Health Anxiety Treatments: The Ultimate Guide.
One of the most common questions I get is, “What are the treatments for health anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder?”
In this post, I’ve listed numerous health anxiety or hypochondria treatments, including how I used them in my own health anxiety recovery, and how I use them with my students to help them begin a healthy life, free of anxiety.
Talk to your doctor
It’s not that your doctor will have all the answers - unless they’ve experienced and overcome an anxiety disorder themselves, they probably won’t - but they will give you important information and their support is an important piece of your health anxiety recovery puzzle.
Having “the talk” with my doctor was hard.
I said something like:
“Doc, I’m sensing a pattern. As confident as I was that I had some physical illness, all the evidence we’ve gathered tells us that’s not true. I feel stuck in a negative cycle, held hostage by all the thoughts, feelings and symptoms we’ve discussed, and I want to change our approach, and look at the aspect of mental health.”
It was a difficult conversation, and a humbling experience. After countless consults, physical exams, lab tests, negative diagnoses and much reassurance, I was sitting on the exam table saying, “maybe this is all in my head.”
I knew how important that conversation was.
At the time, I thought she would have all the answers. She recommended two treatments to me: Medication and counselling.
Turns out, what I needed more than anything was her support.
Treatments for health anxiety
Truth is, there isn’t one-size-fits-all answer. The treatment (or more accurately, the unique combination of treatments) that works for you is not the exact same treatment that will work for everyone.
I like to think of a healthy life, free of anxiety like a safety deposit box.
If you’ve ever used a safety deposit box, you’re already familiar with the concept.
If not, here’s how it works:
Safety deposit boxes are located in a section of the bank’s vault, where other extreme valuables and records are kept.
Most people who rent a safety deposit box use them to store items of great sentimental importance or financial value.
When you rent a safety deposit box, you’re given a key - but it’s useless on its own because every safety deposit box is equipped with a dual-access key.
That means your safety deposit box cannot be opened unless your key, and the bank’s key, are both used. Your key opens one set of tumblers, the bank’s key opens another set of tumblers to release the lock.
Neither key on its own can unlock the safety deposit box.
Overcoming health anxiety is like a safety deposit box with a triple, quadruple, quintuple-access key, or more - with the healthy life, free of anxiety that awaits you, inside.
As a coach, I help students identify the unique combination of treatments key to overcoming health anxiety naturally, and help them develop skills, build self-efficacy and confidence necessary to open the door to their best life.
I didn’t know any better, hadn’t done my research, and was still in a phase where I was willing to accept a magic pill or miracle cure, if such a thing existed.
My doctor prescribed sertraline, a type of antidepressant called an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), and told me it’d take a few weeks to work.
I filled the prescription, took the medication, flexed my patience muscle, and hoped for the best.
In the weeks that followed, I noticed no marked improvement in my thoughts or feelings, but I continued to take it. Gradually, she increased my dose, up to what she called a “therapeutic dose.”
What I know now, but didn’t know then, is that medications don’t cure anxiety.
What they can do, for some, is take off the edge... or as I like to say, throw them a rope.
I like to think of developing an anxiety disorder as digging yourself a hole. You dig and you dig, deeper and deeper, and you get really good at digging... eventually, deep in your hole, you look up at how your life used to be and wonder, “how do I get out?” It’s dark, you’re alone, you’re stuck, and the only way to get out is to stop digging, and learn how to climb.
Medications don’t teach you how to climb. They don’t bestow upon you any new skills, or the equipment you need to make your way to the surface and emerge from your anxiety disorder.
Back to my medications analogy: For some people, medications throw them a rope. Your still have to learn to climb. You’ll still require a lot of energy, focus, time and practice to get out of the hole, but it might just make it feel a little bit more possible.
Then again, sometimes people take medications and they don’t help them at all. For others, medications can significantly increase anxiety, making their predicament even worse.
I took meds for a long time, and didn’t feel any noticeable improvement in my mood, behaviour, thoughts, or beliefs.
