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Sick From Health Worries

Jul 24, 2008
Worrying about Health can get you down. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and its techniques can be useful to help people who are distressed by worrying about health. Health anxiety refers to a psychological condition where the person intensely worries about their health. As a result they feel distressed and find that these worries get in the way of daily life.

Often people who have health anxiety fear that common symptoms indicate they have a serious illness, despite tests and feedback from their GP to the contrary. Common symptoms include: headaches, numbness, aches and pains, dizziness, palpitations, chest pain, increased heart beat, sweating, feeling cold and shivery and feeling foggy headed.

This list of symptoms is not exhaustive. I am an occupational therapist and I work with people using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Edinburgh. Specific examples, of people I have treated with health anxiety include a middle-aged man who felt "fuggy headed" and worried this may mean that there was something seriously wrong such as a brain tumour or with his heart and a young woman who would sometimes hear a buzz or ringing in her ear as she was falling off to sleep and worried that this meant she was going mad and would soon start to hear voices.

In both these examples, each of the people I was working with using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Edinburgh, has visited their GP numerous times for reassurance. The man had also paid to have several private tests via his private health insurer. All the examinations and tests had concluded that these people were not suffering from anything other than anxiety about their health.

This is good news, because it is possible to learn the strategies to manage and reduce health anxiety via Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. This involves first understanding the link between how you think about symptoms, how this makes you feel emotionally and physically and then what you do to cope with these emotions and physical body changes.

What is common in the people I work with is that the things they do to cope with their health anxiety, actually has the opposite effect and often exacerbates or prolongs the problem. The ways of thinking that increase health anxiety includes misinterpreting normal body sensations as something serious and doubting ability to cope with a serious illness. When people misinterpret symptoms as something serious they will feel anxious as a result this will trigger the stress response. When the stress response is triggered you will feel changes in your body that include most of the symptoms from the list above.

Behaviours that increase health anxiety include a biased focused on checking your body for any signs of illness, disease or changes. Commonly people I have worked with will monitor themselves excessively and ask themselves "How am I feeling now" and look for signs. Other behaviours includes seeking reassurance from healthcare professionals, family and friends, spending vast amounts of time on the internet or reading literature in order to find out about illnesses, avoiding anything that will trigger off their anxiety such as TV programmes about health or avoid activities that increase symptoms. For example, avoiding physical activity and exercise that leads to increased heart rate.

If any of these thinking styles and behaviours sound familiar to you, then it would be advisable to speak to your GP about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. I have found Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Edinburgh a very useful approach for helping people get their lives back from worrying!
About the Author
Karen is a mental health professional working privately in Edinburgh, providing Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Edinburgh, NLP Edinburgh and also Hypnotherapy in Edinburgh. Karen has worked in the NHS. Visit http://www.karenhastings.co.uk
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