All Posts in Category: Health Anxiety

woman wearing facemask amid coronavirus particles

Navigating The Pandemic Paradox

Sometimes it seems as if we’ve all become trapped in a movie that is playing out worldwide. The coronavirus pandemic is like nothing we’ve ever seen before and has indelibly changed our lives. This time last year, people would have laughed if you’d predicted the shuttering of schools and businesses, that face masks would become a fashion statement, or that our normal lives would be turned upside down so completely. Yet, despite this upheaval, there are still good things that have come from the pandemic.

Is There A Pandemic Silver Lining?

One of the things I have been hearing a lot is how the pandemic has allowed people to step back and “reset.” We’re learning what is important to us. In many ways, this “time out” from our day to day schedules has brought us closer together.

One of the most significant changes are the family ties that formed or were remodeled once our hectic lives were halted. Parents and kids have finally been able to spend time as a family without extracurricular activities taking precedence. Parents who are working from home have extra time to interact with their children now that they don’t have to commute. Most children aren’t going off to summer camps or day camps this year, so families are vacationing together.

People have had the chance to start hobbies, adopt pets, and broaden their world by trying new recipes. They’ve been virtually visiting museums and art galleries, and finding creative ways to keep in touch with loved ones.

Carbon emissions are down thanks to reduced commutes. People are rethinking their careers, saving more money, decluttering, and finally working through their to-do lists.

Even silver linings come with stress, though.

The Pandemic’s Harmful Effects On Mental Health

There are clear concerns for people’s mental health as the virus continues to affect the world. Initially, the skyrocketing death rates made everyone anxious that they or a loved one could be the next victim. Then, stay-at-home orders magnified our sense of losing control. We saw this play out in the form of panic buying and hoarding. Lastly, the implosion of the economy and the massive layoffs and job losses have dampened hopes of a quick recovery.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the mental health effects of all the stress that has come from coping with the pandemic could include:

  • Disturbances in our patterns of sleeping or eating
  • Problems concentrating
  • Anxiety about our health and that of our loved ones
  • An increase or worsening of mental health conditions
  • Deterioration of ongoing health problems
  • An increase in the use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

There are also physical symptoms of anxiety that can include:

  • Nausea and sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath or a rapid heartbeat
  • Headaches or an increase in migraines

Not everyone will have experienced these pandemic anxiety concerns because we all react to stress differently, but some people may be dealing with several of these challenges – particularly if they suffered from anxiety or depression before the pandemic.

Self Care For Pandemic Anxiety

  • Try to distract yourself. I know there are restrictions in some areas and more being put back into place, but you have online options for such things as cooking classes, music lessons, learning a language, yoga or meditation. Look up virtual options for visiting the museums you’ve always dreamed of or places you’ve always wanted to see (Google Earth and YouTube are great platforms for this).
  • Don’t scrutinize every physical symptom. This is allergy season, plus there are always summer colds out there. Remember that a cough is likely just a cough and not an indicator that you have COVID-19, especially if you have been cautious and isolating yourself from others.
  • Turn off the news stations. News reports can start catastrophic thoughts racing and dramatically increase your anxiety. By constantly watching news coverage of the pandemic, you never get a mental break. Remember that news reports are designed to make you tense and concerned – it’s what keeps you clicking on the news websites or tuning into to their broadcasts to find out what’s happening.  

Professional Help For Pandemic Anxiety

Sometimes, however, self-care is not enough to get relief from anxiety. If your anxiety seems to be increasing as the coronavirus pandemic continues, you may have developed an anxiety disorder. If your symptoms get worse or continue for longer than two weeks, please speak to one of our trained mental health professionals. We offer both virtual / online and in-office treatment options.

For more information, please contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 today. 

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America’s germaphobes were ready for this — and have been for too long

America’s germaphobes were ready for this — and have been for too long

Health anxiety disorder is underreported, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and possibly affects 12 percent of the nation’s population. (The group’s annual conference this week was nixed due to the coronavirus.) Those who suffer from the disorder are usually thought of as hypochondriacs or germaphobes.

