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

Anxiety in Children

Written by: Andrea Potthoff, PhD, LP

Anxiety can look different in children for a number of reasons. Children have a harder time labeling anxiety and may describe it as physical complaints like a stomach ache. Recognizing and treating anxiety in childhood can help prevent it from becoming a more debilitating problem later in life. Below are some of the most common types of anxiety seen in children.

Generalized Anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is described as excessive worry about a number of topics. The worries are difficult to control and are often accompanied by distressing physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping or muscle tension. Unlike adults, children are more likely to worry about natural disasters, school events, and athletic performance. Children with GAD may also be overly concerned with rules and demonstrate perfectionistic behavior.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is also common in children. While this is a normal developmental stage for children, it can become problematic if it persists. Children with separation anxiety often worry about the safety of their parents. They may struggle with school refusal and have difficulty making friends when away from caregivers. They may complain of nightmares about separation and physical symptoms when left alone.

Social Anxiety

Anxiety in social situations occurs in children and needs to be distinguished from ordinary levels of shyness. Seventy-five percent of individuals diagnosed with social anxiety disorder report an onset between 8 and 15 years of age. Typically, social anxiety gets worse as children enter adolescence because their parents are less involved in their social life and they have the opportunity to avoid social situations if they want to. Avoidance tends to maintain anxiety and should be dealt with as soon as it appears.

Specific Phobias

Specific phobias are not uncommon in childhood. A phobia is an intense, irrational fear that results in distress or impairment. A child who cannot be around dogs due to a fear of being bitten is an example. Phobias can be more unusual as well, such as intense fear about a specific character, activity, or bodily function, such as vomiting. Fears are normal and expected in childhood, but when a fear get in the way of a child’s daily activities, it has become a problem. Specific phobias are most likely to develop prior to age 10.


Fortunately, there are treatments for childhood anxiety that have been proven to be effective. Research shows that exposure therapy is the most effective treatment for most forms of anxiety. Exposure therapy is a brief, behavioral treatment aimed at reducing anxiety quickly. In exposure therapy, children are gradually introduced to a feared stimulus until they can learn to manage, tolerate, and cope with the feeling anxiety and its accompanying physical sensations. Exposure therapy is best when done in vivo (meaning in life), as opposed to imaginal exposure. A child can usually be exposed to the source of the anxiety (e.g., separation from parents, being close to a phobic object) in the office and the psychologist will assist the child in managing his or her anxiety.

If you are interested in speaking with a psychologist about anxiety in children, please call us at 612-470-4099.