Health Anxiety Symptoms: The Ultimate List.
Imagine. You just had dinner, and feel a little indigestion. 🤢
You lay down to watch your favourite show and chill.
Suddenly, hot flashes permeate your entire body. Your hands and feet begin to sweat.
Your mouth is dry, and you feel lump in your throat, like you’re about to choke.
Your heart starts pounding. You check your pulse, and discover it’s skyrocketed to more than 140 beats per minute. 😧
You think, “what’s happening to me?”
That was me, on an otherwise calm November evening in 2017. I thought I was about to die.
It’s also the night, after a trip to the ER and (more) medical tests that all came up negative, I finally accepted that I wasn’t sick - I was suffering from health anxiety.
Incidental, controlled anxiety about your health is entirely natural. However, frequent cases of extreme fear and worry about normal body sensations or minor abnormalities can be a sign of health anxiety.
Also known as illness anxiety disorder, somatic symptom disorder, and formerly, hypochondria, health anxiety is a persistent preoccupation with the fear of developing - or the fear of already having - a serious illness.
I used to think these type of disorders were all “in your head,” but I experienced symptom after symptom, each time asking myself, “is this the one that will lead to a positive diagnosis, and the beginning of the end?”
Health anxiety symptoms
Symptoms of health anxiety, or hypochondria, can be a combination of physical, emotional and behavioural.
I experienced almost all of them.
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia) or palpitations
- Increased blood pressure
- Chest pains
- Shallow or rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- Tingling in hands or feet
- Shaking or trembling
- Muscle aches
- Body zaps
- Ringing in the ear(s) (Tinnitus)
- Feeling tired or weak
- Brain fog
- Nausea or indigestion
- Frequent urination
- Reduced sex drive
- Dry mouth
- Lump in throat
- Hoarse voice
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending doom or danger
- Excessive, uncontrollable worry
- Fear of normal bodily functions (such as heart beats), sensations (such as a headache) or minor abnormalities (such as a runny nose, swollen lymph nodes, small blemish)
- Difficulty concentrating: Unable to think about things other than cause of anxiety and worry.
- Checking: Frequently checking the body or health data for signs of illness.
- Frequent doctor visits: To seek reassurance.
- Infatuation: Talking excessively about health or symptoms, or spending a lot of time researching symptoms of possible illnesses.
- Agitation: Inability to remain calm or still.
- Avoidance: Avoiding people, places, and activities that they believe could pose a health risk or aggravate symptoms.
- Substance abuse
These safety behaviours are coping mechanisms that aim to restore a sense of wellness, and a greater degree of control over the future.
Ironically, these behaviours only exacerbate the very symptoms they aim to alleviate - by keeping anxiety levels high, reinforcing fears, and keeping attention focussed on the possibility of some catastrophic event.
This can lead to panic attacks.
- Rapid surge in the sense of impending doom or danger
- Fear of loss of control or death
- Rapid, pounding heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in your throat or choking sensation
- Trembling or shaking
- Chills or hot flashes
- Nausea or indigestion
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or faintness
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Depersonalization: Feeling of unreality or detachment
If you’ve experienced a panic attack, you know how frightening they can be. It’s the closest thing to death I’ve ever encountered. I instantly developed an intense fear of having another panic attack, leading to a vicious cycle.
Health anxiety’s symptoms can be severe, and can easily lead to problems functioning at home, work or school, affecting quality of life.
They can also lead to phobias, anxiety relating to multiple aspects of life (generalized anxiety, or GAD), or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
The worst treatment is no treatment at all. One is very unlikely to overcome heath anxiety by relying on resolve and reassurances from loved ones or medical practitioners.
Nowadays, standard treatment commonly involves prescription medications, and counselling or psychotherapy. This exact combination was recommended to me.
Like many, it provided me some relief, but took too long to realize full benefits, and recovery was incomplete as it helped me cope with - not overcome health anxiety. It wasn’t enough. It also meant a lifetime of pills and suffering.
The most successful strategy integrated all of the above into a holistic, crystal-clear action plan aimed at overcoming health anxiety through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and achieving a healthier balance in all aspects of life - career, diet, exercise, environment, leisure, mindfulness, physiology, relationships and more.
Just sixty days in, I’d eliminated substantially all symptoms of health anxiety.
Today, I’m enjoying a healthy, fearless life, free of anxiety.
I want this for you, too.
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