also ease up all the built-up muscle tension in your body. Physical activity promotes the production of endorphins which can help in boosting your mood and bring about positive feelings. Exercising regularly can improve your brain health, strengthen your immune system, and make you more efficient in performing daily activities.
- Eat healthily – Balancing your diet with proteins, nutrients, and other healthy substances will promote a healthier lifestyle. It will not only boost your immunity, but you will be less vulnerable to diseases such as heart disease or diabetes. This may play a vital role in reducing the constant anxiety you may face regarding your health.
- Meditate – Whenever you begin to worry, or have concerns about your health, practice the art of meditation. This will curtail the constant stream of negative thoughts and allow you to be mindful of the present moment.
- Journal – Journaling your thoughts and feelings will help you become more conscious of your worries. Through this process, you can understand and identify your repetitive behavior and health concerns. Set aside some time to write down all that you are feeling. Unload all your worries in a notebook and keep track of your triggers. This will help in reducing your anxiety.
- Try Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy – Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help you identify the negative thought patterns that might influence your behavior or actions. This can help you immensely reduce any destructive coping mechanisms you might be using.
- Seek professional help – To help you combat this mental health condition, your doctor may perform certain physical tests to rule out any health disorders. You may be prescribed certain medications for an appropriate form of treatment. Seeking help for your mental health is also necessary to feel more relaxed and comfortable.
Seek Help From a Trusted Professional With DocVita Today
Living with health anxiety can have dire effects on your mental health. If not treated on time, it can cause lasting emotional and physical damage. If you feel that you or a loved one is suffering from this disorder, consider getting help from a specialist. DocVita offers you a range of therapists to guide you on your journey to betterment. Just hop on to DocVita’s provider’s page and book yourself a call today!