How to Handle Health Anxiety

Health anxiety refers to repetitive, catastrophic meaning-making when it comes to interpreting bodily sensations. Put plainly, it’s thinking that something terrible is happening to your body on a regular basis. It’s a fairly common form of anxiety, especially post-pandemic. Though, if the symptoms you’re concerned about are persistent, seek medical advice to obtain confirmation that you do not have an underlying condition.  Since you can’t escape your own bodily sensations, health anxiety can be especially difficult to live with. However, it is treatable. You don’t have to live in fear.  Here are a few ways to self-treat your health anxiety:

  1. Know Your Anxiety Sensations – Anxiety symptoms can feel like a more serious health condition. Symptoms like stomach pain, dizziness, headache, fast heartbeat, and shortness of breath can all make you second guess if there’s a deeper problem. It can be helpful to know how anxiety manifests in your body so that you can identify it in the moment of experiencing it.
    For myself, I often experience indigestion and shaking when I’m anxious, which can feel eerily similar to the sensations of a stomach bug… one of my own biggest triggers! Reminding myself that these are my physical symptoms of anxiety can help me to avoid spiraling into catastrophic explanations.
  2. Stay Away from Google – Researching your symptoms can provide a sense of temporary relief because it feels like you’re doing something productive. However, reassurance-seeking can actually make your anxiety worse in the long run. This is because this behavior is telling your brain that there is a threat, which reinforces your anxiety. The more you focus on finding an explanation for your symptoms, the more likely you are to convince yourself and your body that there’s something wrong. By choosing to avoid googling your symptoms (and choosing to avoid calling a loved one to ask them about your symptoms!), you’re telling your brain that the sensations are actually not a big deal and that it’s ok to relax.
  3. Create a List of Soothing Thoughts – As an alternative to going to the internet for reassurance, prepare yourself a comfort list for when you experience moments of anxiety. Here are some ideas to get you started:
    1. It is natural and healthy to experience bodily sensations.
    2. Sensations will always pass.
    3. Allowing the sensations to be there alleviates suffering.
    4. I choose to stay focused on what is most valuable to me in my life.

Uncertainty is a part of life. Trying to find certainty within the unknown is a tiring, stressful path. Aim to surrender and trust that you can handle whatever comes your way.

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