Psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy explains how to treat Health Anxiety

Health anxiety
Last week we looked at Health Anxiety. Here a person may have an obsessional preoccupation with the idea that they are experiencing a physical illness. The most common health anxieties tend to centre on conditions such as cancer, HIV or MS.

Last week we looked at Health Anxiety. Here a person may have an obsessional preoccupation with the idea that they are experiencing a physical illness. The most common health anxieties tend to centre on conditions such as cancer, HIV or MS.

While some people will have a beaten path to the GP to seek reassurance, others more often men refuse to go to the doctor for fear that they will get their worst fears confirmed.

Therefore, instead of becoming overly focused on the feared illness, they will avoid any reminders relating to symptoms of the illness and will stay away from people who may be ill.

Additionally, they may try to avoid any places where there are likely to be people who are ill such as hospitals and doctors surgeries.

If you can answer YES to most of the following questions you may be experiencing health anxiety.During the past 6 months:

Have you experienced a preoccupation with having a serious illness due to bodily symptoms, ongoing for at least six months?

Have you felt distressed due to this preoccupation?

Have you found that this preoccupation impacts negatively on all areas of life including, family life, social life and work?

Have you felt you needed to do constant self examinations and self diagnosis?

Have you experienced disbelief over a diagnosis from a doctor or felt unconvinced by your doctor’s reassurances that you are fine?

Do you constantly need reassurance from doctors, family and friends that you are fine, even if you don’t really believe what you are being told?

The treatment for Health anxiety is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, starting with a good assessment.

A key question is ‘what keeps the problem going’? Health anxiety is kept going by fear based thoughts and behaviours such as checking and reassurance seeking.

If you imagine your health anxiety as a muscle, this thinking and behavioural patterns only serve to strengthen this muscle.

Tackling anxiety thoughts is a key step. A person’s thoughts are central to the feeling you experience. If you have the thought ‘oh there is that headache again, I know I had a scan but I bet there is a tumour there, it was missed by the doctors’.

In challenging this thought a person is asked to bring the thought to court and explore the evidence for and against the thought by using some crucial questions. For example; Is this thought a fact or my opinion? Am I discounting any evidence – e.g. what advice has my doctor given me. Am I engaged in ‘catastrophic’ thinking? What advice would I give to my best friend if they had this thought?

With CBT we try to generate more ‘logical’ ways of tackling the catastrophic thinking whereby a headache is twisted into a brain tumour or a twinge in the chest is a cardiac problem.

The reassurance seeking behaviour of going for repeated medical check ups can be stopped by using stress reduction and management tools such as progressive muscular relaxation and abdominal breathing exercises. This helps reduce the anxiety.

Ebola is an alarming prospect for someone experiencing health anxiety. Yet the reality is it attacks the poorest of the poor and those brave healthcare workers who are exposed to infected fluids, as unlike bird flu, Ebola can not be transmitted through the air, according to scientists, but needs contact with infected bodily fluids to spread.

So let’s get thing into perspective, it’s about getting on top your health anxiety, so that you can be truly free.