How to Manage Illness Anxiety Disorder

By: Suzanne Feinstein, PhD

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Do you find yourself getting worried about becoming sick on a regular basis?

Living with illness anxiety disorder, commonly known as hypochondriasis, can be a daunting experience. However, with proper understanding, effective coping strategies, and professional guidance, people can navigate this condition and lead fulfilling lives.

What is hypochondriasis? Continue reading for our breakdown of hypochondriasis.

What Is Hypochondriasis?

Hypochondriasis is a mental health condition where someone has excessive worry about having a serious medical illness, despite reassurance from medical professionals.

People with hypochondriasis often misinterpret normal bodily sensations as signs that something is wrong, which leads to persistent anxiety and distress.

Hypochondriasis Prevalence

It’s unclear how many people have hypochondriasis, but BMC Public Health estimates that it affects around 5.7% of the population, with slightly higher prevalence rates among women.

While hypochondriasis can develop at any age, it often manifests in early adulthood.

Hypochondriasis Causes

The precise causes of hypochondriasis are multifaceted and not fully understood. It may be due to a combination of psychological, environmental, and biological factors.

Traumatic experiences, genetic predispositions, personality traits, and learned behaviors may all play a role in triggering or exacerbating hypochondriasis.

Hypochondriasis Symptoms

Symptoms of hypochondriasis vary in severity but often manifest as a pervasive preoccupation with health concerns. People with hypochondriasis often find themselves consumed by worry, always fearing that they have a serious medical condition even when doctors say otherwise.

This excessive concern may lead them to engage in frequent checking behaviors, meticulously examining their bodies for any perceived signs of illness. Even minor sensations or bodily changes can trigger intense anxiety and distress, fueling a cycle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors related to health.

People with hypochondriasis may also exhibit a pattern of seeking reassurance from healthcare providers through regular doctor visits and medical tests, despite receiving no evidence of a serious medical condition. This persistent seeking of reassurance may alleviate anxiety for a while but ultimately reinforces the belief that one’s health concerns are valid, perpetuating the cycle of hypochondriasis.

In addition to the constant worry and reassurance-seeking behaviors, people with hypochondriasis often struggle to focus on tasks unrelated to their health worries. As a result, hypochondriasis can impair a person’s general functioning and quality of life, leading to feelings of frustration, isolation, and hopelessness.

The anxiety and distress associated with hypochondriasis can have physical manifestations, such as tension, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. The constant state of heightened arousal and vigilance can take a toll on both the body and mind, exacerbating symptoms of anxiety and further perpetuating the cycle of hypochondriasis.

Hypochondriasis Treatment

Managing hypochondriasis requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both the underlying psychological factors and the symptoms associated with the disorder. Treatment options may include the following:

Talk Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be quite effective at treating hypochondriasis. Through CBT, people can spot and challenge irrational thoughts about illness, develop coping strategies to handle anxiety, and work through fearful situations or stimuli in a controlled manner.

Medication

Antidepressant medications like Prozac and Luvox may sometimes work well to alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression related to hypochondriasis. These medications can help regulate mood, reduce the intensity of obsessive thoughts, and improve general wellness.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy involves systematically exposing people to their feared situations or stimuli, such as medical settings or health-related information, in a safe and controlled environment. This gradual exposure helps desensitize individuals to anxiety triggers and teaches them to cope more effectively with their fears.

Coping Strategies for Managing Hypochondriasis

In addition to professional treatment, people with hypochondriasis can implement practical coping strategies. These coping mechanisms make it possible to gain control of their symptoms and life.

Educate Yourself

Learning about hypochondriasis and understanding that it’s a recognized mental health condition can empower people. They can take control of their health anxiety and seek appropriate support and treatment.

Limit Internet Searches

While it’s natural to seek information about health concerns, excessive online searches for medical information can exacerbate anxiety and fuel irrational fears. Limiting internet searches and focusing on trusted sources of information can help mitigate anxiety triggers.

Establish Boundaries with Healthcare Providers

Establishing a collaborative and trusting relationship with a primary healthcare provider can help individuals navigate their health concerns more effectively. Agreeing on a plan for managing health worries and setting boundaries around unnecessary medical tests and procedures can reduce healthcare-seeking behaviors driven by anxiety.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Working on relaxation techniques can help reduce anxiety symptoms and promote calmness. Stretching, being mindful of your breathing, and staying present are all effective techniques.

Stay Active

Setting aside a bit of time each day for movement not only benefits physical health but also enhances mood, reduces stress, and promotes relaxation. Finding enjoyable forms of exercise can be particularly beneficial for managing anxiety symptoms.

Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle

Being mindful of nutrition, sleep, and substances like alcohol and drugs can support overall well-being and mental health. Focusing on self-care and creating healthier lifestyle habits can give people more tools to handle their stress.

Seek Support

Sharing how you feel with supportive people can be a validating experience. It can make people with hypochondriasis feel less alone. Connecting with others who are empathetic can be invaluable in navigating the challenges of hypochondriasis.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

When anxious thoughts arise, challenge them by questioning their validity and exploring alternative explanations for your symptoms. Engaging in critical thinking and reframing irrational beliefs can help with controlling fears and reducing anxiety levels.

Are You Struggling with an Anxiety Disorder?

Lots of people who worry about their wellness ask, “What is hypochondriasis?” Living with hypochondriasis can present significant challenges, but with the right support, treatment, and coping strategies, people can manage their symptoms and reclaim control over their lives. By seeking professional help, practicing self-care, and implementing practical coping techniques, people with hypochondriasis can cultivate resilience, promote emotional well-being, and thrive despite the challenges posed by this disorder.

Would you like to learn more about your mental wellness and start feeling better? Dr. Suzanne Feinstein has been helping people overcome their mental wellness struggles since 1995. Contact Advanced Behavioral Health to schedule your appointment.

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