Do you often find yourself worrying excessively about your health? When you hear something about a disease on the internet or TV, do you start worrying that you might have it?
You’re not alone. Many people suffer from health-related anxiety – an unrealistic fear about having or acquiring a serious medical condition, or becoming disproportionately worried about physical symptoms you are experiencing. For some, this type of anxiety may be an occasional, manageable worry. Others suffer constant and intense pangs of worry over the dreaded health condition.
It’s important to understand where you land on this spectrum. Knowing how severely, and frequently, your health worries are affecting your life will help guide your decisions about how to treat your anxiety.
How disabling is your health-related anxiety? Let’s say you forget to wash your hands after using a public restroom and briefly worry about exposure to germs. The worry is fleeting as you go about your busy day. Or your worry may be much more debilitating. You may avoid public restrooms at all costs, fearing contamination and convinced you’ll contract a disease.
The degree of impairment associated with these two responses is clearly different. In the first response, the worry is fleeting and does not cause extreme impairment. Most likely it’s uncomfortable and somewhat bothersome, but you’re still able to function and take care of your responsibilities. However, with the second response, your daily activities are disrupted. You may decide to stay home to avoid dealing with public restrooms. So, the degree of worry/anxiety you’re experiencing matters.
Frequency is also important – how often are you experiencing this type of worry and anxiety? Is it occasional or constant? Does the anxiety prevent you from taking care of your daily responsibilities, disrupt your sleep, or cause an appetite disturbance? Remember, all worry is not the same.
If the degree of health-related anxiety you’re experiencing seems to be causing you significant impairment, please find a mental health professional who specializes in treating anxiety and schedule a consultation. If this type of health-related anxiety is left untreated, it is highly unlikely that it will resolve on its own. There are effective treatment strategies available that will help you deal with this type of anxiety.
In the meantime, when you find yourself struggling with this type of health-related anxiety, I’d suggest you use an effective cognitive behavioral strategy called the A-B-C Model. It’s very simple to implement – follow these three steps:
1. Identify the Activating event – what happened that caused you to experience a health-related worry?
2. What did you do – what was your Behavior?
3. What was the Consequence of your actions?
Begin keeping an A-B-C log of your health-related worries and share this with the mental health professional. This information will prove helpful in changing these behaviors.
As you begin to deal with these worries and anxieties, be kind to yourself and avoid judgmental thoughts if possible. Try to approach your worries and anxieties with curiosity and kindness.