Is that Inhale a sign of seasonal allergies or COVID-19? It’s a question you’ve likely asked yourself at least once – and possibly many times – over the past few years.
It is normal to analyze your health, especially during a pandemic. But for some people, these thoughts can cross the border into more problematic territory. At least 4% of the US population Living with what is known as health anxiety, or Excessive preoccupation with health and disease — and symptoms of the condition may have appeared or worsened in some people during the recent years when the virus has taken hold, experts say.
“Health anxiety, to some extent, is normal during an epidemic,” says Michelle Patrikin, MD, director of research at The Menninger Clinic, a mental health treatment center in Texas.
In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders retired the term “hyacinth”, Which many people find underestimating and insufficient. Since then, health anxiety is officially known as “morbid anxiety disorder” and is characterized by excessive worrying about developing or developing a serious illness, often even if tests show no error. People with this condition often focus on mild or routine physical sensations — fearing that a headache is an early sign of a brain tumor, for example.
Health anxiety overlaps with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and panic disorder, explains Paul Salkowski, a UK clinical psychologist who has studied health anxiety for decades. People with health anxiety and OCD may engage in behaviors such as frequent hand washing or taking a temperature. and the like panic attacksHealth anxiety can manifest itself physically with symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, and an elevated heart rate. People with health anxiety often misinterpret these feelings as a sign that something is wrong, in the future if not in the present. They may think that a fast heartbeat is the first sign of cardiovascular disease.
Everyone worries about their health from time to time. But when this anxiety interferes with daily life or turns into behaviors such as obsessive searching for symptoms online (what some researchers callCyberchondria”), it could be a health concern.
The pandemic has added fuel to the fire for understandable reasons, Patrikin says. Due to legitimate concerns about the capture and spread of COVID-19, isolation, political unrest, and Increase in drug useIt’s no surprise that many people have experienced stress over the past few years, she says. rates Anxiety and depression have increased all over the world Since the epidemic began, and MEININGER Clinic research shows Symptoms worsened in many people with pre-existing psychiatric problems.
For some, the COVID-19 pandemic may have triggered or exacerbated symptoms of health anxiety due to legitimate concerns about illness and 24/7 news coverage about health and illness, among other factors, according to the Study 2021 Posted in International Journal of Cognitive Therapy. The paper adds that the fact that the virus is highly transmissible and can be spread even by asymptomatic people can also heighten anxiety.
To learn more about health anxiety in the general population, another team of researchers turned to Reddit. In January 2020, even before many countries began responding to the threat of COVID-19, they saw activity in the Reddit health concern forum start to rise — and over time, the language used in other mental health forums began to reverse. which is used on the topic of health concern, with many posts using words like “virus”, “respiratory device” and “vaccine”, they found.
However, Salkovskis noticed something interesting in his practice: Some people with contamination concerns saw their symptoms temporarily improve early in the pandemic, because many people were taking disease precautions. “However, this is a kind of vacation, not treatment,” he says.
In fact, by the spring of 2021, rates of psychological distress – including health anxiety – were rising in high-income countries including the US, UK and Italy, according to research not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal led by Marcantonio Spada. , Professor of Addictive Behaviors and Mental Health at London South Bank University. Health concern has been more common in countries, including the United States, which have taken aggressive approaches to pandemic management such as lockdowns, than in countries, Including Swedenwhich took a more relaxed approach, says Spada.
“You’re telling people to avoid situations, to go undercover, and to keep an eye on the threat,” Spada says. “Then you’re left with a set of thought patterns and behaviors that leave you vulnerable the next time there’s uncertainty.” SPADA search It also indicates that people who scored high on measures of neuroticism were more likely to have health anxiety during the epidemic, which in turn is linked to the development of generalized anxiety and depression.
Three years of fear and rumination about COVID-19, however understood Cause an increase in obsessive behaviorsLike systematically scanning groceries, so does general anxiety, says Salkovskis. But not everyone who shows these symptoms meets the diagnostic criteria for comorbid anxiety disorder, he said. He says that people with health anxiety believe they are sick and hold onto that belief for a long period of time. Someone may believe for years that they are in the early stages of developing cancer or heart disease, and it is difficult to prove them wrong definitively. It becomes clear fairly quickly whether or not someone has COVID-19, Salkovskis says.
It can be hard to know if your health concerns are normal in the COVID-19 era, when it’s normal to be on high alert about the disease. Behaviors that might otherwise be red flags of health concern, such as frequent hand washing or mask wearing, have become normal and recommended over the past few years. But Patrikin says there are still indications to look for. If you feel compelled to take virus precautions in low-risk situations — such as wearing a mask when you’re at home, or only around people you live with — or if your relationships and work are suffering as a result of your routine, talking to a mental health professional may be helpful.
Salkovskis says cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the only treatment for health anxiety with strong evidence behind it. According to the Mayo ClinicCognitive-behavioral therapy can help people with health anxiety recognize and modify their fears about illness and physical sensations, and develop coping strategies. Two-thirds of people with health anxiety experienced a reduction in symptoms after being treated with CBT, and nearly half went into complete remission, according to Research review published in 2019.
Patricken says lifestyle therapies can also be helpful in managing anxiety disorders. She says that getting enough sleep can make a big difference in your symptoms, as can make a big difference in getting social support. Even online socializing can help mitigate the negative consequences of health anxiety, one The study was published in 2021 Found — so if you have this condition, reaching out to your mental health professional and loved ones is a good place to start.
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