It’s well-known that a negative mindset can affect physical health, but sometimes those thoughts can be overwhelming and difficult to control. For those struggling to keep their worries in check, help is at hand.
At some point you may have joked that someone you know is a ‘hypochondriac’ because they are always worried about their health, or are convinced that every slight ache or pain is something serious. For some this is simply an exaggerated response to a real or potential illness, but for others, this worrying can become pathological and disabling.
Illness anxiety disorder, as hypochondria is now more commonly known, refers to a condition characterised by excessive worry about health or bodily functions to the extent where it interferes with the ability to perform daily tasks. The condition can be debilitating and impact upon many facets of a person’s life.
Illness anxiety disorder can manifest in multiple ways: it could be that the person has a diagnosed illness, but that the worry over the illness is disproportionate to its severity; or that the person is constantly preoccupied with a fear of developing a serious disease in the future. In the mind of someone with this disorder, every headache could be the result of a tumour and a minor blemish on the skin could mean cancer. This type of anxiety can even occur in the absence of any physical symptoms.
Constant worrying of this nature can be pervasive and lead to new problems, such as insomnia or depression. It can also strain relationships with family and friends, or cause problems at work if, for example, excess leave is taken for unnecessary visits to the GP. For sufferers, the feeling of reassurance following an all-clear from the doctor is usually short-lived, and the anxiety soon reappears.
A diagnosis of illness anxiety disorder will require specific treatment from a GP and other health professionals. Currently, antidepressants are the standard of care, along with a referral for psychological therapy. A psychologist can engage in a meaningful discussion about the illness, and assist with strategies to address the thought patterns and beliefs contributing to the disorder. A combination of both treatments can help with getting back on track to a happier, more worry-free life.
If you find that concern over your health is impacting on your peace of mind, be sure to mention it to your Doctor.