Medications also come with costs worthy of your consideration:
Side effects, some serious.
Withdrawal symptoms, some serious.
Dependency (addiction without the “high”).
Wear and tear on your body and internal organs.
For me, I wasn’t feeling enough benefits to justify the costs - so I tapered off sertraline, and guess what? I never fell back into my hole.
Counselling or Talk Therapy
I tried it, twice.
Once, private counselling.
The other time, the one referred to by my doctor, was group counselling, where I was surrounded by people with various types of anxiety disorders.
In both cases, the focus was to talk about my anxiety, and resurrect my past.
Talking about my anxiety didn’t help my anxiety. In hindsight, all it did was reinforce my past identity - as a victim - and kept me stuck there.
Like medications, talking about being in a hole doesn’t help you climb out of the hole.
As for the other people in the counselling program, many of them had been “in the system” for a long time. One or two were new like me, but the rest had been in and out of counselling for years - and almost all of them were on medications.
It got me thinking: If the medications were so good, and counselling worked so well, why were these people coming back months and years later for multiple rounds of counselling? Why were they still taking medications? Why were they still not living a healthy life, free of anxiety.
I went online and found support groups on Facebook and various forums - but found the exact same thing. Sure, a few members were new like me, but most of them had been struggling for years, even decades.
I refused to accept this fate, and began to educate myself on alternative, action- and results-oriented, natural anxiety treatments.
My doctor talked to me a little bit about lifestyle, but I never fully appreciated the degree to which my lifestyle could promote or reduce anxiety, until I did my own research.
As I educated myself, and raised self-awareness, I found countless examples of anxiety risk factors in my life:
Diet: I was regularly eating so many foods that promote anxiety, while missing out on loads of anti-anxiety nutrients from healthy, whole foods that were available to me all along.
Exercise: At times, I feared exercise, and didn’t do it at all. At others, my exercise routine was sporadic, inconsistent, outcome-focussed, and the wrong type of activities to achieve my goals.
Sleep: My sleep habits were a mess, and I wasn’t getting the quantity nor quality needed for optimal physical and mental health.
Career: I was in a job I didn’t choose, didn’t enjoy, doing work I didn’t find meaningful, and where I felt under-appreciated... no wonder, I sucked at it.
Leisure: I was a people-pleaser. I went along with what others wanted, without expressing my feelings and preferences.
Language: My self-talk, body language and even the words I used when I communicated with others reinforced the victim’s identity and fixed mindset that ruled my life.
Relationships: I isolated myself from others - friends, family members and professional contacts. What relationships I did have, I was merely existing in, not intentionally working to strengthen.
Values: I wasn’t clear on what my values were, much less how to live in alignment with them.
I made the definite decision to take relentless action to reduce or eliminate anxiety risk factors in every single aspect of my life.
It was HARD work, but making positive changes to my lifestyle turned out to be a key to unlocking the healthy life, free of anxiety I enjoy today.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
In the psychology world, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is sometimes called the “gold standard” for anxiety treatments.
CBT is a type of psychotherapy that treats anxiety (and other psychological conditions like depression, OCD, phobias and PTSD) by teaching you how to modify your unhealthy, or unhelpful thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
CBT is based on the idea that your thoughts and emotions directly influence your behaviour. Its aim is to identify negative thoughts, assess their accuracy, and if they’re inaccurate, engage in a process to challenge and transform them into more positive thoughts.
Needless to say, I decided to give it a try, and i quickly learned how tremendously beneficial CBT can be.
It taught me the skills I needed to take unhelpful, unhealthy or dysfunctional thoughts, feelings and beliefs, and transform them into more helpful ones that promote more healthy and productive behaviours.
These skills are key to the healthy life, free of anxiety I enjoy today, and I teach them to all of my students.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Unlike CBT, which places an intense focus on your thoughts and how to assess, challenge, and modify or transform them, ACT specifically aims to reduce your emphasis on the thought itself, and instead, make room for them in your experience, then let them go.
