Living With Health Anxiety Disorder (Hypochondriasis)

Hypochondria or health anxiety disorder is a mental disorder that causes you to be hypervigilant about any bodily signs and symptoms that could indicate a medical condition. You may obsess about illness and engage in a lot of self-diagnosis. You may completely imagine signs or symptoms or perceive them to an exaggerated degree due to worry. To cope with it effectively and regain some peace of mind, you will want to think the degree it is affecting your life, about the possible origins of your problem, consider seeking treatment, and learn some positive coping strategies. 

About Hypochondria

This is a condition that can range from mild to severe on a continuum. A severe hypochondriac will insist on operations and intensive  treatments they don't need and they are too delusional to listen to medical advice. On the other hand someone who experiences mild hypochondria may experience some anxiety and make frequent trips to doctors but can feel better if reassured by them only to return later with a new worry. To receive this diagnosis, you would have been experiencing symptoms for six months or more.

It is a disorder involving distortions in perception and cognition which means minor sensations are amplified plus you may also have intrusive thoughts that make it hard for you to focus on anything else.You  may also have mood disorder along with the hypochondria such as depression or bipolar disorder, or have phobias, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some people experience this disorder because of inappropriate guilt over past transgressions.

Researchers have not discovered a specific genetic component to hypochondriasis, but your family environment can cause you to pick up on your parent's fears of disease. If you have been in close contact with someone with a devastating illness, this may increase your anxiety. You can also experience an health information overload because of the media and advertising and this can exacerbate your fears. It is also possible that you actually have an illness (such as chronic fatigue syndrome) that has a wide spectrum of symptoms and this would need to be diagnosed or ruled out.

Professional Treatment

If you are experiencing significant distress which it is interfering with your life, you need to consult a mental health professional. Therapy for this disorder will involve cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you to identify patterns of thought and beliefs that may be contributing to your anxiety.

In this process, you will learn to confront false beliefs such as 'worrying prevents bad things from happening,' how to discern a realistic concern from an unproductive worry, and how to deal with the uncertainties of life.  You will also learn how to interpret normal sensations without becoming unduly anxious.

There is no specific drug for health anxiety disorder, but some people benefit from SSRI antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications. Severe hypochondria may require an inpatient stay at a mental facility for a period of time. 

Tips on Coping With and Overcoming Your Anxiety

  • Work to improve your health by engaging in positive  activities. Prepare and eat healthy meals, start an exercise program, and focus on wellness. Give up habits that are harmful to your health.
  • Learn the basics of how your immune system works. Start doing positive things to help it along.
  • Make new friends who are also interested in wellness pursuits.
  • Learn how to relax and to meditate.
  • Avoid the tendency to self-diagnose yourself. Everybody has some aches and pains that they have to live with. If something seems out of the ordinary, go see your physician. Otherwise, work on breaking any addictions you have of doing internet searches about symptoms and reading about medical subjects.
  • Develop new interests. At first you may have trouble concentrating on something new but if you persevere, you will find your illness obsession is lessening its grip on you. As you do engage in positive activities, use these to build trust in your perceptions, thoughts, and judgments.
  • Memorize  some positive health affirmations (or some soothing religious passages from a sacred book) and say them to yourself when you experience intrusive thoughts.

To recap, hypochondria is a learned or acquired anxiety disorder that is focused on health and can range from mild to severe. To overcome it, you must change belief and thought patterns that make you anxious. It is helpful to replace anxiety provoking actions with new healthy activities and behaviors. For further assistance, contact local family counseling professionals.