8 Best Ways To Stop Worrying About Health
You spend hours on the Internet researching health information. When you get a scratchy throat you automatically think cancer — not a cold. And even when medical tests come back showing that you're healthy, it doesn't make you feel better. In the back of your mind, you still feel like something is wrong. If this sounds like you or a loved one, it may be health anxiety.
Health anxiety is a condition that causes healthy people to worry that they are sick — even when they have no symptoms or minor symptoms like a scratchy throat.
What Is Health Anxiety?
In addition to anxiety disorders, there's also health anxiety. It's a common medical diagnosis in adolescents and young adults. Although some young adults have always been worried about their health, health anxiety is a new diagnosis. It's described as the feeling that something is wrong with you or your body — your lungs might not be growing properly, or you might have a disease that's causing your physical symptoms.
Why health anxiety? Health anxiety appears to be a response to stressful events, such as: Complications from a chronic illness. Fear of getting sick or dying. Unwanted body changes. Unwarranted medical treatment. Another risk factor for health anxiety is a personal fear of physical symptoms. This fear is rooted in the concept of malaise. Health anxiety is the inability to feel relaxed or content in their body.
People with health anxiety think that the body is a mass of “foreign invaders” that needs to be “treated” before it can function properly. Health anxiety is different than being anxious about your health. A person may be afraid of getting sick and death. But with health anxiety, is not an existential fear, like being afraid of death, or a fearful scenario in which your body cannot function properly.
The fear is rooted in the body and manifests itself physically in many ways. Stress levels are high People with health anxiety may describe themselves as being “stressed” or “anxious. Health anxiety is a milder version of a common anxiety disorder called panic disorder. It can start when a person is about 10 years old, and it can remain a problem all their life, even if the person lives into their 80s and 90s. In health anxiety, the anxiety occurs in response to a perceived health threat.
1. Change Your Focus Of Attention
The first step to overcoming health anxiety is to change the way you think about it. We do this all the time — when we worry about buying the perfect Christmas present or passing a test or getting a promotion, for example. As mental health expert Ray Bush, Ph.D. says, “you've got to shift your focus of attention from the object of your anxiety to something else.” In other words, you can't look directly at your health anxiety; you have to look at something else.
Think about what you have going on in your life and how you can focus on them to take your mind off your anxiety. For example, if you've always felt kind of stressed at work, instead of focusing on your job, focus on how you can have more control over your work. Maybe you can come in an hour earlier or come in later. We often turn to our emotions to make sense of the world, but health anxiety is different.
Emotions are based on the past, while health anxiety is based on the future. When we are anxious about something, our thoughts constantly come back to what happened before, rather than what's going on right now. Our focus is not on what is happening to us in the present, but rather on how it could happen in the future. Avoid Impossible Expectations. Health anxiety is very intense, especially when someone has a specific, though still vague, worry about the future.
For example, my sister got a suspicious spot on her shoulder. Her body felt different — as if she had been attacked. However, the test results came back negative. Being stuck in a loop of worrying and ruminating can be exhausting. So try shifting your focus from the seemingly inevitable health problem to the positive steps you can take to get better. The research suggests that focusing on your recovery actually reduces your anxiety.
You can start to take control by breaking up the constant cycle of ruminating and worry. The trick is to do something that puts a stop to it, then repeat it until it stops. Tracking your sleep and physical activity and keeping a journal of your symptoms can help you learn which things are contributing to your symptoms and can help you get on top of your health anxiety. It takes time to regain your health anxiety, but it's a slow process.
2. Practice Mindfulness
If this sounds like you or a loved one, it may be health anxiety. The good news is that you can change this and find relief. Mindfulness is a powerful technique that can teach you how to view situations from a healthier perspective. This technique involves training your brain to be aware of your thoughts and feelings without reacting. In this exercise, we’ll practice mindfulness. We will notice and acknowledge our physical sensations — discomfort, anxiety and tension.
We’ll allow our thoughts to become passive and observe them. This is what happens in our brain when we become mindful: The last thing we notice about a moment is the thought or sensation that comes next. Instead, we notice everything. This gives our brain time to do its job — sifting through the clutter.
Let's go back to the scratchy throat example. When you feel that scratchy throat, what do you do? You might reach for that handy dandy anti-bacterial hand gel, or you might immediately hit your pause button. Now, it's time to breathe. If you are driving, and notice that you have become slightly queasy, what do you do? You make a mental note to take a bathroom break. If you're on a plane and see that the oxygen masks are going down, do you freak out? No. You make a mental note that you need to get off the plane ASAP.
Do the same thing when you experience a bout of health anxiety. If you start to panic, take a moment to slow down and reflect. In yoga, we say that your focus on the breath is your “toolbox” for success. Start by focusing on your breath. Ask your mind to slow down. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that focuses on the present moment without judging it. Mindfulness can be used to control and reduce your anxiety. And it's best to practice mindfulness as often as you can — especially when you feel anxious.
