Worried About Your Health? CBT Can Help.

Worried About Your Health? CBT Can Help.

Health anxiety, also known as illness anxiety disorder or hypochondriasis, is a mental health condition characterized by excessive worry and fear about having a serious medical illness. Individuals with health anxiety often find themselves preoccupied with the possibility of being sick, experiencing distressing physical symptoms, and seeking frequent reassurance from healthcare professionals. This condition can be highly debilitating, affecting one’s quality of life, relationships, and overall well-being. However, there is hope for those struggling with health anxiety through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Health anxiety is often fueled by a vicious cycle of three primary behaviors: hypervigilance to bodily sensations, checking behaviors, and visiting doctors too quickly. Let’s take a closer look at these behaviors and how they contribute to maintaining health anxiety:

  1. Hypervigilance to Bodily Sensations: Individuals with health anxiety tend to be hyperaware of even the slightest changes in their bodies. A simple headache can escalate into thoughts of a brain tumor, and a minor stomachache can become a dreaded sign of a life-threatening illness. This heightened awareness intensifies anxiety and fear.
  2. Checking Behaviors: Health anxiety sufferers frequently engage in various checking behaviors, such as constantly monitoring their vital signs, researching symptoms online, or seeking reassurance from loved ones. These behaviors provide temporary relief but reinforce the belief that something is seriously wrong.
  3. Visiting Doctors Too Quickly: A hallmark of health anxiety is the propensity to visit doctors and specialists frequently, even for minor ailments. This behavior aims to help the person gain reassurance that they are okay, but actually may lead to unnecessary medical tests and treatments, and can increase anxiety over time.  The reassurance doctors provide often is only short term, which makes the person want to go back to doctors over and over again.

Here’s how CBT can help individuals break free from the grip of health anxiety:

  1. Changing Unhelpful Thoughts: CBT helps individuals recognize and reframe their catastrophic thoughts about their health. Therapists work with clients to explore the evidence supporting these thoughts and encourage more realistic, balanced thinking.
  2. Behavioral Experiments: CBT involves structured behavioral experiments aimed at testing the validity of health-related fears. For example, a person who believes they have a heart condition might gradually increase their physical activity to see if it triggers any symptoms. These experiments help individuals gain confidence in their body’s resilience.
  3. Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is a key component of CBT for health anxiety. It involves gradually exposing individuals to their feared health-related situations. Clients learn that their health related fears do not come true, and anxiety decreases over time without their feared catastrophic outcomes.
  4. Skill Building: CBT equips individuals with practical coping skills, such as relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and stress management as well. These skills help individuals manage anxiety and stress in their daily lives, helping to reduce their reliance on unhelpful checking and reassurance-seeking.

The journey to overcoming health anxiety with CBT may take time and effort, but the results can be life changing.  With the guidance of a skilled therapist, you can regain your confidence, improve your mental well-being, and lead a fulfilling life that is no longer overshadowed by health related fears.  All of the psychologists at CBT Westport treat health anxiety, and would be happy to see you for a consultation.