Illness anxiety or hypochondriasis: coping and seeking help

Illness anxiety, also called hypochondria, is the fear of having a serious illness when this is not the case at all and there is nothing medically available. Someone who suffers from fear of illness always thinks that they have a serious illness when they see body signals. This causes constant unrest as soon as body signals are felt or visible. If the fear of illness has taken on serious consequences, expert help will be necessary.

Stuck anxiety for weeks due to thoughts of serious ailments

When you see a spot somewhere on the skin, you immediately think of all kinds of serious ailments. Other examples are a barely noticeable blister on the tongue, a bit of blurred vision, a strange feeling somewhere or innocent palpitations after exertion. A twinge or cramp somewhere in the body can also immediately raise fears of a serious ailment. Such signals can cause stuck anxiety for weeks.

Reassurance in patients with illness anxiety is very difficult

Despite the constant search for reassurance, this is not sufficiently obtained, which means that the unrest continues. The search for reassurance often consists of searching the Internet for information or obtaining it by asking loved ones, which can lead to irritation in the long run. It is also very difficult for loved ones to reassure a sufferer of illness anxiety because the sense of reality is lacking.

Varying in intensity

The response is often to go to a doctor, who always finds that nothing is wrong. Other sufferers of hypochondria do not go to a doctor for fear of the diagnosis. Even if a doctor concludes after an examination that there is nothing wrong, someone who suffers from fear of illness can still remain worried. Real reassurance is sometimes impossible, even by experts. This behavior only reinforces the idea of an illness. An additional phenomenon may be depression. But although fear of illness is a persistent problem, it can vary in intensity.

Dealing with illness anxiety

A possible approach by the patient himself is to replace the thought of a serious illness with a less serious one. Instead of feeding the fearful thoughts, it is better to counter it with something positive, for example by coming up with an innocent explanation for the signal. Headaches can also be caused by a bad night’s sleep, so they will disappear after a good night’s sleep. These palpitations are caused by excessive exertion and disappear quickly after a period of rest. Looking for a clear distraction can also be a good help. As well as breathing calmly and relaxing or taking a walk or calling someone for a nice conversation.

Cause of hypochondria

The cause of hypochondria is not clear. It may be more common in some families, which may suggest heredity. It could also be related to certain substances such as neurotransmitters that are in everyone’s blood and nervous system. Dealing with fear may have to do with learned behavior in which upbringing can play a role. Anyone who did not receive sufficient reassurance as a child probably started looking for causes and solutions for all kinds of signals.

Bad consequences of anxious thoughts

A patient with anxiety about illness pays attention to his own body from morning to evening. This attention also makes you feel everything that others do not pay attention to. Each signal is immediately associated with some disease or serious condition and leads to fear or even panic. The anxious thoughts of a hypochondria patient can lead to all kinds of unpleasant things that feed the anxious thoughts, such as palpitations, sweating, chills, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, stomach complaints or headache.

Seek professional help

If the fear of illness has reached very serious proportions, professional help will be the only way to gain more confidence in your own body. In most cases, behavioral therapy can ensure that the fears disappear or that dealing with them no longer leads to a persistent negative influence on daily life.
Treatment of illness anxiety by a specialized psychologist will consist of the elements:

  • Making the diagnosis and making a problem analysis.
  • Providing information about the treatment of illness anxiety.
  • Applying techniques that have already proven themselves in practice.
  • Have special exercises done.
  • Evaluate after treatment.
  • Providing aftercare.


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  • Fear as a warning or as the beginning of violent acts
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