Today, I will talk about the negative cycle of health anxiety. Health anxiety, also known as hypochondria and illness anxiety disorder, is having intense worry, fears, and preoccupation about the possibility of having an undiagnosed medical illness. So having health anxiety can be highly disruptive to your life, as you spend so much time and energy on worrying and researching any possible medical conditions you may have. So here is the negative cycle of health anxiety:
So we will go through an example here. Suppose you have a trigger, and it is stomach pain. So this may induce the thought that “I might have stomach cancer,” or “I might die from this,” or “I can’t stand the uncertainty.” So these thoughts induce anxiety, and you feel anxious, tense, and can’t relax because of these thoughts. The anxiety in turn makes you overcompensate, so you start engaging in behaviors to reduce the anxiety. You start over-checking your body for any symptoms or pain you may have; you start over-monitoring your body; you start going to your doctor multiple times because of your worry about medical problems; your doctor may order multiple medical tests that come up negative; and then you may over-educate and over-research your problems by spending a lot of time online or reading books at the library.
So these behaviors then maintain your intolerance of uncertainty and this maintains the negative, vicious cycle of health anxiety. Although the overcompensating behaviors decrease your anxiety over the short-term, the behaviors actually maintain your overall anxiety from the feared stimulus. So the overcompensation maintains your intolerance of uncertainty, because you want to be certain that you don’t have a particular illness, and when you keep checking you just feed the belief that you have something.
This then continues the negative, vicious cycle. So the feared stimulus induces thoughts, which induces anxiety, which then compels you to overcompensate. So instead of just exposing yourself to the trigger, and finding out nothing bad will occur, you avoid the trigger by overcompensating, and this maintains your intolerance of uncertainty. So with the avoidance, you never get to find out that the anxiety will just go away naturally if you just stay with your trigger.
The solution then for health anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy, otherwise known as CBT. CBT helps to break the negative cycle of health anxiety by changing how you think and what you do. It is difficult to change the way you feel, so the focus is on changing the way you think and the way you do things.
For more information and help on health anxiety and other anxiety problems, please visit the rest of AnxietyBoss.com.