Health Anxiety: How It Affects Your Physical Health

Health Anxiety: How It Affects Your Physical Health
Elliot Taylor 14/11/23

Understanding Health Anxiety

Let's take the cat out of the bag right from the start: Health Anxiety is one heck of a roadblock to living a happy, wholesome life. Yeah, it's that thing where you feel a slight discomfort in your chest and you're convinced the Grim Reaper is round the corner. Been there, done that. Toffee, our family Beagle, once had a minor limp and I spent the entire night going down a rabbit hole of canine skeletal diseases on the internet. Health anxiety takes the wheel and drives you down that dark, scary, and quite unnecessary road, far too often.

I don't want you to mistake health anxiety for a conscious concern about health or an interest in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It's far more than just keeping your fingers crossed during a routine check-up. It's excessive worry and fear about having a serious illness, despite being medically fine. And, here's the catch - this anxiety itself can lead to physical health problems. Now that's a circle I wouldn't want to be in.

The Web of Symptoms

Are you someone who is likely to mistaken a simple cough for a sign of life-threatening disease? If yes, then you might be in the grip of health anxiety. The mind is a beast and it can convince you of a lot of things. Even that a simple cough, which could just be your body's natural reaction to that peanut butter sandwich you just had, could be something more sinister. Interestingly, even my cat, Sterling, reminds me of this point. If she's a second late for mealtime, she would give this mournish meow, as if implying an impending apocalypse. While it's comical more than anything else, it also resonates with an important aspect of health anxiety: Overreaction.

The Physical Ramifications

The unfortunate side-kick of health anxiety is that it often comes with physical symptoms that only fuel the anxiety further. The more you worry about your health, the worse you feel physically, and the worse you feel physically, the more you worry. It's a hamster wheel that's difficult to step off once you're on it. All this worrying can lead to legit issues like headaches, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, and heart palpitations. Much like how Orion, my lad, drives himself and consequently me, on a downward spiral when he can't solve a math problem, only to end up with an actual headache.

Health Anxiety and The Brain

When you're struggling with health anxiety, your brain works overtime, trying to connect dots that might not even exist. This overactivity of the brain is thought to release stress hormones like cortisol, which on accumulation, have real impacts on the body. Imagine your body is a car. Your brain, the engine. Just as overworking the engine can lead to overheating and wear and tear, the same goes for your brain and body when it saunters down Anxiety Avenue. Trust me, even visiting Anxiety Avenue is a no-deal. It's one messy place, worse than Phoebe's, my daughter, room during her art project days!

Burnout and Health Anxiety

Never underestimate the power of burnout in fueling health anxiety. Picture this scenario. You are swamped at work, running on 4 hours of sleep, and depending heavily on fast food. Now, you see a sudden weight gain and you start panicking. Well, in this case, your body is just reacting to the poor cycling of rest, work, and nutrition. But, health anxiety would have you believe it is something way worse. This can trigger mental stress and your physical health could take a severe hit.

Ways to Cope

If you're tired of the health anxiety circle and want to break free, there are methods to learn how to manage it. Mindfulness meditation is a great avenue. It's as simple as sitting quietly and focusing on your natural breathing or on a word or phrase that you find calming. It's like watching Sterling, my Maine Coon cat, nap. Focus, unfazed by the world around. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can also be a viable tool. CBT is a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. It aims to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people's difficulties. But remember, it is very important to consult professionals and get the help you need.

Stay Proactive and Positive

If we've learned anything so far, it's that your mind holds the remotes to your physical health when it comes to health anxiety. So stay proactive. Join support groups. Talk to people who are coping with the same. Hey, it's just like that time when Toffee got lost for a few hours and the whole neighborhood stood close providing us with the reassurance we needed. It really helped, trust me!

Just remember, change doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and persistence. Carry a positive mindset, always, regardless of how grim things may seem. Despite all the stress and anxiety, never forget the beautiful aspects of life. Like my daughter Phoebe's delightful laughter or Orion's innocent questions about life. Or the warm cuddle from Toffee, or Sterling's agile whisking through the house. Life has given you reasons to be thankful. Always cherish them!

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