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We’ve all at one point been worried about our health. Health anxiety can vary from feeling like a minor inconvenience, all the way to becoming an overwhelming constant fear. We spoke with the wonderful folks at Self Space who helped to create this guide to managing health anxiety, in the hope that it will help anyone who has any worries about their health. Wherever you find yourself today, we hope this lets you feel a little more in control of your bodies and minds.

What is health anxiety?

Health anxiety is when you spend so much time worrying you’re ill, or about getting ill, that it starts to take over your life. It’s related to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

A black woman holding two watermelons close to her chest and looking concerned and confused

What are the signs of health anxiety?

  • Constantly worry about your health
  • Frequently check your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain (CoppaFeel! recommend checking once a month).
  • Are always asking people for reassurance that you’re not ill.
  • Worry that a 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, and you may mistake these for signs of illness.

What should I do?

A little exposure goes a long way

When we feel anxious about our health we have a tendency to wrap ourselves in bubble wrap to keep safe, often withdrawing from social situations and hobbies. As hard is it may feel, it’s important that you try to push yourself outside of your ‘safe’ zone. What is the easiest ‘unsafe’ thing you could do today? Start there and set up some manageable goals, taking small steps forward.

Speak to a professional

Health anxiety tends to fall into two camps and we often ping pong between them: we either stick our head in the sand, leaving the anxiety to buzz around our heads with no outlet until it melts into other areas of our life or, we book in to see our doctor a lot. If this sounds like you, it might be worth bringing up the health anxiety to your doctor as they will be able to advise and refer on.

Block Dr Google

It’s easy to say ‘don’t google your symptoms’ but we know it’s a lot trickier than that. At times of real anxiety when we don’t quite feel like we’re at the wheel, our brain isn’t looking for a rational explanation of our symptoms, it’s more likely to pick up on the opposite. When the urge to google arises, have some distractions ready. An audiobook works great at night, sudoku puzzles or mobile games are brilliant for daytime distractions.

Tap into your inner Sherlock

Keeping a symptom journal is a great first step in getting to the bottom of what’s going on. Maybe you realise that you’re getting a sore tummy before going out socially, or your head aches crop up when you feel overwhelmed and stressed at work. If there is a common denominator, it could be that these aches and pains are actually symptoms of a social anxiety or stress. If you’ve noticed an unusual change to your chest, make a note of when it first appeared. Monitor it and contact your doctor if you are still concerned.

Beware of misinformation

As much as we want to believe that humans are inherently good, there are some dodgy creators all over social media platforms that spread untruths and misinformation about mental health, physical health and general wellness. When you see someone spouting opinions as facts, ask yourself ‘What is their authority? Do they have accreditations? What do their peers say about them? Could I find real information elsewhere?’.

Get to know your body

If you’ve noticed an unusual change to your chest or body – there’s no need to panic. Our bodies change, and if you’ve noticed something different, it’s a good sign that you know your own normal. There are lots of reasons why you might have changes to your chest and most changes are natural and harmless. 9 out of 10 people who are referred to the breast clinic are not given a cancer diagnosis. However, if you have concerns, it’s important you contact your doctor (not google) as soon as possible.

Fancy a Check-In?

A close up of a woman clutching her chest with a pink foam finger that reads 'feeling boobs' pointing towards her chest | CoppaFeel!

If you’re looking for more information about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, or visiting your doctor, we’ve got your covered. Click below to take a look at our information and resources.

Health Information

Self Space logo on an orange background. The logo is an illustration of a mouth with some speech marks and has written underneath "A good conversation with a qualified person"

If you’re struggling with health anxiety and want to talk about it, Self Space has over 60 lovely therapists on the team. You’re always welcome to book in for a chat.

Self Space

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