Is it Hypochondria or Post-Pandemic Health Anxiety?
Many people, especially parents, medical staff, and educators, are beginning to feel the effects of relentless anxiety – an aching jaw, tight chest, or stiff neck are classic signs of long-term stress. Sometimes that pain or discomfort is so intense that people seek out emergency rooms. Primary care doctors are noticing orders for more scans, tests, and costly medical procedures that turn out to be negative for disease but probable for stress. Feeling like you may die or that your doctor is missing something can make you feel like a hypochondriac. You don’t want to be thought of as unstable, but the stress is real, and the panic is scary. This new phenomenon mimicking hypochondriasis is called post-pandemic health anxiety and it includes worries and obsessions about perceived threats to one’s health. It’s the same classification as hypochondriasis but time specific to the pandemic.
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night over new symptoms and wake up feeling panicked about your health, you could be suffering from post-pandemic health anxiety. Below are four suggestions that can help you manage your anxiety and minimize some of your concerns.
1. Free yourself of shame or judgement. Many are struggling right now, so you’re not alone. The best thing you can do is reach out and connect with others. Denying it worsens it.
2. Focus on what you have control over. You have control with eating a healthy diet, following CDC guidelines, and maintaining your mental health. Don’t try to fix others; take responsibility for you.
3. Engage in healthy distractions and stay away from doom-scrolling. What have you always wanted to try? This is a good time to begin new hobbies, books, or a fitness plan you’ve always wanted to try. It’s easy to fill your time with worrying or scrolling through bad news when you have lots of free time. Stay active, engaging in activities that bring you joy.
4. Seek professional help. Sometimes health anxiety can get so out of control that you need more professional help. If your life is being debilitated by intense anxiety, therapy is a safe place to talk and learn tactics that relieve anxiety. Going to therapy doesn’t mean you’re weak; it means you’re advocating for yourself and your wellbeing.
Health anxiety happens after an extended period where everyone is concerned with getting sick. During a pandemic, we are hyper-focused on the health of ourselves and the ones we love. Health anxiety will naturally follow an extended period of being on high alert for those around us. Focusing on what you can control and learning to let go of the rest assures you of a better quality of life with less worry about what the future holds.