The current alarm about the coronavirus could be hard on OCD sufferers, prompting them to overdo it even more than usual. However, some people with health anxiety may be coping better during the pandemic than individuals who aren’t used to worrying about sneezing and coughing and handshakes and other casual physical contact, says Andrew Rosen, who runs the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Fla.

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COVID-19 banner across an image of the world

How COVID-19 Fears Can Fuel General Anxiety Disorders

COVID-19 (coronavirus) has officially been declared a pandemic. Across the globe, people are being quarantined, cruise ships are being denied entrance to ports, and social gatherings have been curtailed. This has resulted in a stock market free fall and panic buying as people hoard food and products in case of their own quarantining.

As the count of infected people rises, the unrelenting news coverage can make anyone feel helpless. It brings up worry, stress, and fear. This is even truer for those who already suffer from anxiety and its related syndromes, such as generalized anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

In the face of a pandemic, the fear and anxiety about possible exposure to the illness can take on a life of its own.

If you are already someone who is anxious, you might find that you are having headaches or stomach problems. You may begin to have trouble sleeping or eating, or can even have a panic attack. And, if you have generalized anxiety disorder, your worries and fears can rapidly become overwhelming.

Your normal anxiety levels might ramp up to the point that you:

  • Worry about the virus on an hourly or daily basis and often find yourself consumed by fears during your day.
  • Find that your fears are significantly disrupting your work, relationships, or daily activities.
  • Automatically envision the worst-case scenario for the pandemic.

Anxiety can also manifest as psychological symptoms, such as:

  • Insistent worrying or fixating about your fears
  • Being easily startled and feeling like you are constantly “on edge” or keyed up
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Being irritable and continually on the edge of an argument with someone
  • Worrying that you are losing control

In addition to these psychological symptoms, there are physical symptoms of anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder. These can include:

  • A rapid heartbeat and/or shortness of breath
  • Insomnia and problems sleeping, which leaves you fatigued
  • Headaches or an increase in migraines
  • Nausea, sweating, muscle tension

Self Care For COVID-19-Related Anxiety

While it’s understandable to worry about catching COVID-19, you may be able to calm your fears and lower your anxiety levels by doing the following:

  • First – turn off the TV and stop reading or watching online news reports and social media. Make the conscious decision to limit your exposure to distressing news. Fear is addictive, so know that if you are constantly watching world events, you’ll keep your mind focused on the negative.
  • It is good to keep in mind that news organizations prosper when people are watching and paying attention to what they are saying. If you are keeping an eye on the news right now, you’ll notice that you can hardly find any news about anything except the spread of the virus. Why is that? Because the media is making tons of money on this outbreak, so that’s what they are focusing on. Remember that we live in a safer world than ever before. Experts are working to solve this new virus and the majority of people who contract it will recover.
  • Next, try to detach – again, obsessing about germs and catching the coronavirus will not solve the problem, but it will make you more anxious and upset. Remember that your distress is only yours – worrying that you will catch COVID-19 will not change anything or protect you from getting ill. Instead, try to focus on something else – a hobby, exercise, your loved ones – so you aren’t constantly preoccupied with the news.
  • Take care of yourself by eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly to help relieve stress, and trying to get enough sleep. In addition, meditation can help to calm your mind, as can something as simple as deep, rhythmic breathing.
  • As much as possible, try to continue doing the things you enjoy so that you feel more in control of the world around you. While we are working from home and avoiding public places, we can catch up on the movies we have missed (or watch favorites again), read the books on our list, clean out clutter, or start an online class in something we are interested in (classes can be found on websites such as Udemy). All these things will help to distract from the virus.

It’s also good to remember that fear sucks the pleasure out of everything. Living in fear keeps you from enjoying your life – and it won’t change what happens in the world.