With the strategies of ACT, I felt equipped to handle the thoughts, feelings and sensations I didn’t feel equipped to challenge or modify using the skills taught by CBT.
Armed with the skills I learned through ACT, I’m able to make room for uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and sensations without letting them distract me from what was important in my experience at that exact moment.
In other words, ACT teaches mindfulness skills you can use to make sure you never take your eye off the all in life. These skills are key to the healthy life, free of anxiety I enjoy today, and I teach them to all of my students.
Anybody with an anxiety disorder is at a greater risk for development of phobias: Irrational fears to specific situations, sensations or experiences in life.
For example, fear of dogs, flying, open or public spaces (agoraphobia), or leaving your home.
As someone who experienced a degree of agoraphobia at the peak of health anxiety, I assure you that phobias can be overcome.
I observed best results using a a combination of CBT and Systematic Desensitization (which is a thoughtfully planned, consistently practiced process of repeatedly exposing you to your fear(s).
Truth is, if you always run away from the dog, you’ll always fear the dog... and systematic desensitization is a way to flip the script.
It’s a powerful tool you can use to expose yourself to fearful situations so you can build self-efficacy and confidence in facing those situations in your present and future.
CBD oil is a relatively new option that’s growing in popularity. I’m studying CBD carefully so I can help you better understand whether or not it may play a role in your health anxiety recovery.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the major compounds present in cannabis. The other major compound is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the compound that’s psychoactive (it gives you a “high”), which CBD is not.
CBD oil can be taken orally, and may contain very little or no THC at all, and is being studied for its therapeutic benefits, science and medicine are just beginning to understand: Potentially calming inflammation, reducing pain or anxiety, are potential examples.
I haven’t used CBD oil, personally. I know some people have used it and seen benefits, and others who have used it and seen none.
I like to think of CBD in a very similar way as I think of medication.
That is, CBD is not a cure for anxiety. It won’t make your anxiety disorder go away, but it may help take the edge off, or throw you that rope - perhaps with fewer side effects, and fewer adverse affects on your internal organs, because it’s natural - not synthetic and created in a chemical laboratory.
Its potential as another therapeutic option seems high, but like medications, it doesn’t cure anxiety.
If you want to try it, try it (in consultation with your doctor, of course), but do so knowing that we don’t yet fully understand how it works, its benefits, or its long-term adverse affects. Either way, don’t use it as an excuse not to invest in yourself and do the work necessary to heal from health anxiety.
I don’t take any sides when it comes to whether or not you should take medication, whether pharmaceutical or CBD - that’s a conversation for your doctor, not me. No matter what you decide, I will support you and help you make room for it in your health anxiety recovery plan.
My proven approach to health anxiety recovery
I credit my complete health anxiety recovery to my definite decision to create a holistic, action-based recovery plan that integrated multiple treatments and aimed to improve every aspect of my life.
This approach is your best option to achieve complete, lasting, natural recovery from health anxiety (hypochondria, illness anxiety disorder or somatic symptom disorder) or generalized anxiety disorder, even when accompanied by other challenges such as social anxiety, situational anxiety, OCD or PTSD.
It’s also the exact approach teach students in the 30-Day Anxiety Detox.
📋 If you've got a health anxiety recovery plan, and applying it relentlessly, but aren’t getting the results you need, consider augmenting it with additional treatments, or better, replacing it with a holistic recovery plan integrating CBT, ACT, and other approaches to systematically reduce or eliminate them.
📝 If you don’t have a health anxiety recovery plan, create one. Not sure where to start? Consider working with a coach to develop a plan to overcome health anxiety naturally, and provide the guidance, support and accountability you need to achieve your goal.
✏️ Take this 1-minute health anxiety (hypochondria) quiz to measure your health anxiety and reveal your exact next steps to overcoming it.
🙏🏼 Share this post - it may help someone you know begin a healthy, fearless life, free of anxiety.