Would you say that you worry about your health? Most of us do. But how these worries manifest matters. For instance, most of us allay our health concerns by eating a proper diet and/or taking medications we’re prescribed. For those with health anxiety, it’s a much different story. Fortunately, research indicates that mindfulness may be able to help us with health anxiety.
What Is Health Anxiety?
Estimates indicate that roughly five percent of us struggle with hypochondriasis, also known as health anxiety.
Health anxiety isn’t merely a fear of getting sick. It includes the presence of somatic symptoms. Even if you don’t have hypochondriasis, you might experience this from time to time. Say a friend has a bad cold. You suddenly feel very concerned that you might catch it, and sure enough, later that day, you feel a little tickle in your throat. However, you never get sick; it was a somatic symptom.
When someone has health anxiety, it’s a different story. They book an appointment at their doctor’s office right away. If their friend had a sore throat, they may feel as though their throat is closing. They will lose sleep worrying about getting ill.
Here’s a rundown of other symptoms those with health anxiety may experience:
- Lots of doctor’s visits to different offices and emergency rooms
- Dizziness and/or numbness and tingling in limbs
- Obsessive thinking
- Sleeplessness, acute mental distress
- Constant research on serious diseases and disorders they don’t have, such as strokes, cancer, and heart disease
With hypochondriasis, a doctor’s assurance that you’re fine isn’t enough. You can easily convince yourself that doom is right around the corner – assuming you don’t already have an illness that slipped past your doctor.
Mindfulness for Mental Health
Studies show that mindfulness (or more specifically, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) can go far in alleviating the stress of health anxiety. However, those with a hypochondriasis diagnosis should follow whatever protocol or treatment plan a professional has recommended.
Mindfulness techniques are meant to be a complementary practice that’s there for us when we need it most.
Meditation. Meditation teaches us nonjudgment and can help us slow down our thoughts. If your mind is overwhelmed with thoughts of getting sick/being sick, try a meditation that offers some other point of focus besides the breath. Binaural beats, guided relaxation practices, and other types of meditation tracks can make it easier for us to pull our attention away.
Singing Bowl Sound Therapy. Health anxiety makes you feel out of control. If you want to feel as though you have some part in physically reducing your symptoms, play a singing bowl. You get the benefits of sound therapy – relaxation – while putting some energy and attention on something calming outside of the body.
Mindful Pleasures. With health anxiety, we’re always focusing on what feels bad or abnormal. We’ll search and scan and analyze until we find it. If you can’t stop doing this right now, at least mindfully seek out pleasurable sensations or “symptoms” also.
Take a moment to be still and enjoy the sun on your face. Practice mindful eating and savor every bite. Tune into how good hamstring stretches feel during yoga, and be grateful.
How do you deal with health anxiety? Do you think you worry about getting sick more than others do? Let us know in the comments below.