However, you are the only one who can choose whether to focus on the negative or whether you will look for ways to turn this into a “positive”. Be kind to yourself and don’t permit yourself to get wrapped up in negative news stories and worries about COIVD-19.

If, however, you use these ideas and are still stressed and fearful about the coronavirus, it might be time to speak with a professional to discuss more specific steps. Many offices, including ours, now have virtual options available, so that you can speak to someone without having to leave your home.

Virtual Options For Anxiety Treatment

For more information on our virtual (or in-office) help for your anxiety about COVID-19 or for a generalized anxiety disorder, please contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 or email Dr. Rosen and The Center today.

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Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Increase Health Anxiety?

It’s October and pink ribbons are popping up everywhere. While this time of year is good for reminding women to do their breast self-exams or get an annual mammogram, it also can be a month of great concern for women who suffer from health anxiety.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines health anxiety as “the misinterpretation of normal bodily sensations as dangerous.” It is the excessive fear of physical illness and women who have the disorder often find it difficult to cope with Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For these women, every new twinge or tiny pain in their breasts likely signals cancer.

People with health anxiety may be so overwhelmed by their fears that they find it hard to live a normal life. They can spend hours online researching a symptom, convinced that a minor symptom is a sign of a serious illness. When October rolls around, the stories of breast cancer survivors may drive a woman with health anxiety to compulsively examine her breasts, positive that every small bump is a tumor just waiting to kill her. Or, she might feel something as innocent as an itch in her breast and suffer severe anxiety because she’s surrounded by breast cancer images on the news and on social media. And, like too many people with health anxiety, she may beg her doctor for unnecessary tests and spend an exorbitant amount of time and money visiting doctors in the quest for a diagnosis that will never come.

What are the Symptoms of Health Anxiety?

Health Anxiety Disorder is also known as hypochondria. Roughly 1-5% of the population suffers from health anxiety. It’s estimated that those with hypochondria use about 10-13 times the health resources that the average person does.

People who suffer from health anxiety:

  • Frequently check their bodies for new pains, blemishes, lumps, or lesions
  • Live in terror that any new physical symptom is a sign of a serious or life-threatening disease
  • Research health problems obsessively
  • Compulsively check their vital signs, take their temperature, or monitor their blood pressure and pulse rate
  • Switch doctors frequently because their current physician can’t find anything wrong with them
  • Either avoid doctors altogether or go to numerous medical consultations
  • May have strained relationships with friends or family
  • Are reluctant to consider that anxiety and other psychosocial factors may be causing their symptoms

Who is at Risk of Developing Health Anxiety?

While there are no easy answers, the people who are most at risk of becoming hypochondriacs tend to be worriers. They may strongly believe that being in good health means you have no physical symptoms or sensations. Frequently, they know someone with a serious disease or they went through a serious illness themselves during their childhood. Additionally, health anxiety can be triggered by the death of a loved one.

Overcoming Health Anxiety

Often, patients with hypochondria are so resistant to the idea of having an anxiety disorder that it may take intervention from their loved ones to help them understand they need treatment.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is very effective for the treatment of health anxiety disorders. This type of therapy focuses on recognizing and understanding the false beliefs, thoughts, and actions that bring on the anxiety. Because people with hypochondria assign meanings to certain symptoms or sensations (“My breast is tender and that definitely means I have breast cancer”), CBT helps patients realize that it isn’t the symptom that causes the anxiety, it’s their reaction to the symptom that does.

By changing their mindset, a person with health anxiety learns to see a worrisome situation in a different way. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches them how to stop the negative behaviors that reinforce the disorder.

It’s Important to Get Help for Health Anxiety

If you or someone you care about is overly worried about health concerns, it could be caused by health anxiety. Delaying treatment for hypochondria can cause complications such as depression and substance abuse, not to mention financial difficulties due to excessive medical costs or health risks from undergoing unnecessary procedures. Our compassionate mental health professionals are here to help. Contact the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida for more information or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Signs You May be a Hypochondriac

A hypochondriac is someone who lives with the fear that they have a serious, but undiagnosed medical condition, even though diagnostic tests show there is nothing wrong with them. Hypochondriacs experience extreme anxiety from the bodily responses most people take for granted. For example, they may be convinced that something as simple as a sneeze is the sign they have a horrible disease.

