Dr. Andrea Biel, a clinical psychologist here at The Ross Center and co-director of our Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, offers her insights into the complexities, concerns, and symptoms associated with health anxiety in this article on Shondaland.
“Health anxiety has become an umbrella term used to commonly refer to two mental health conditions: illness anxiety disorder and somatic symptom disorder,” Biel says. While both involve worries about health, she notes that the difference between them is the “presence or absence of the physical symptoms.”
Illness anxiety disorder, Biel explains, is what was previously known as hypochondriasis (hence the term hypochondriac). Those with this type of health anxiety excessively worry about developing an illness but don’t feel or experience any physical symptoms.
On the other hand, people with somatic symptom disorder feel physical symptoms — such as pain or tingling — and then become highly worried about their severity and what they could signify.
She explains that the most successful therapeutic approach to health anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). “CBT for health anxiety facilitates the adoption of more adaptive beliefs and balanced ways of thinking about threats to one’s health,” Biel says, along with “the unlearning of unhelpful behavioral patterns to promote symptom relief”.
Behavioral patterns often include searching for symptoms online, checking the body, or asking someone for reassurance. However, Biel notes, these only “provide temporary relief while ultimately maintaining anxiety.”
Read the whole article on Shondaland.com.