Health anxiety, which used to be called hypochondriasis, is where people have an overwhelming fear or conviction that they have symptoms of a serious illness, such as cancer. Around five to ten thousand people in Cornwall will have this problem.
People with health anxiety sometimes find it hard to be taken seriously. This is because most of us, at some point in our lives, will have had an anxiety about an illness. But in the normal scheme of things the symptoms die down, and the worries go away. So, when we hear about someone who is perpetually worried about an illness, we may naturally think, “Stop worrying” or “You’ll get over it”.
Unfortunately, people with health anxiety do not ‘get over it’. The constant worrying can make them feel truly awful. For these people, reassurance tends to be short lived, and it is only a matter of time before the worries start to creep back in. Unfortunately, doctors can rarely offer 100% reassurance. The person may then think, “What if the tests have missed it?”, or “Maybe the doctors aren’t telling me everything”. Alternatively, they ‘google’ their symptoms. But unfortunately a little knowledge truly is a dangerous thing, and inevitably this ends up making them worry even more.
Psychological therapy can provide a real help for this type of problem. A very simple exercise is where people are asked to make a pie chart of all the possible causes underlying various symptoms. So, a headache can be caused by tiredness, migraine, stress, dehydration, a cold, and, rarely, a brain tumour. As simple as this sounds, therapeutic exercises like this can sometimes have a surprising effect in shifting people’s perspective to see that not every symptom means the worst diagnosis.
For NHS funded therapy for anger, anxiety or depression, phone (01208) 871905 or register online [HERE]