Hypochondria accounts for about five percent of outpatient medical care annually. More than 200,000 people are diagnosed with health anxiety (also known as illness anxiety disorder) each year.

Hypochondriac Symptoms

Hypochondria is a mental health disorder. It usually starts in early adulthood and may show up after the person or someone they know has gone through an illness or after they’ve lost someone to a serious medical condition. About two-thirds of hypochondriacs have a co-existing psychiatric disorder, such as panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or major depression. Hypochondria symptoms can vary, depending on factors such as stress, age, and whether the person is already an extreme worrier.

Hypochondriac symptoms may include:

·         Regularly checking themselves for any sign of illness

·         Fearing that anything from a runny nose to a gurgle in their gut is the sign of a serious illness

·         Making frequent visits to their doctor

·         Conversely, avoiding the doctor due to fear that the doctor will find they have a dreaded disease or serious illness

·         Talking excessively about their health

·         Spending a lot of time online, researching their symptoms

·         May focus on just one thing: a certain disease (example: cancer) or a certain body part (example: the lungs if they cough). Or, they may fear any disease or might become focused on a trending disease (example: during flu season, they may be convinced that a sniffle means they’re coming down with the flu)

·         Are unconvinced that their negative medical tests are correct, then worry that they have something undiagnosed and that no one will be able to find it and cure them

·         Avoiding people or places they fear may cause them to get sick

Health anxiety can actually have its own symptoms because it’s possible for the person to have stomachaches, dizziness, or pain as a result of their overwhelming anxiety. In fact, illness anxiety can take over a hypochondriac’s life to the point that worrying and living in fear are so stressful, the person can become debilitated.

You may be wondering what triggers hypochondria. Although there really isn’t an exact cause, we do know that people with illness anxiety are more likely to have a family member who is also a hypochondriac. The person with health anxiety may have gone through a serious illness and fear that their bad experience may be repeated. They may be going through major life stress or have had a serious illness during childhood. Or, they may already be suffering from a mental health condition and their hypochondria may be part of it.

Hypochondriac Treatment

Often, when a person repeatedly runs to their doctor at the first sign of a minor symptom, their doctor doesn’t take them seriously and may consider them to be a “difficult patient,” rather than a person who is honestly concerned about their health. Worse, some doctors will take advantage of the person’s fears and may run unnecessary tests just to appease the patient. In fact, it’s been estimated that more than $20 billion is spent annually on unnecessary procedures and examinations.

Self-help for hypochondria can include:

  • Learning stress management and relaxation techniques
  • Avoiding online searches for the possible meanings behind your symptoms
  • Focusing on outside activities such as a hobby you enjoy or volunteer work you feel passionate about
  • Avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, which can increase anxiety
  • Working to recognize that the physical signs you experience are not a symptom of something ominous, but are actually normal bodily sensations
  • Setting up a schedule for regular appointments with your primary care doctor to discuss your health concerns. Work with them to set a realistic limit on medical tests and specialist referrals.

Professional treatments for hypochondria include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is very helpful for reducing patient fears. In this type of therapy, the person learns to recognize and understand the false beliefs that set off their anxiety. Research has shown that CBT successfully teaches hypochondriacs to identify what triggers their behavior and gives them coping skills to help them manage it.
  • Behavioral stress management or exposure therapy may be helpful
  • Psychotropic medications, such as anti-depressants, are sometimes used to treat health anxiety disorder

It is worth noting that many sufferers are unwilling to acknowledge the role anxiety plays in their symptoms. This makes them less likely to seek help from a mental health professional. Often, hypochondriacs are so resistant to the idea that they have anxiety that it takes intervention from loved ones to help them understand that they need assistance.

