health anxiety

Health Anxiety: What It is & What You Can Do

When I received a message with this idea for a post about health anxiety, I was so intrigued. Not only was it something I had never written about before specifically, but, secretly, it is something I struggle with on a day to day basis.

Do you find yourself worrying unnecessarily about your health? Do you lie awake at night thinking about diseases you may or may not (and probably don’t) have? Or, that you will die young from an incurable disease?

I don’t talk about it a lot, because I think it’s one of the most common ways to get gaslighted. People are very quick to label hypochondriacs as crazy and invalidate their feelings. To be clear, I think mental illness we need to talk about mental illness, always, even if you are worried about what people will say. But I hate talking about health anxiety.

Like my posts?
Thanks so much! Subscribe right here + get a set of FREE printable positive affirmations cards (plus, access to my Free Resource Library!)
I respect your privacy and only send a couple emails a week.

I’m working on it, though. This is my first step.

Thank you so much, Kelly, from State of Mental for sharing this. I needed to read it, and I know I am not alone.

What is health anxiety?

Health anxiety is a form of anxiety that people do not often talk about.

It has sometimes been called “Hypochondria” or “Illness Related Anxiety.” Most people that I speak to about it tend to say, “Aww, I know someone who thinks they have all the diseases going,” or ‘“Oh my god, my nan’s a hypochondriac, always claiming she’s ill.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I do read an article and i’ll automatically link some of the symptoms to ways I’ve been feeling.  But that doesn’t mean that people with health anxiety think they have ‘every disease going’. 

For me, it means that I’ll google symptoms, “reassurance check” with those close to me, catastrophize little things in my life, or lose control of my emotions. And then this tends to lead to a general panic attack. (Related post by Diffusing the Tension- Anxiety: What it is and how you can treat it)

Here’s an example

So that you can understand I’ll give you a scenario that happened to me the other day.  Cancer is one of my many triggers. If i see it being discussed on TV, on social media, or out and about, I have a need to listen in. It’s almost like a magnet. My ears hear the word “cancer” and start listening to signs and symptoms. My mind automatically races and tries to connect them to some feeling in my body. 

I saw a post a while back.  It was just an innocent post on instagram about a woman who was recovering from Cancer.  Now, usually I try and avoid these posts but that day was a particularly bad day. (In other words I had no willpower.) So, I read it. The woman was commenting on the fact that she had been having pains in her side and had gone to the doctors, who hadn’t listened. She pushed and pushed and finally they scanned her back and found stage 3 Cancer. 

It so happened that that week I had a pain in my side. It wasn’t just a normal pain, it was something that I had for a while. On a good day, I drink a lot of water and the pain goes so I attach it to dehydration. As I said though, this wasn’t the best day so,  like a herd of elephants stomping into a room, in came the thoughts. They started small. “I have that kind of pain.” “I need to book a doctor’s appointment.” 

And the thoughts very quickly increased.  “The doctors have lied to me about this being dehydration.” “I have Cancer, and I’m going to die.” Cue the reassurance seeking.  “Babe, I have a bad pain in my side. Can you feel if there’s a lump please?” He checks, and there’s nothing. Either I don’t believe him or I think that it’s probably way too far in for him to feel.  Plus, he’s not a doctor, so what does he know? 

Then, came palpitations, shortness of breath, tight chest… Full blown panic. It took me around 20 minutes to slowly calm myself down to a point where I could think clearly enough to breathe. 

Recovering from a period of anxiety

I still think about that post…a lot. I have been through counselling for the 3rd time for around 9 months now.  Although my symptoms are getting better, I’m in no way cured. I’ve had CBT and acceptance theory therapy. I also use theory A or Theory B practice in which you think of all of the possible other things that your pain or thought could be. 

For instance, if you’re scared of flying theory A is that the plane crashes, theory B is that you have a lovely flight, theory C that you get taken by aliens and so on. Your mind sees that it’s not just one sided. There are a million other things that could happen. This therapy has helped me loads and I’ve come a long way. However, it’s not for everyone. Not everyone can think of different things. It took me at least 5 tries but I find now if I can sit down and write the theories then it’s easier to visualise. 

