Health Anxiety

Many individuals suffer from fears about being seriously ill, or even terminally ill, when no symptoms of serious illness exist. They misinterpret normal bodily sensations or physical symptoms as being dangerous and life-threatening. Reassurance from friends, spouses, diagnostic testing, or reassurance from health care professionals may provide temporary relief, but the fears return anyway. Those who suffer from health-related anxiety may also have one of several other anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder or OCD, however, the main content of their fears is hypervigilance for symptoms of serious illness and repetitive reassurance seeking in order to allay their fears. Individuals with these concerns may make many unnecessary visits to the doctor. They may repeatedly undergo unnecessary medical testing and procedures. Paradoxically, some with these health-related concerns may end up avoiding any contact with healthcare providers for fear that they receive bad news.

Treatment for health-related anxiety includes cognitive therapy to learn to tolerate uncertainty about health status and physical sensations, and exposure therapy and imaginal flooding to learn to tolerate feared thoughts about death and illness. Interoceptive exposure is used to help individuals learn to stop dreading changes in physical sensations.

We have specialized experience in helping individuals overcome health-related anxiety so that they can learn to enjoy their good health and stop fearing bad health, disability, or terminal illness. We will also work with your healthcare provider to help them know how to best help you when your health fears become problematic.