It’s no surprise that your health is front of mind during the coronavirus pandemic. Even the tiniest cough or moment of breathlessness can have you reaching for your thermometer to check if you’re experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.
It’s also understandable to be concerned and anxious about any regular or intermittent pain you’re feeling, or to monitor any aches or twinges. You’ll feel the need to make sure they’re escalating or causing you distress. Checking in on yourself daily – both emotionally and physically – is all part of self-care.
If you have a background of illness and underlying health issues, then it will be part of your daily life that you will be super alert to any minute changes to how you’re feeling.
However, what does it mean if that interest and concern about your health becomes overwhelming or obsessive? What if your anxiety around any health issue (Covid or otherwise) is increasing to an uncomfortable level, where you are constantly fretting and checking for signs of illness in your body – or doing internet searches on your symptoms and working yourself up with fear as to what your prognosis might be.
It may help to know and understand what constitutes health anxiety. The manual psychiatrists use to diagnose mental health disorders is DSM-5. Health anxiety, as defined by the DSM-5, is ‘illness anxiety disorder’.
There are certain criteria you would need to fulfil before being diagnosed with this condition.
Illness anxiety disorder means that you have…
- A preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness.
- No somatic symptoms – or mild ones, if any. If another medical condition is present, or there is a high risk for developing a medical condition (e.g., strong family history is present), the preoccupation is clearly excessive or disproportionate.
- A high level of anxiety about health, and you are easily alarmed about your health status (perhaps becoming hypervigilant).
- Excessive health-related behaviours, including repeatedly checking your body for signs of illness in an obsessive and/or compulsive way.
- Maladaptive avoidance behaviours (avoiding doctor appointments and hospitals).
- Been preoccupied with illness for at least six months, but the specific illness you fear may have changed over that period of time.
- Your preoccupation with illness is not better explained by another significant mental disorder.
There is also the concern to identify and specify whether you are a:
Care-seeking type: This involves frequent medical care, including regular visits to the GP, and undergoing tests and procedures.
Care-avoidant type: You rarely use medical care.
If you identify with some or all of the symptoms above then you may want to speak to your doctor, rather than just thinking that it’s ‘all in your head’. Treatment for illness anxiety disorder can be through medication and/or therapy.
If you are concerned about becoming overly anxious about your health then do reach out for help. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected] and we will match you with a therapist who can help.