Health Anxiety 101

Written by Dr. Andrea Potthoff, Ph.D., L.P.
When has it become a problem?
It is normal and useful to think about your health and do something if you notice a concern (e.g., visit the doctor, take your temperature). However, for people with health anxiety, thoughts about their health and possible medical conditions can begin to interrupt their daily lives. If you find that you are consumed by worries about your health (or the health of others) and no medical professionals can pinpoint a physical cause or reassure enough you that nothing is wrong, you might be one of the many people struggling with health anxiety.
What causes health anxiety?
Most people with health anxiety spend quite a bit of time thinking about why this intense fear developed. However, the source of health anxiety can be difficult to determine at times and correctly identifying a potential cause does not help cure the symptoms. For many people, their symptoms started during a time of stress and they may have had a past history of other types of anxiety. In addition, some people with health anxiety have had a past instance in which they were misdiagnosed or treated for the wrong medical condition. This can lead to a hesitation to trust a physician’s opinion and an intense urge to research their symptoms and come up with their own diagnosis.
What maintains health anxiety?
Health anxiety, like many forms of anxiety, is maintained by behaviors that initially help reduce anxiety, but begin to provide less and less relief over time. For example, many people with health anxiety find they feel better after a doctor’s appointment, but soon feel the urge to schedule more and more appointments. Similarly, they may be compelled to google their symptoms, only to find that this makes the anxiety worse over time. Often these behaviors are well-intended, but end up creating a nasty cycle in which it becomes harder and harder to resist thinking about one’s health.
What can you do about it?
The first step in eliminating health anxiety is to reduce any of the behaviors that may be maintaining it. This means no more searching your symptoms on the internet or checking your body for changes multiple times a day. If you are still struggling with symptoms, it may be time to seek professional help. For more information or to speak to a psychologist, please call us at 612-470-4099 or email us at