I can talk myself around a lot faster now too, but I still have very bad weeks where I can barely get out of bed.  However, I’m working on being the Warrior that I know I can be! I hope this post will show others that health anxiety is a real thing.  It’s not over dramatising an issue. It’s not pretending you’ve got something wrong to get attention. And it’s most definitely not a crazy person’s problem! 

There is hope for you

If this is something you are living with, please know things will get better. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. It’s going to be one of the hardest things that you’ll go through.  You’ll break and cry and think that things will never get better… BUT THEY WILL. One day you’ll wake up and it will seem the same… but upon reflection you’ve only had 2 bad thoughts that day and then that decreases until you go a whole day without any! 

It took a lot for me to seek help and I know how hard it can be, but please reach out. It can be a long process, for instance seeing a doctor who had me go back three times before she referred me. Then, they referred me to the local mental health service, who then referred me to a counselor who called me to arrange an appointment. 

It took around 8 months in all to get to the point where I was seeing someone but it’s worth the wait. Just to wake up some days without a feeling of anxiety. There are other charities out there also. I know Mind is a great one in Wales. 

Share this post on Pinterest by using the icon in the top left corner of the picture.

I hope this post raises the awareness of health anxiety, and that my posts continue to help support those having to live with being a Health Anxiety Warrior. 

If you ever need support or a chat please contact me on Twitter at @stateofmental1 or on Instagram at @stateofmental. I also have an Etsy store called State of Mental where I make badges and accessories to empower those with mental health so please take a visit 

If you suffer from health anxiety, you are not alone. I often worry that I have debilitating and life threatening illnesses. In fact, it affects 4-5% of people, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Make sure to see a therapist. They will be able to help you through some of your discomfort and worries.

Just remember: The thought of a tiger is not a tiger.

Did you like this post? Make sure you share the post on Pinterest, Facebook, or wherever you see fit. You never know who it might benefit.

Looking for a safe space to discuss mental health and connect with others? I would love for you to join my private Facebook group! I share my blog posts and other relevant mental health resources I come across. Click the image below to join. See you there!

Mental health facebook group

Related Posts: 7 Interesting Facts About Anxiety, What is Anxiety?, Eating for Depression and Anxiety, How to Manage Your Anxiety While Traveling, Positive Thinking Every Day: How You Can Find Joy in the Little Things

14 thoughts on “Health Anxiety: What It is & What You Can Do”

  1. I am awestruck. Your example of how hearing your trigger word cancer and fixating on the pain in your side devolves into an anxiety episode was so eye opening. I knew that anxiety could spiral and turn into a frenzy, quickly, but had never had such a clear understanding until reading your post today.

    1. Thanks! I think some worrying can be normal depending on the situation. And while it’s good to be “accepting” of ourselves and practice self love, obsessive thoughts are never normal. Thanks for reading.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this and I really relate to what you said about cancer. I spent months convincing myself I had cervical cancer purely because I wasn’t old enough to have my screening and I’d read so many articles on girls under 25 dying from it. I also really relate to what you said about the doctors lying to you too – because I have OCD I often think the doctors have the view that my symptoms are all in my head as a result of my condition, that they didn’t conduct a thorough enough exam and so on. It’s exhausting! Thankfully I’m much better at coping with it although I still tend to seek reassurance quite a lot – sometimes I resort to Google and it does way more harm than good! Thank you for sharing and raising awareness of a form of anxiety that is rarely talked about 😊

  3. I had never considered being a hypochondriac as a form of anxiety! Talk about opening my eyes to a new perspective!
    Suddenly you look at it through a different lens. They’re not crazy – they’re anxious and living in a constant state of fear.
    Mind blown!

    1. It definitely is. I have been dealing with that a lot. Every ache or pain makes me afraid I have a life threatening illness. It is so hard! Glad you found it helpful.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.