Ways to handle health anxiety

Woman looking at sanitiser bottle

Dealing with health anxiety can be difficult at any time, but during a global pandemic, it can be especially challenging. Public health is at the forefront of everybody’s minds and habits like wearing masks and using hand sanitiser are now part of our everyday routine so it’s no wonder some people are struggling with health anxiety right now. Dr Nick Radcliffe, a GP from Brownlow Health, confirms this:

"Health anxieties are more common than you might expect and we see this impacting a lot of students in their day-to-day lives. If the more general advice listed here isn't helping, you should certainly contact your GP. We will take all symptoms seriously and if it is suggested that you are suffering from health anxiety, this doesn't mean your problems are being dismissed. It is a diagnosis in itself and once recognised and accepted, there are treatments that can help."

What is health anxiety?

Health anxiety (sometimes called hypochondria) is a term used for people who worry that they are ill, or worry about getting ill, to the extent where it can take over their life. Some symptoms of health anxiety are:

  • constantly worrying about your health
  • frequently checking your body for signs of illness, e.g. lumps, tingling or pain
  • often asking for reassurance that you aren’t ill
  • worrying your doctor may have missed something
  • constantly looking up health information
  • avoiding anything to do with serious illness, e.g. TV programmes
  • acting as if you are ill, e.g. avoiding physical activities

Not only is this a lot to mentally deal with, but anxiety itself can cause symptoms like headaches, chest pains or racing heartbeat, which can be mistaken for signs of other illnesses.

How to handle health anxiety

  1. Keep a diary of your health anxiety symptoms, e.g. how often you check your body, ask for reassurance or look up health information. This can just be in the notes app on your phone. Take note of it and gradually try to reduce how often you do these things over a week. If you are struggling, try to distract yourself with something more productive, such as watching your favourite show, going for a walk or doing something creative
  2. Challenge your thoughts. The NHS suggest writing down your health worries in one column and your more balanced thoughts in a second column, e.g. “I’m worried about my heart racing” and “My heart beats faster when I am anxious about my health”
  3. Try to relax your mind and body. There are many relaxation techniques and different people react differently to each technique. Some people relax by reading a book or taking a bubble bath, while other people relax by playing video games or doing a workout. You can find lots of resources, such as mindfulness exercises, within our Student Support section. Try different ways to relax and see what works best for you

If your health anxiety continues

If you have tried these techniques and health anxiety is still a problem for you, make an appointment to see your GP. If your GP diagnoses you with health anxiety, you may be given several options, including therapy and medication. You may even be referred to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). LJMU students can access free CBT resources for anxiety, depression, stress and body image issues for free online with SilverCloud.

If you still need to register with a GP in Liverpool, find your local practice.

If you find your anxieties are impacting on your studies speak to the university’s Wellbeing team to see how they can support you.


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