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

How To Make a Career Change

Written by Dr. Andrea Potthoff
Determine areas of interest
When deciding on a new career path, it can feel daunting to even figure out where to start. Many people tell me that they do not like their current job, but are unsure about what they would like to do instead. Taking time to explore different areas of interest can be a useful place to start. One of the most research-supported tests of career interests breaks different tasks into six domains. A free test to determine your interests is available at: Taking this test can help narrow down what type of career you might like to pursue.
Identify action steps
As you consider new career options, the challenge of making such a change can seem insurmountable and this can lead to a steady loss of motivation. Instead of focusing on the final goal of a new career, consider individual action steps that might help get you there. For example, maybe you need to meet someone already in the field or find your first paying customer. For others it might be mastering a particular skill or attending a related seminar. The smaller you can make each of these steps, the better off you will be in reaching your new career.
Evaluate barriers
Any major life change has a number of potential barriers that need to be overcome. This is especially true when considering a career change. Some careers have many more barriers to entry than others (e.g., education, tuition fees, training time). Once you have identified a career you might be interested in, list out all of the potential barriers. Initially this may cause you to feel overwhelmed and defeated. However, return to the list after a few days and explore the feasibility of overcoming each barrier. For example, if your chosen career would require additional education, brainstorm ways you might be able to pay for tuition, provide an income while in school, and manage new academic responsibilities.
Speak with a professional
There are many different types of professionals who can assist you as you prepare to make a career change. You may choose to work with a therapist who specializes in this area or a designated career counselor. If you attended college or are still in school, you may have access to career specialists that can help you determine next steps, rework your resume, or help you identify your interests and abilities.
If you would like more information about making a career change, please feel free to email us at or call us at 612-470-4099.

Why Online Dating Fails

Written by Dr. Andrea Potthoff
Despite the fact that the majority of people are meeting online, many people are resistant to trying online dating. And for those that do try it, there are a number of factors that may limit its success. Here are some of the most common reasons online dating fails:
Avoiding It Altogether
This is definitely the most costly mistake; people are too anxious or judgmental about online dating to try it in any form. It is not uncommon for anxiety to overwhelm someone to the point of total avoidance. This severely limits the number of opportunities you have to meet a potential partner. Furthermore, pursing dating “the old-fashioned way” requires you to gauge someone’s interest indirectly and this can complicate the process. Online dating has already removed this barrier and simplified the entire process.
Passively Engaging
There seems to be two approaches to online dating. Some people throw themselves in completely by sending messages, organizing dates, and reviewing profiles daily. Others tend to wait for someone to approach them. The first approach tends to be much more successful. There is a wide range to how much people are getting out of participating on an online dating site. This can range from going on one date every couple of months to going on 2-3 dates a week. If finding a relationship is important for you, you can’t afford not to put in the effort.
Choosing The Wrong Platform
There is a reason why there are so many options for datings sites and apps. Each platform attracts different kinds of people looking for different kinds of relationships. Consider what your goal is before deciding on a platform to use. Some apps are more geared toward short-term hook-ups, while others attract people looking for serious, long-term relationships. How you identify (e.g., bisexual, heterosexual, polyamorous) should also be considered when you pick which platform will give you the best chance for success.

Selling Yourself Too Much

There is a fine line between an appropriate amount of impression management and flat-out lying. The last thing you want is to get your ideal date and then have to pretend to be someone else the entire time. Everyone has pieces of themselves they would like to be different and it can be hard to know how to share these details with a new partner. We generally recommend considering dosage. For example, maybe you have struggled with anxiety lately. This is nothing to be ashamed of, but it might overwhelm someone if you divulge every worry you have on the first date. By slowly revealing this aspect of yourself over time, you allow your partner time to better know and understand you.
Online dating is a tricky landscape to navigate and it is not unusual to need help if this is something new for you. It is also not uncommon for dating to be a therapeutic goal. If you would like more information please call us at 612-470-4099 or email us at

