What Keeps Health Anxiety Going?

If you ask any friend or family member whether they have ever worried about their health, most people will probably admit to having some health-related concerns from time to time. Interestingly, the same things that would make any other person worry about their health could trigger off an episode of health anxiety.

It is usually when these triggers are combined with a set of inflexible and inaccurate health rules or assumptions that health anxiety is triggered. These triggers can be something internal within us or external in our environment.

Internal triggers

Remember in the last module we talked about our bodies as being like old cars. Over

time they will develop some strange noises and start to run a bit rougher.

All-in-all, it is normal to feel some symptoms and sensations in your body. This can include stomach discomfort, tingling or numbness in parts of your body, ringing in your ears, sensitivity to heat or cold in your teeth, increases or decreases in your heart rate, changes in your saliva production, and variations in your energy levels. Sometimes new or unfamiliar symptoms may begin for you, such as the onset of

headaches or development of a rash. Many women whilst pregnant will also report a range of new and sometimes bizarre sensations in their bodies. You may even have unusual sensations, such as developing a strange taste in your mouth or a muscular twitch under one of your eyes.

External triggers

Besides things happening within your body, a number of external things can draw your attention towards possible health problems and therefore trigger off episodes of health anxiety.

For example:

· Health scares in the news

· Upcoming medical appointments

· Being in contact with people who are unwell

· Hearing about someone who has been diagnosed with an illness

· Receiving inconclusive results on a medical test

· Being told you do have a health condition

· Being away from known health-care systems (e.g., travelling overseas)

How Health Anxiety is Maintained

Unhelpful Health Related Thinking

If your unhelpful health rules or assumptions are activated by the types of triggers just mentioned, they are likely to negatively affect the way you think about sensations or variations in your body, and how you interpret health information from medical professionals or other sources. In general, people with health anxiety tend to overestimate the likelihood that they have a serious health problem and underestimate

their ability to cope with such a problem. They also tend to discount other factors which suggest that things will not be as bad as they have predicted (e.g., overlook their doctor’s reassurance that a serious illness is unlikely, focus on the most negative potential outcomes rather than the chances of cure or good management). As such, all health-related experiences are viewed as a ‘catastrophe’ or ‘worst-case’ scenario.