All Posts in Category: Health Anxiety

woman wearing face mask

What We Have Learned From 2021

No one can deny that 2021 has been a momentous year. It has had a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly for sure. It has at times been frightening, confusing, comforting and educational. We have witnessed a very unusual presidential election, a subsequent denial by some of the validity of the election and an unheard of polarization of our peers and lawmakers. Most critically, we have endured a gift that keeps on giving; the novel coronavirus that has killed countless people world-wide and more fellow Americans than we would have ever anticipated. We have had to learn the meaning of the word epidemiology as it relates to health and wellness. Unfortunately, we now know explicitly what a spike protein is and looks like. More than ever before we have been influenced (for good and bad) by the internet and social media. Although we have been witness to conspiracy theories in the past, but this year has certainly been a boon time for them.

So it is important for us to sit back and take stock of the emotional and psychological impact of these events. A major fallout has been the confusion over what is fact and what is fiction. We have seen the major news networks disagreeing on many important issues. Who to believe? Proponents of networks that broadcast their unique take on the news may be diametrically opposite of the proponents of the “other” networks. To avoid getting into trouble I will leave the network names blank, but I am sure you know what I am talking about. There was a time in the 1950s and 1960s when veteran newscasters like Walter Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, Douglas Edwards educated us nightly on national and world events. Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” conveyed the power and influence of the media. Somewhere during the subsequent decades all this has changed. It became apparent to television and radio that communicating news is basically a form of entertainment. Like most popular entertainment venues it becomes essential to be able to sell the programs to the masses. Media outlets have always been for profit businesses (exceptions being Public Radio and Public Television) but it seems that profitability became linked to the entertainment value of their shows. Newscasters and news commentators became the entertainers that we see today. Walter Cronkite would not succeed as a newscaster in 2021.

Along comes the world wide web and internet bringing to us the 24/7 experience of social media. Humanity has not been the same since. Due to the openness of social media to anyone with internet access, a huge amount of content has appeared on the screens and podcasts of this world. An interesting paradox has developed. Most social media participants should realize that what they see and hear reflects subjective information. However, at the same time, we are witnessing the tremendous influence of social media on the minds of attendees. It is as if misinformation has become the norm. Conspiracy theories have had a heyday. Part of the problem is that human beings have a strong tendency to be voyeurs. They like to be entertained. We are drawn to the unusual, fantastic and bizarre. Hence the success of reality TV no matter how strange or sensationalistic it can be. Consider the popularity of horror movies going back to the days of black and white silent films. It does appear that what we have been witnessing is the natural evolution of multimedia fueled by both the profit motive and the change in its audience. 

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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?

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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

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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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