Common Myths About Group Therapy

In my experience, most patients are adamant that they do not want group therapy when the idea is first proposed. Below are three of the most common myths that get in the way of people pursuing group therapy.
1. It is less effective than individual therapy.
This is simply not true. For many therapeutic issues, group therapy offers more benefits compared to individual therapy. Consider someone struggling to overcome debilitating social anxiety. Research shows that exposure therapy (gradually putting yourself in the feared situation with therapist guidance) is the gold standard for treating social anxiety. This creates a challenge for individual therapy and often requires sessions to take place out of the office. In group therapy, the exposure component is already there because of the other people around. In addition, many psychological issues can create a feeling of isolation and group therapy is helpful in allowing people to share their experiences and ways of coping with each other.
2. My problems are meant for individual therapy.
Many patients initially hate the idea of group therapy no matter what issue they are dealing with. It is already hard enough to talk with a psychologist you have never met and share details of your life you may never have told anyone else about. Then the idea of sharing these things with a group can be overwhelming at first. This is a very common feeling that many people who participate in group therapy feel. Although the initial discomfort of group therapy can be high, many patients do not consider the added benefits. In fact, there are very few problems that should only be addressed in individual therapy.
3. Group therapy is only meant to provide emotional support.
Just like therapists, therapy groups range in their approach, structure, and effectiveness. Before you sign-up for a group, find out what type of group it is and then determine how well this fits with what you are hoping to gain. There are three main types of groups. The first is a support group. These groups may be free and can operate without a leader. Although they can be helpful in many situations, some people find that support groups can make them feel worse because it is often a shared negative experience that is brining everyone together.
Psychoeducational groups are probably the most common type of group you will find with a mental health professional leading it. These groups can focus on almost any topic, from coping with depression to learning strategies to reduce self-harm. There are a lot of benefits to this type of group and many patients may be enrolled in individual therapy at the same time. The third type of group is known as an interpersonal process group. This type of group is focused on the interaction patterns between members. Research shows that process groups can be effective for a number of psychological issues. In addition, many groups combine techniques from other approaches and may involve aspects of support, psychoeducation, and interpersonal processing.
If you are interested in learning more about group therapy, please contact us at 612-470-4099 or email us at

Are You Really OCD?

Written by Dr. Andrea Potthoff, Ph.D., L.P.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the most misused labels for psychological symptoms. Most of us have heard someone (or even ourselves) refer to their behavior as “OCD” when talking about things like excessive cleaning, a preference for symmetry, or a quirky desire for order. These behaviors may in fact be part of OCD, but on their own they do not constitute a diagnosis. And unfortunately, misusing this diagnostic label contributes to the misinformation about OCD and undermines the experience of those truly struggling with OCD. Knowing more about the diagnosis can help illuminate whether your symptoms are actually OCD.
A diagnosis of OCD includes the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions, some of which may look like excessive cleaning and organizing, while others may not. An obsession is a thought that pops up repeatedly, is distressing, and feels as if you are not in control of it. Some examples are, “I will get sick if I don’t wash my hands,” “I cannot be sure that the door is locked,” and “Maybe I hit someone with my car as I drove to work today.” Although it is not often talked about, some people experience obsessions as intrusive images they see in their mind’s eye. These are often gruesome, violent, sexual, or inappropriate in nature.
A compulsion is then a behavior or mental ritual that you use to temporarily relieve the obsession. For the examples above, this might mean washing your hands repeatedly, going back to check that the door is locked several times, or getting back in your car and retracing your drive to work to make sure no one was injured. Some people, especially adults, begin to use mental compulsions that are not overtly noticeable. This may include things like saying a certain word in your head or repeating things a certain number of times to yourself. The problem with compulsions is that they help in the moment, but tend to increase the power of the obsession or anxiety in the future.
There are several effective treatments for OCD. Certain medications are used to treatment OCD and a specific therapy, known as Exposure and Response Prevention (EXP or EX-RP), has also demonstrated a high degree of effectiveness in treating OCD.
Misusing the term “OCD” creates several problems. First, we undermine the experience of those people actually struggling with OCD. Second, we contribute to the misinformation about the disorder which may cause a delay in diagnosis and treatment. When you are tempted to misuse the term “OCD,” consider other ways to describe your behavior. That might sound something like, “my preference for things to be just so,” “it bothers me when things are messy or disorganized,” or “I can be kind of rigid.” The people in your life with OCD will certainly appreciate this change.
If you would like more information on this topic or to speak to a psychologist about OCD, please call us at 612-470-4099 or email us at