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How to cope with health anxiety

15 May 2020 16:54

The current climate is a time for genuine concern about our health with COVID-19 being a genuine risk. But what if you are experiencing anxiety about symptoms unrelated to the Coronavirus that don’t seem to go away? Perhaps you are worried that it might be something equally serious. Sometimes there is just a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right with your body, no matter how many of your friends, family or even doctors offer reassurance. Below are some techniques to help you cope with health anxiety.

Health anxiety becomes a problem when it begins to get in the way of everyday life, and some of the things you may be doing to cope with these worries could actually keep the anxiety going. Brenda Hogan and Charles Young, authors of An Introduction to Coping with Health Anxiety, offer practical advice on techniques that you can use to deal with worry about symptoms and illnesses. 

Learning to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with more fair and realistic thoughts isn’t easy – it takes practice. At first, you’ll probably find it more difficult, but most people say that it gets much easier the more they do. 

Using a thought record

Thought challenging is easier if you use a step-by-step process. The thought record below is set up to help you do this. 

First, make a note of what triggered your feelings of anxiety – whatever you were doing when you started feeling anxious. Next, write down the thoughts that seem to be related to how you feel. Then record your emotion on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 is completely calm and 10 is very intense feeling. 

The next step is the most important: think about the situation and try to come up with a more fair and realistic alternative thought. Think about other explanations for your symptoms and try to assess the probability of serious disease more realistically. Fight back against your anxious thinking by giving yourself a chance to think fairly and realistically. 

Finally, re-asses your emotion after coming up with some alternate, more rational, ways of thinking. 

health anxiety

 Practice makes perfect

It can be quite difficult to come up with fair and realistic alternatives to your anxious thoughts, especially when you first begin to use the thought-challenging method. You may want to take a copy of the thought record with you wherever you go in your notebook, or on your computer or smartphone, and practise challenging your worrying thoughts as often as you can.