Get Help for Health Anxiety Disorder

Being a hypochondriac and experiencing health anxiety can be debilitating. It can severely affect the lives of the people who suffer from it.  The mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida are experienced in helping those with illness anxiety. For more information, contact us or call us today at 561-496-1094.

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Is there a link between vaccines and autism

Is There a Connection Between Vaccines and Autism?

Is there a link between vaccines and autism? This question has been at the center of an ongoing debate ever since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began reporting that autism was on the rise in the United States and around the world.

Currently, about 1 child out of every 68 will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is classified as a developmental disability. Whenever there is an increase in a disorder or disability, people start looking for reasons for the change. Since ASD can be seen in a child as young as the age of two, research has focused on the factors early in life that might contribute to an autism diagnosis. From birth, children receive many immunizations, so fears have been raised of a possible connection between these vaccines and autism.

In particular, there have been concerns about the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that had been used in MMR and other inoculations. Since 2003, nine studies have been conducted into the relationship between thimerosal and ASD, however the Institute of Medicine has determined there is no link between the vaccine and the development of autism.

In reaction to concerns about whether thimerosal in vaccines and autism were related, the preservative was either removed from vaccines or reduced to negligible amounts between 1999 and 2001. Today, this preservative has been limited to use only in multi-dose vials found in some flu vaccines. If you are still worried, however, you can request your child receive a thimerosal-free vaccine.

Additionally, a 2013 study by the CDC determined there is no link between vaccines and autism. It looked at the number of antigens (they help the body’s immune system fight disease) and found no difference between children with ASD and children without the disorder.

What Causes Autism?

The CDC is currently conducting research to find out if autism has an environmental, biological, or genetic cause. There are many categories of disability along the autism spectrum and, at this time, specialists haven’t found any one specific reason for the development of the disorder.

We do know, however, that there are factors which can indicate a higher chance that a child will develop autism. These components are:

  • Children with autistic siblings are more likely to develop the disability.
  • Children born to older parents are more likely to be at risk.
  • It is thought that the critical developmental time for ASD is in utero, or in the period during or immediately after birth.
  • The prescription medicines valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked to a higher ASD risk in the infant, when these medications were taken during the pregnancy.
  • ASD occurs more often in people who have certain chromosomal or genetic conditions (for example: Fragile X Syndrome).

What are the Early Signs of Autism?

Although autism can affect either gender, the disorder occurs about 4.5 times more often in males than in females. It is found in every socioeconomic, racial, and cultural background, although it is more prevalent in white children than in African-American or Hispanic children.

People with ASD may have problems communicating or interacting with others, or may have difficulty focusing or learning. Additionally, early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder may include:

  • Lack of interest in objects or in relating to people
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Preferring to spend time by themselves
  • Becoming upset if routines change
  • Unusual reactions to stimuli, such as smells, tastes, textures, or sounds
  • Repeating words or phrases or repeating actions over and over

Diagnosis, Evaluation, and ASD Treatment

Although there is no cure for ASD, early intercession can reduce the severity of a child’s developmental delays and can teach them important skills. The earlier a child is diagnosed and begins treatment, the better their chances of reaching their full potential. ASD treatment and early intervention can begin as soon as 3 months of age.

If you are concerned about your child and the way they interact with you or others, the way they speak or act, or the way they learn, the first step is to call your child’s pediatrician and discuss your worries. Your child’s doctor can help answer your questions and, if alarmed, should refer you to specialists for further evaluation. Psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, and/or pediatric neurologists are specially trained to assess and diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Additionally, if you need a free assessment, you can contact your state’s early intervention programs. To find out more about your particular state’s Child Find evaluation, visit the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.

Our Children’s Center Can Help

If you have questions about the early signs of autism, treatment and intervention, or have other autism-related concerns, the professionals at our child-focused department, The Children’s Center, can help. For more information, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.

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