Mindfulness practice involves sitting quietly, either in a quiet room or outside somewhere in nature, and paying attention to the present moment without reacting to your thoughts. You can think of the present moment as a perfect rainbow, just for you. You can see how beautiful it is, and whether you want to be in that perfect rainbow. That's where mindfulness comes in. When you do something that gives you joy and you're not overwhelmed by anxiety, that's a mindfulness practice.
3. Listen To Music
Dance and sing or play your favourite music. That's how Judy Collins put it, “Music soothes the savage beast.” She was right. Doing something that you enjoy helps you take your mind off the negative thoughts and get back to the good stuff. Not only can listening to music reduce your stress, but studies also show that it helps promote good health in other ways. There are sound medical reasons why it's helpful to play music.
When you listen to music you release brain chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals encourage your heart to beat in a calm, even rhythm, and lower blood pressure. Researchers found that brain activity can also be controlled by the music you listen to. That means that by listening to calm, relaxing music you are sending a message to your brain that you are relaxed.
Having music playing has been proven to reduce anxiety by up to 40%. If that's not convincing enough, think about how good it feels to turn off the worrying and just be immersed in the music. In one study researchers at Stanford University found that getting on your feet for about two minutes can dramatically reduce the level of stress you experience on a daily basis.
Move it or lose it! Research shows that music can have an influence on emotions and mood. People can even feel sicker listening to depressing songs, while upbeat tunes make them feel better. When someone is suffering from health anxiety, listening to calming, musical sounds can bring them back to the present and alleviate their anxiety. It's all about working out what triggers the stress response and finding that melody.
4. Practice Guided Meditations
One way to treat health anxiety is through guided meditations. I'm a registered nurse. I've studied the field of mental health for years. And, like any good doctor, I've prescribed my patients a lot of medication. I see the meditations as a way to target the root cause of the anxiety. I encourage you to download a guided meditation app on your phone. Sit comfortably, close their eyes, and listen to the guided meditation while feeling calm.
Guided meditations come in all forms. Some are brief or have a specific goal. They range from 5-minute guided attention sessions, to 30-minute mindfulness meditations, to 50-minute music-infused meditations. It depends on your needs. Next, I recommend you practice meditation for 2-4 weeks. It's OK to struggle to get better. Many people feel that way at first. Sometimes, self-care is very difficult for us to do.
We can become overwhelmed by the fear of not being good enough, or not being able to do all the things we want to do. When you feel this way, take a couple of minutes to do a guided meditation in the 21-Day Guide to a Calm Mind. This guided meditation will give you space to listen to your body, and help you to relax. Self-care can be just as powerful as medications. Calming yourself down and giving yourself space can go a long way towards getting better. You can listen to the guided meditation. Sometimes it helps to have a guided meditation to distract you from thoughts about your health.
The guided meditation below was created to help people with anxiety and panic attack symptoms. Imagine yourself in a place where you can't feel any physical pain. Imagine yourself in a place where you can't see your surroundings. Imagine a person that is very familiar to you (a family member, friend, or even yourself). They might be telling you that they are having a headache or chest pain or some other physical symptom. You might also imagine them telling you that they had that same symptom in the past and they recovered from it.
5. Challenge Your Worrying Thoughts
If you're dealing with health anxiety, it's not your imagination. Researchers at Northwestern University found that the prevalence of health anxiety has increased dramatically over the past 15 years. “My colleague and I were interested in understanding the changing face of anxiety,” explains Daniel LaRosa, an assistant professor in clinical psychology at Northwestern University. “We also wanted to better understand how different parts of the brain are involved in anxiety and how to harness that power for therapeutic purposes.”
For the study, the researchers looked at a database of individuals that has been created over the years with the goal of finding people with a history of panic or generalized anxiety disorder. Fear and worry are normal reactions to stressful events. But if you find yourself engaging in these thoughts and worries over and over again, you may be worrying too much. Health anxiety takes this worry to new levels.
The anxious thoughts continue even if the source of the worry is eliminated, like a mysterious scratchy throat. To make it easier to stop worrying, try thinking about something new each time you start worrying. For example, instead of thinking about the scratchy throat that you heard about on the news, try thinking about how your muscles might feel sore from your early morning workout. Even if there is nothing to worry about, just moving your body can distract you from the thought. Many people with health anxiety try to avoid thinking about their fears.
They might find they're not able to sleep or concentrate on their work. You can't control the outcome of any test or the results of the tests you've had. However, you can control how you respond to the situation. Here's what you can do: Get to a point of acceptance. It's all in your mind. If you can accept that a certain worry may have an underlying medical cause, you can learn to manage your worrying thoughts. Identify your triggers. Identify your specific worries about your health. Then develop strategies to stop those thoughts from becoming worries.
