The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled fear.
For some, this has come in the form of health anxiety – they think about their health in ways they have never done before.
For others, the pandemic worsened a condition they may have struggled with for years.
“Any of us can have health anxiety, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us a lot of that,” said Lindsey Hunt, PhD, a clinical psychologist from Spectrum Health.
At a time when we are all urged to monitor symptoms such as fever, cough, and constipation, this emphasis on health can become unhealthy for some.
Health anxiety actually exists on a spectrum, with the most severe end being called hypochondria or hypochondria.
“Someone with hypochondria has uncontrollable thoughts about their health,” said Dr. Hunt. “Your mind is always fixated on it and that’s what you focus on.”
So how can we all maintain a healthy balance between vigilance and responsible care and not unhealthy and irrational fear? Dr. Hunt shared her top tips for dealing with the worries during this challenging time.
1. Don’t let the internet be your doctor.
Dr. Hunt said it was important to rely on informed and credible sources of information to assess your own personal risk of illness.
“I don’t recommend doing a general internet search and typing in your symptoms because you will find something,” said Dr. Hunt.
Your first point of contact for anything related to your health should be your primary care doctor, who is familiar with your particular circumstances, she said.
Many people allow searches online to help diagnose diseases they don’t have.
“People often think they have cancer when their symptoms make it very unlikely,” said Dr. Hunt. “It can cause unnecessary fear.”
Another problem can be online access to quickly available test results, said Dr. Hunt.
“We often get quick test results before our doctor has even had a chance to call,” she said, encouraging people to wait for their doctor to interpret the test results.
2. Avoid sensational news.
While some media and social media posts are great sources of information about health issues, others can create sensations and fuel anxiety.
“The news can highlight a very unusual story and play it over and over, which gives us the impression that it happens more often than it is,” said Dr. Hunt. “This makes us feel more at risk than we are.”
She recommended news reports that focus on information from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or reputable medical professionals.
3. Focus on what you can control.
Ask yourself: What can I control in this situation? What is out of my control?
Dr. Hunt said this is the advice she gives to patients struggling with anxiety. She even encourages them to write down the answers so that they can refer to them.
“Often at the center of fear is the feeling of losing control,” said Dr. Hunt.
“Fear can pull us in either of two directions,” she said. “We can bury our heads in the sand and just pretend it’s not a problem because it scares us. The other side is shutting down, for example someone who no longer goes to work, stops talking to their friends, or leaves their kids around the house all the time. It is important for us to know our risk, but also to deal with our fear in such a way that we are still functional. “
4. Get professional help when you need it.
With every fear, Dr. Hunt everyone that professional help is available. If your condition is causing a change in your daily functioning, encourage them to seek help.
“If you are so overwhelmed or focused on your health that you are not doing the tasks you need, or if a shift has affected your quality of life, then find a therapist,” she said. “The great thing about the pandemic is that most therapists now work virtually, making the therapy accessible to many more people.”
5. Take care of yourself.
Find healthy ways to relax – maybe mindfulness apps, deep breathing, meditation, yoga, listening to music, doing sports, walking outside, or dancing.
“It’s really important to find what works for the individual in terms of relaxation,” she said.
Also, make sure you keep up with daily positive behaviors, such as eating healthy foods, exercising, and getting adequate sleep.
“These really help your brain function better, and it increases your ability to deal with stress and manage anxiety.”
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