My Anxiety Plan for Health Anxiety
The following strategies are designed for you to use as you begin to tackle Health Anxiety. These strategies are best used for adults with mild-moderate signs of this type of anxiety. For individuals with more severe symptoms or who have been diagnosed with a health-related anxiety disorder, we recommend treatment with a mental health professional, although MAP strategies can be used at home to support your therapy work.
Step 1. Helping you become an expert on anxiety
This is an important first step, as the information outlined in this step can help you understand what is happening when you experience anxiety. Learning that the worries and physical feelings you are experiencing have a name -anxiety- and that millions of other people also have anxiety, can be a great relief. To become an expert on anxiety you will want to read about the facts and learn important information. In addition, you might find it helpful to start to track your own symptoms to better understand the physical, cognitive, and behavioural parts to your type of anxiety and how this affects you. Please view the following links: ABC's of Anxiety: Understanding How Anxiety Works & Anxiety 101: What You Need to Know About Anxiety & Anxiety 102: More Facts & Fight-Flight-Freeze & When Anxiety Becomes a Problem: What’s Normal and What's Not
Step 2: Learning the facts about Health Anxiey
Reading about the information outlined on the health anxiety main page can help you feel less afraid of what is happening to you. After all, knowledge is power.
The following list includes some facts and highlights common to individuals with Health-Related Anxiety Disorders:
- Health anxiety is not a disorder. However, there are several disorders that are defined by excessive anxiety related to somatic symptoms or an illness or condition. For adults with these disorders there is a preoccupation with one or more somatic symptoms or having or getting a serious illness or condition.
- People with health anxiety worry excessively and uncontrollably about their health, physical sensations, and/or specific medical conditions, often catastrophizing minor events. For example, they misinterpret a headache as a sign of a brain tumor, or believe that a minor cut can become infected with (airborne) HIV virus.
- People with health anxiety can have a diagnosed medical condition such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and other illnesses. However, they differ from others diagnosed with that same disorder or condition in that they are so focused on their symptoms and wellbeing that their daily life functioning is severely impacted, far more so that their condition would warrant. It can reduce their work productivity or attendance, limit social interactions, and reduce quality of life.
Step 3: Creating your Health Anxiety MAP
The best way to help deal with health-related anxiety, is to have access to tools that can evaluate and challenge your worries and change your problem behaviours. These tools are intended to increase your ability to tolerate anxiety, rather than to eliminate anxiety. Anxiety exists everywhere, and therefore it is an illusion to believe we can eliminate the source and experience of anxiety. It is far more effective to have tools to tolerate and cope, rather than to control and escape. For health anxiety, you might want to use any or all of the following tools to create your MAP: My Anxiety Plan. These tools are listed in a recommended order, although proceeding in this order will depend on your needs and interests. There are many effective tools in this section from which you can chose that will provide you with much needed relief from your worry.
- Calm Breathing
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Helpful Thinking
- Challenging Negative Thinking
- Cognitive Coping Cards
- Problem Solving
- Rethinking the Usefulness of Worry
- Facing Your Fears: Exposure
- Reassurance Seeking
- Rewarding Bravery
- Tolerating Uncertainty
- Worry Scripts
- Relapse Prevention
Final point: Although increased knowledge and the many tools available on this website can be very effective in helping you to manage your health anxiety, sometimes it is not enough. Some adults have very severe anxiety, and despite all their best efforts, they might still be struggling daily with anxiety symptoms. If this is the case for you, we recommend you seek professional help through a consultation session with your family doctor, psychiatrist, or a psychologist/mental health worker.