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Health Anxiety and Coronavirus
If you have health anxiety the current coronavirus (Covid19)situation has likely caused you challenges as it is most of my clients.
Health anxiety causes you to be preoccupied with having or acquiring a serious illness, and also to have a high level of preoccupation with your health in general. My clients with health anxiety will often check their bodies for signs of illness, make frequent visits to the doctor, or avoid the doctor, and will avoid things that prompt them to think or worry about possible illness or become anxious about illness.
Health anxiety often causes you to overestimate the seriousness of the illness, and misinterpret sensations in your body as signs of illness or malfunction. Other features of health anxiety include avoidance of people that may be sick, blood, or anything that could potentially make you worry.
You might spend a lot of time trying to distract yourself from thoughts of worry about illness. You may seek reassurance from others that you are not sick, including friends family and medical professionals. You may also search repeatedly for medical information or news information on the internet.
The coronavirus triggers anxious people, especially those with a preexisting diagnosis of health anxiety. Government officials are not clear on how to handle it, and many of us don't have confidence in their transparency. Additionally, there are many unknowns about the virus, it's spread, and how to protect ourselves against it. These facts make it just about the worst-case scenario for someone who has health anxiety because anxiety thrives off of uncertainty. Still, there are things you can do to help yourself with your anxiety.
How Health Anxiety over the Coronavirus is Triggered
All health anxiety begins with a triggering event. In this case, the coronavirus is the event. Each time we are exposed to information about it through our news feed or our thoughts it starts the worry cycle again. The trigger prompts you to perceive a threat and the threat causes a physiological reaction that throws you into a fight or flight state. This state causes you to engage in a serious of behaviors, usually behaviors that at the moment help you feel like you are succeeding in avoiding the threat, but in reality worsen the cycle for you. Most of these behaviors are designed to provide immediate relief.
Health Anxiety: Thoughts Anxious People Have About the Coronavirus
If you have health anxiety you often overestimate the likelihood that you have or will develop a serious health problem, how bad things will get.
- When it comes to your own body, you may overestimate symptoms as signs of the coronavirus when they are not there. You also may ignore more likely explanations for your symptoms.
- You also may underestimate other's ability to cope with or manage your symptoms as well as their ability.
- You may be worrying excessively about having the illness to the point of being unable to function
Health Anxiety: Behaviors Anxious People Have Related to the Coronavirus
Avoidance and Safety Behaviors
Safety and avoidance behaviors include:
Staying away from those situations or activities that we associate with the Coronavirus.
This could include:
- avoiding going to the grocery store
- wearing masks when not recommended
- compulsively using hand sanitizer or washing hands beyond what is recommended
- quarantining yourself without reason to,
- refusing to be around any people
- refusing to be in any public places
- refusing to go to work
- refusing to leave your home
These behaviors would not need to be avoided unless it is recommended by the local authorities or scientists.
Determining what is reasonable is a challenging question and may change depending on new information about the spread. Using the local government, information from your doctor, and the WHO guidelines is the best way to determine what is reasonable when it comes to making choices about your health WHEN YOU HAVE HEALTH ANXIETY.
People with health anxiety about the coronavirus may engage in checking behaviors to reduce their anxiety in the short term.
Common checking behaviors include:
- Examining yourself and body for signs of infection( taking your temperature repeatedly, weighing yourself, looking in the mirror)
- Asking family members, friends, and health care providers about your symptoms repeatedly
- Posting of your symptoms on internet sites to obtain other opinions about your symptoms
- Requesting medical tests or evaluations beyond the recommended guidelines
- Researching your symptoms on the internet or in medical texts repeatedly for sources of information to confirm or disconfirm your suspicions.
Tips for Dealing With Coronavirus if you Have Health Anxiety
- If you are checking the news 5 times a day, try to cut it down to 3, and then cut it down to 1.
- Do your best to use avoidance and safety behavior when required only as directed ( reasonable).
- Limit checking of internet sites and news sources to trusted ones.
- Ask for help from your friends and family if you are asking them for reassurance. You can help them understand it is not helpful for you.
- Contact your doctor via phone, your online portal or via a video appointment system. Ask what symptoms you should be worried about as indicative of the coronavirus. Document them for yourself as the symptoms of criteria you must meet before you allow yourself to worry about the coronavirus.
- Always follow your doctor's advice.Ask yourself if you are listening to your doctors advice if you are doing something beyond what your doctor has told you to do.
- Follow the WHO guidelines to the best of your ability.
- Contain your worrying. If you find yourself worrying during the day for long periods, set aside a designated period during the day when you can worry. Tell yourself during these periods to save those worries for your "worry time". You can jot them down and worry about them during your designate worry period.
- People who have health anxiety have hypervigilance to body sensations and spend time and energy invested in avoiding their body sensations. This increases their anxiety. Activities that help you be present and relax your body are tremendously helpful. Mindfulness activities target these symptoms better than avoidance strategies.
- Try the Body Scan
- Practice Defusion Strategies
- Be patient, kind, and self-compassionate. This is about the worst and scariest thing that can happen to someone with health anxiety! Do your best to take care of your anxiety and not make it worse, seek help from a professional therapist if you feel like you are more overwhelmed than you can handle.