If you think you may suffer from Illness Anxiety disorder, consider the following scenario. You are at the gym, getting a good sweat session in. As you run at a faster pace on the treadmill, you begin to feel a minor tenderness in your lower abdomen. The spiraling of thoughts flood your conscious mind:
“Was it that burrito I ate for lunch?”
“Could it be my appendix?”
“Maybe it’s a UTI?”
“Did I catch COVID?”
You google your symptoms (just as you have in the past…after all, WebMD is your friend, right?) and conclude that what you are experiencing is either a heart attack or somehow have contracted Crohn’s disease. You vow to never come to said gym again.
If this is a once “in a blue moon” scenario for you, then you may be like most people: normal.
However, if this is an event that occurs frequently, and has been going on for more than six months, it may be time to consult with a mental health professional.
What is Illness Anxiety Disorder?
Illness Anxiety Disorder (IAD) is formerly known as hypochondriasis or hypochondria. IAD is a mental health condition in which a person is preoccupied with having a serious illness, even when there are mild to no symptoms present.
IAD is accompanied with a high level of anxiety surrounding one’s health. This anxiety prompts the individual to engage in excessive health-related and avoidance behaviors.
According to Psychology Today, “Some people with this condition avoid situations that they fear may cause them to fall ill, such as doctor appointments, visits to health facilities, and visiting sick family members.”
What are the causes of IAD?
The exact causes of IAD are unclear. Many experts suggest that a combination of one’s beliefs, past experiences, and family history may play a role.
Beliefs. If an individual believes on a subconscious level, “I am vulnerable, defected, and sick,” he may misinterpret his body sensations as serious, and use WebMd as evidence to confirm his belief. I emphasize subconscious because most individuals are not aware of the beliefs that they hold in their subconscious mind.
Past Experiences. If an individual had a serious illness as a child, the possibility of becoming ill may trigger IAD. For example, if a child had multiple hospitalizations, due to an illness, he may grow up to be health conscious, and often worry about his health as an adult.
Family History. We all learn through witnessing the behaviors of others. If growing up, you had a mother that worried too much about her own health or your health, you may grown up to imitate the same behavior. Monkey see, monkey do, right?
If you believe you may have IAD, seek help from a mental health professional. You can reach out to the Burke Community Church Care and Counseling Center here: https://www.burkecommunity.com/careandcounseling/
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapeutic approach that is effective in identifying one’s own negative beliefs. Once these beliefs are identified, the counselor and client work together to replace or offset the negative beliefs with new positive beliefs. Beliefs are powerful, and are the key to changing one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, for the long-term.
Also, it is important to learn to recognize when we are stressed and engage in stress management and relaxation techniques. Examples of stress management and relaxation techniques include (but are not limited to): meditating on Scripture, singing worship music, and breath work.