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Health Anxiety

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In these extraordinary times, with COVID-19, now a global issue, it is no surprise that people are feeling worry and panic. When a threat is uncertain, and invisible to the naked eye, both characteristics of Covid-19, anxiety levels within the general population can rise. The constant stream of media attention which Covid-19 has received and continues to receive, has likely exacerbated this for many people.

Health anxiety can be defined as “excessive or inappropriate anxiety about one’s health, based on misinterpretation of symptoms (e.g. pain, gastrointestinal distress) as indicative of serious illness”. For those with health anxiety, anxiety levels can become distressing and severely impact their day to day functioning.

Reactions

Anxiety is individual to a person. Some may experience physical symptoms while others will not, and vice versa. Below lists a number of symptoms which individuals may experience in response to the Covid-19 outbreak:

  • Fear and worry about your own health status and that of your loved ones who may have been exposed to COVID-19
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

If you have noticed any of the above, acknowledge that you might be feeling increased anxiety and make an effort to take care of your mental health during this time. Remember, it is normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry, during a crisis.

Self-care tips

The following are tips on how to cope with the unduly stress that is COVID-19:

  • Talk to people you can trust. Share your concerns with a friend or family member.
  • Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle – maintain healthy relationships and social contact online, maintain a proper diet, sleep hygiene, and some physical exercise.
  • Minimise the use of substances as a coping mechanism. Alcohol and drugs may provide short term relief however they are unhelpful in the long term.
  • If you want to know the facts surrounding Covid-19, find a credible source you can trust such as WHO website or the NHS website.
  • Reduce anxiety by reducing the amount of time you spend looking at media coverage that may be upsetting to you. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Draw on coping skills you have used in the past for previous life’s adversities and use those skills to help you cope during this challenging time.

If you find that your anxiety continues to rise, the following tips might be helpful:

  • Decide if looking up information on Covid-19 is helpful or not. If you are finding it unhelpful, strictly limit your time spent on this.
  • If you have persistent negative thoughts for example, people you love, will contract the virus and die. Stop and think of a counter argument, for example, people you love might not even get the virus, and even if they do, the survival rate is very high.
  • Try some meditation or breathing exercises. There are a number of self-help resources online which can help with this.
  • If you can’t stop yourself from worrying, then allocate a specific time of the day to do so. Try reducing the time a little every day.
  • Lastly, remember your usual self-care practices. Do things that you know will make you relax and happy, for example, having a bubble bath, reading a new book, watching a series/film, or exercise.

If you feel overwhelmed and that you require further support, it is recommended that you speak to a mental health professional. Many organisations are continuing to provide support through phone or online chat.

Written by Alannagh Kelly