"Health anxiety is ruining my life!" is something I often hear from my clients and students. So in today's episode, we're going to talk about all things health anxiety. Oftentimes, health anxiety is triggered by an event that threatens your health and well-being, or the health of somebody you love. This event might even cause you to obsess over the idea that there is something wrong with you or a loved one, or that something could happen again that threatens the health and well-being of you or the people you care about.
But for some, health anxiety is triggered due to a sensitivity that you have to your thoughts and feelings. You might read an article and find yourself quickly spiraling and convincing yourself that it isn’t “just anxiety,” and instead you have a severe medical condition. You might feel something in your body, a feeling of something being “off,” and quickly convince yourself that you have a severe medical condition. And it can be really difficult to navigate at first!
If You've Thought "Health Anxiety Is Ruining My Life"...Let's Talk About It!
Haley joins me in episode 71 to talk about all things health anxiety. Haley Ostrow is a therapist who helps people find long-term freedom from anxiety and panic attacks, and even health anxiety! And to make things even better, Haley has first-hand experience navigating health anxiety. In this episode, Haley shares so many helpful insights and practical tips for overcoming health anxiety. So let's get started!
Haley's Personal Experience With Health Anxiety
Haley shared that she struggled with generalized anxiety and health anxiety for as long as she could remember. She mentioned that one of her earliest memories was an intrusive thought about choking on a chicken bone, which caused her to become hyper-fixated on many of the different anxious symptoms. And ultimately, this hyper-fixation led to a panic attack. This experience at such a young age was really scary for Haley, and it ultimately snowballed into more health anxiety in the future. Throughout her life, she found herself fearing that she had a variety of severe medical conditions.
Learning To Respond To Health Anxiety In A Healthy Way
When you're struggling with health anxiety, it can feel like your thoughts and feelings become so intertwined. And often, we can become convinced that it's not safe to feel a certain way. Haley mentioned that although avoiding anxiety might make you feel better in the moment, it's very important to practice allowing yourself to feel the anxiety. Acknowledge that you are afraid and that you don't have to do anything about it in order to be safe.
If you find yourself wanting to engage in certain behaviors in order to feel safe, like Googling, asking for reassurance, packing safety items, and so on, Haley says the first step is to become aware that you are engaging in these behaviors in the first place. Sometimes we've been engaging in safety behaviors for so long that we don't even realize we're doing them! After you start recognizing the unhelpful behaviors, Haley says a great second step is to slowly decrease how often you engage in these behaviors. For example, if you want to check your heart rate 10 times a day, make it your goal to only check it 5 times the next day. And with practice, you can eliminate these unhelpful behaviors!
As you practice becoming aware of these unhelpful behaviors, it'll start to be a whole lot easier to identify when you're engaging in a behavior that isn't helpful to your recovery. Navigating health anxiety takes lots of small steps, healthy action, and self-compassion. But I know it is possible for you, my friend!
Make sure to tune in to listen to the podcast episode full of helpful information and more of Haley's story!
How To Connect With Haley:
Therapy, free resources, courses, & all the things: Head here!
On Instagram: @your.anxious.therapist
On TikTok: @youranxioustherapist