Health anxiety (hypochondria)
Health anxiety (sometimes called hypochondria) is when you spend so much time worrying you're ill, or about getting ill, that it starts to take over your life. You should see your GP if your worries about your health are preventing you leading a normal life and self-help isn't working.
Symptoms of health anxiety
You may have health anxiety if you:
- constantly worry about your health
- often check your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain
- are always asking people for reassurance that you're not ill
- worry that your doctor or medical tests may have missed something
- obsessively look at health information on the internet or in the media
- avoid anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes
- act as if you were ill (for example, avoiding physical activities)
Anxiety itself can cause symptoms like headaches or a racing heartbeat. You may mistake these for signs of illness.
When to see your GP
You should see your GP if:
- your worries about your health are preventing you leading a normal life
- self-help isn't working
If the GP diagnoses you with health anxiety, they may refer you for a psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or offer you a medicine for anxiety. Each Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland provides their own mental health services.
- Belfast Trust - Mental health services
- Southern Trust - Mental health services
- South Eastern Trust - Mental health services
- Northern Trust - Mental health services
- Western Trust - Mental health services
Self-help for health anxiety
Keep a diary
- note how often you check your body, ask people for reassurance, or look at health information
- try to gradually reduce how often you do these things over a week
Challenge your thoughts
- draw a table with two columns
- write your health worries in the first column, then more balanced thoughts in the second
- for example, in the first column you may write, "I'm worried about these headaches" and in the second, "Headaches can often be a sign of stress"
Keep busy with other things
- when you get the urge to check your body, for example, distract yourself by going for a walk or calling a friend
Get back to normal activities
- try to gradually start doing things you've been avoiding because of your health worries, such as sports or socialising
Try to relax
- try this simple breathing exercise or visit the Mind website for some relaxation exercises
More useful links
- How to use your health services
- Minding your head
- Anxiety UK
- Anxiety in adults
- Social anxiety (social phobia)
- The official register of Accredited BABCP CBT and AREBT therapists
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.