Health anxiety is sometimes called hypochondria. It is when you spend so much time worrying you're ill, or about getting ill, that it starts to take over your life.
Signs of health anxiety
You may have health anxiety if you:
- worry about your health all the time
- frequently check your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain
- are always asking people for reassurance that you're not ill
- worry that your doctor or medical tests may have missed something
- obsessively look at health information on the internet or in the media
- avoid anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes
- act as if you were ill - for example, avoiding physical activities
Anxiety itself can cause symptoms like headaches or a racing heartbeat. You may mistake these for signs of illness.
Self-help for health anxiety
Here are some self-help tips to help you with health anxiety.
Keep a diary
Note how often you check your body, ask people for reassurance, or look at health information. Try to gradually reduce how often you do these things over a week
Challenge your thoughts
Draw a table with two columns. Write your health worries in the first column, then more balanced thoughts in the second.
For example, in the first column you might write: "I'm worried about these headaches."
In the second you might write: "Headaches can often be a sign of stress."
Keep busy with other things
For example, when you get the urge to check your body, distract yourself by going for a walk or calling a friend.
Get back to normal activities
Try to gradually start doing things you've been avoiding, such as sports or socialising.
See your GP
See a GP if your worries are preventing you leading a normal life and self-help isn't working.
If the GP diagnoses you with health anxiety, they may:
- refer you for psychological therapy
- offer you anxiety medication
You can also refer yourself for psychological therapies.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.