Health Anxiety: What It Is and How to Overcome It
Health-related anxiety has been steadily on the rise since 2020. Amidst the pandemic, more and more of us are feeling increasingly concerned about our physical well-being. A recent survey indicated that one in three individuals experience heightened anxiety over their health status due to these unprecedented times.
Health anxiety is particularly troubling because it can become rooted in the fear response, activating your nervous system and causing you to be constantly anxious and worry excessively about your health and well-being.
Health anxiety can be especially overwhelming for someone with a highly sensitive nervous system. Let’s discuss health anxiety and how to find relief from it.
What is Health Anxiety?
Health anxiety is a type of anxiety disorder in which an individual becomes preoccupied with the fear of having or developing a serious illness. People with health anxiety often experience persistent thoughts and worries about their health, such as fears of having cancer, a heart attack, or other illnesses. They may also have recurrent physical symptoms like headaches, chest pains, and nausea that are caused by anxiety rather than any underlying medical condition. Symptoms can be debilitating and interfere with daily life, but fortunately, healing is possible.
How do I know if I have health anxiety?
If you experience excessive anxiety about your health, you may be experiencing a health anxiety disorder. Signs include:
- having recurring thoughts and worries about having or developing a serious disease or illness
- body sensations and physical symptoms caused by anxiety rather than any underlying medical condition
- difficulty concentrating because of worries about your health
- continually checking yourself for signs of physical illness or injury, also called “body checking”
- seeking reassurance from medical professionals or family members regarding your health
- seeking constant medical care in the form of medical appointments and medical tests
Health anxiety can significantly interfere with daily life activities, so if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to seek support.
What causes health anxiety?
Health anxiety is typically developed when people experience a high level of stress or fear related to past experiences.
It can be triggered by physical, emotional, or psychological events that cause distress and fear. For example, a person may develop health anxiety after having a negative medical experience, such as an undiagnosed illness, or receiving frightening news about their health.
Additionally, family members’ experiences with chronic illness or a serious medical condition can lead to increased fears and anxieties regarding one’s own health. Or, if you grew up in a family where your parents or primary care provider was often preoccupied with their own health or yours, it could lead to internalizing this worry as a coping strategy.
Another cause that is not often discussed is the disruption of body self-awareness. People who have heightened sensitivity may have trouble understanding how their body feels, which can make them worry that something is wrong with their health.
Other underlying causes of health anxiety include genetic predisposition, traumatic life events (such as natural disasters), and the physical effects of prolonged stress on the body, including inflammation and hormonal imbalances.
How to Heal Health Anxiety From the Root
When it comes to treating health anxiety disorder, there are a variety of treatment options available. Treatment is tailored according to the individual’s needs and can combine elements of psychological therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and other supportive strategies.
If you’re struggling with health anxiety, you may have tried a variety of solutions, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). However, rather than solely focusing on therapy, most people benefit from a more holistic approach.
By combining cognitive strategies for understanding the problem, with conscious work of the body to process emotions, bodily sensations and beliefs – such as through somatic work – you can work towards greater overall healing.
Somatic work is powerful in releasing anxiety because it helps to understand and process underlying physical sensations and address the root causes. By acknowledging, accepting, and honoring the body’s wisdom, somatic work helps shift the nervous system out of a dysregulated state and into a state of calm and relaxation.
This is exactly what I offer in The Nervous System Solution, the world’s first science-based program that helps you build a regulated nervous system. We use a combination of techniques, including somatic work, which can address excessive health worries and resulting anxiety disorders at the root.
Health anxiety can have a significant impact on daily life, but it doesn’t have to be something you just accept. With the right approach, including cognitive strategies and somatic work, healing is possible. If you’re struggling with health anxiety, The Nervous System Solution offers an effective program that helps address underlying physical sensations and root causes of excessive worry and resulting anxieties. By combining science-based techniques for understanding the problem with conscious bodywork to process emotions, this program provides a holistic approach towards greater overall healing.
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Dr. Linnea Passaler
Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.