6. Seek Support From Trusted Healthcare Professionals
If you think you may be experiencing health anxiety, it's important to speak with a trusted professional, like a primary care doctor or therapist, before taking action. Find a therapist or doctor who has expertise in mental health to help you overcome your health anxiety. Health anxiety is common, and if you've felt this way before, you're not alone. In fact, nearly 80 percent of women and 72 percent of men have symptoms of health anxiety at some point in their lives.
As with most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for how to get better at living with health anxiety. There are some things that help some people get better, but may not work for you. You'll need to find what works for you and then commit to working on it. Health anxiety often begins in middle age and may be treated through talk therapy.
Getting support from a therapist or physician can help you learn about and start coping with health anxiety. “There is a lot of information out there, but sometimes it can be overwhelming and the best way to deal with anxiety is to seek support from a trusted health professional,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, psychiatrist and professor at NYU Langone's Sackler School of Medicine.
7. Be Willing To Experience Discomfort
Health anxiety is similar to general anxiety — but instead of avoiding certain situations and emotions, you might avoid certain health issues. For example, someone who is anxious about heartburn might avoid certain foods, like garlic or onions, because they make their heartburn worse. You might also avoid medical procedures that you're afraid will cause you harm. And that causes health anxiety.
“Our health anxiety actually forces us into more intimate relationships with health care providers and to get more involved in our own care,” said Carolyn Bryant, an assistant professor in the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. There is a lot of talk about “all things in moderation.” So why are some people so overindulgent in their health-related concerns?
Research shows that health anxiety often stems from a tendency to set oneself up for failure. We see ourselves as failures and not good enough. Health anxiety drives the mind to create long lists of negatives. In the minds of health anxious people, if they are physically healthy, they are going to be punished with what they have come to believe is a disaster. This type of thinking creates an unhealthy focus on health. And it leads to feelings of being a failure.
People who suffer from health anxiety tend to talk about this in a very negative way. If you're on the verge of a panic attack you might say: “The doctor's just told me I'm dying. It may be uncomfortable and inconvenient to stop and slow down, but a slow and simple breathing practice can help soothe the anxious mind. How? For 20 to 30 seconds, focus on taking slow, deep breaths.
Focus on the breath while you feel and hear the breath come in and out. Give yourself permission to feel the sensations of the breath moving in and out. Begin to feel more relaxed, and the nervousness and worry will start to slip away. Set aside time to be mindful. If you know that you're anxious, setting aside at least 15 minutes a day to practice mindfulness will help. You can practice mindfulness in the shower, while driving, or before you go to sleep. Simply clear your mind of all thoughts and focus on your breathing and the sensations of your breath.
8. Acknowledge Your Experience
Symptoms of health anxiety include persistent health concerns, resulting in excessive worries and care-seeking. If you feel like something is off, talk to a doctor or other health care professional about your concerns. Learn to distinguish between your symptoms and symptoms of a problem. Practice basic self-care like eating healthy, getting exercise, and getting enough sleep.
Set realistic goals for your health — for example, being healthier at the end of the month than you are today. And remember that everything is okay. Overcoming health anxiety is a challenge. People with anxiety think everything is a threat. You feel overwhelmed when you're not feeling well because you know you should be feeling better. So first, put down Google and accept your anxiety.
Maybe you're worried you have cancer, or that you're sick. Whatever your thought is, validate it with yourself. Then come up with a plan to deal with your fear. You can ask for help, such as a check-up with a doctor, or spend time with someone who has no fears. Take up a new hobby or do something that has nothing to do with your health. Your goal is to reduce your fear of a future illness. You are not alone and you aren't sick.
Health anxiety has been called “paranoid thinking of the chronic variety,” and that description can be accurate. People with health anxiety can spend hours of the day obsessing about whether they are sick, or even being healthy. If you feel this way, it is important to acknowledge your experience. It is also important to notice that health anxiety can make you feel anxious, overwhelmed, and even depressed.
Try not to beat yourself up over it, and encourage yourself to stop worrying about health. You have the right to live your life the way you want to. Most importantly, it is not the end of the world if you have health anxiety, and it is certainly not cancer.
Health anxiety is a real, debilitating condition. But it can be treated. Having good health is a gift and when it is gone it can be taken away in an instant. If you are sick now or have ever been sick in the past, don't forget to take care of yourself and get checked out if necessary. After all, it's better to have life's little bumps than to miss out on a few good years. The first step to stopping worrying is realizing that worrying is not helpful.
The funny thing about anxiety is that while you may feel like you're obsessing, it's really your mind trying to tell you something is wrong. When you discover what the real issue is, you'll feel more confident and in control. There's no way to totally eliminate all anxiety, but you can be aware of how you feel and develop strategies to manage it.
To get relief from anxiety, try to avoid overthinking by keeping in mind three strategies to alleviate your worry. Regain your self-confidence. Believe in yourself. Your anxiety stems from your doubts about what you can or can't do, so take control by being proactive.
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