Health anxiety

Do you…

  • Experience intense anxiety and worry about your health?
  • Actively check your body for signs of illness and seek medical appointments and examinations in hope of easing your fears?
  • Read a lot about illnesses and check out your symptoms, for example in a medical encyclopaedia, in magazine articles, or on the internet or try your absolute best to avoid anything to do with your feared illness, for example on TV, radio or in magazines?

What is Health Anxiety?

Health anxiety involves intense anxiety and worry about one’s health, usually to the point that it produces significant distress or interferes with one’s day-to-day functioning. Health anxiety involves either the fear that one has a serious physical illness or the belief that one will develop a serious physical illness. We can often become preoccupied by our health and strive to seek reassurance from other people to reduce our fears.

How common is it?

Health anxiety is very common approximately 1 in 20 people have some type of anxiety difficulty at any one time.

What can I do about it?

NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) has recommended two main treatments for Health Anxiety: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and medication. Guided Self Help may also be of benefit. Depending on your circumstances, you may benefit from one or a combination of these treatments.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective types of treatment for health anxiety. Generally, CBT helps you to identify unhelpful and unrealistic beliefs and behavioural patterns. You and your therapist work together to change your behaviour and replace unhelpful beliefs with more realistic and balanced ones. CBT teaches you new skills and helps you understand how to react more positively to situations that would usually cause you anxiety.

If you would like to know more about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, you can request an appointment with our service. Alternatively, you may wish to speak to your GP about  a referral to our service.

How can I help myself?

Recommended reading

Some people find that reading about health anxiety can help. There are many books based on the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These books can help you understand more about your psychological problems and learn ways of overcoming them by changing your thinking and behaviour. To find out more about recommended books under the ‘Books on Prescription’ scheme  click here.

For health anxiety, the recommended reading and further information is below:

Overcoming Health Anxiety by Rob Wilson and David Veale

How you can stop worrying about your health and enjoy life. Health anxiety can be very successfully treated with cognitive behavioural therapy – the approach taken in this self-help guide. Using a structured, step-by-step approach the authors explain how the problem develops, how to recognize what feeds it and how to develop effective methods of dealing with it. Accessible and reassuring it includes questionnaires, case studies and exercises Includes specific help for dealing with fear of death and fear of vomiting.

Online self-help resources

A range of free self-help booklets are available online from the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust. They are informed by Cognitive Behavioural Principles and offer helpful information on recognising a particular problem, as well as providing practical strategies to overcome it.

These self-help booklets can be found here.