There are many ways anxiety, stress, trauma may manifest in our bodies. One common manifestation of this is through health anxiety, also called Illness Anxiety Disorder, where people worry about getting an illness.  People with illness anxiety disorder have often been through their own health scare or seen someone they love suffer from an illness or die.  This trauma becomes internalized, then may come out later in life during times of stress or worry.  People with health anxiety often go to the worst-case scenario, as most people with anxiety also do. They catastrophize the things that could occur should they get a disease. Many highly sensitive people may misinterpret their body sensitivities in times of stress, and it manifests into illness anxiety. With the media inundating us with news stories using pressured dramatic speech, alarming headlines, and sensationalized violence and illness, it can easily overwhelm us.

Anxiety is genuine and can feel a lump in the throat, sighing, heart racing, numbness, and tingling. It can exacerbate physical symptoms of headaches, migraines, and worsen tremors and other neurological conditions. It can manifest in the following syndromes in psychiatry.

Illness Anxiety Disorder

  • Preoccupation with having or getting a severe illness
  • No major physical symptoms
  • Worry is disproportionate to the actual risk of the disease
  • High level of anxiety about health
  • Easily alarmed about personal health status
  • Care-Seeking or Care-Avoidant Types
    • Either excessively checking through multiple visits to doctors, checking the body for signs of the illness
    • Avoids doctors and hospitals altogether

Somatic Symptom Disorder

  • Having body sensations that are bothersome and interferes in your life
  • Excessive thoughts, feelings or behaviors, related to the sensations and may be associated with the health concerns
  • Worry about the seriousness of one’s symptoms
  • High level of anxiety about health or these symptoms
  • Excessive time and energy devoted to these symptoms or health concerns
  • Can present as pain

Conversion or Functional Neurological Symptom Disorder

  • One or more motor or sensory symptoms that do not have medical explanations
  • The symptoms cause problems in social, work, or other significant parts of your life
  • Symptoms commonly present as some of these:
    • Pain
    • Swallowing
    • Tremors
    • Speech
    • Seizures
    • Loss of feeling
    • Problems with vision, smell, or hearing
    • Can have psychological stressors before it occurs
    • Can occur for no reason without stress

There are mind-body modalities for lessening health and illness anxiety.  Cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, somatic experiencing, breathwork, exercise, and many others are available.  Some people choose medications to help with these symptoms.

Author Allison Sikorsky

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