What is health anxiety and what can you do about it? 

health anxiety

No one wants to get sick — we’re all concerned about our health and do everything we can to avoid falling ill. But when does a concern for our health become a serious problem that negatively impacts our lives? If you find yourself spending most of your time worrying that you’re ill or you’re going to get ill, you may have health anxiety.


Health anxiety, also known as hypochondria, is when you worry excessively that you are seriously ill or that you’re going to develop a serious illness to the point that it begins to take over your life. You may display no physical symptoms at all or believe that your body’s normal functions and sensations are signs of a terrible medical condition. If you still believe you could be ill after you’ve been given the all-clear by a medical professional, you may have health anxiety. 

One thing that can make hypochondria worse is that worrying about a possible illness can cause your body to display anxiety symptoms which could be mistaken for a medical condition. Signs like muscle fatigue and muscle twitching are both caused by anxiety. But they can also be the result of a number of serious illnesses. Excessive anxiety can cause extreme distress that completely disrupts your life. 

Health anxiety is a complicated condition that looks different in different people. It’s a long-term illness that can fluctuate in severity throughout your life. It can increase as you grow older or experience high stress levels, but therapy and medication can improve symptoms and help you live a more normal and comfortable life.

These are the short and long term effects of anxiety >>


The specific causes of hypochondria aren’t clear. Triggers that cause some people to develop health anxiety barely affect other people. The cause is really personal and varies dramatically between different people. Here are some factors that may play a role in developing health anxiety:

  • Unconfirmed beliefs — Many people find it difficult to tolerate uncertainty when it comes to unusual and uncomfortable body sensations. This could cause you to falsely think that all your normal body sensations and serious and follow this belief up with research to prove you have a serious illness.
  • Family — You may be more likely to experience health anxiety if your parents (or other close family members) worry excessively about their own health or yours. If your parents genuinely do suffer from illnesses, you may also experience hypochondria that you’re going to develop their illnesses, even if they’re not genetic.
  • Trauma — If you had a bad experience with a serious illness in your past, any physical symptom that you think of as unusual may become frightening and worrisome to you. This trauma could have started decades ago when you were a child or weeks ago when you fell ill.

Do you have health anxiety?

Health anxiety symptoms surround the notion that you’re seriously ill, based on minor physical symptoms (such as a simple rash) or regular body sensations (such as a noisy stomach). Signs include:

  • Worrying that ordinary body sensations and harmless symptoms mean you have a severe illness
  • Getting little to no reassurance after receiving negative test results or seeing the doctor
  • Being so distressed about potential illnesses that you can’t function
  • Making frequent medical appointments for reassurance
  • Avoiding medical care for fear you’ll be diagnosed with a serious illness
  • Constantly discussing your health and possible illnesses with others
  • Being convinced you have or are developing a serious health condition or disease
  • Becoming easily alarmed about your health status
  • Excessively worrying about specific medical conditions and your chances of developing it
  • Frequently searching your body for signs of disease and illness
  • Avoiding certain acitivities, places, and people for fear of potential health risks
  • Regularly searching online for causes of symptoms of possible illnesses

Self-help for hypochondria

One of the best things to do if you think you have health anxiety is to visit a therapist. They’ll be able to evaluate you and determine whether or not you have the condition. If seeing a therapist isn’t an option, there are some things you can do at home to ease your symptoms.

Keep a journal

  • Write down every time you check your body, ask others for reassurance, or look up information about illnesses you think you may have
  • After noticing how often you do them, try and reduce the frequency you do these things

Keep yourself busy

  • When you get the urge to check your body for signs of illness or research potential conditions, distract yourself by going for a walk, talking to a friend, or doing something you enjoy

Challenge your thoughts

  • Make a table with two columns
  • In one column, write down all your health concerns
  • In the other column, write balanced counter-arguments
  • For example: in the first column you could write “I’m worried about my headaches” and in the second column you could write “Headaches are often caused by stress”.

Practice relaxing

  • When you feel overwhelmed by your health anxiety, stop what you’re doing and do something that you know relaxes you
  • Some things to try include meditation, breathing exercises, repeating affirmations, and gentle exercise

Get back to normal

  • If your health anxiety has caused you to avoid common everyday activities, gradually start doing them again so your body and mind become accustomed to them once more

When to see a therapist

The first step to treating your health anxiety is to visit your primary care practitioner. They’ll be able to confirm that you don’t have any serious illness. They may also be able to refer you to a therapist who specializes in this form of anxiety. If you’ve visited various medical doctors and haven’t got the help or reassurance you’re looking for, you can make an appointment directly with a therapist yourself

Many of our Cyti therapists are trained to help patients manage various different kinds of anxiety, including health anxiety. They can help you dive into your past and uncover the root of the problem before working alongside you so you can develop the skills you need to manage your symptoms and live a happier, healthier life. 

About the author: Krystie Hudson

Krystie’s favorite types of therapy to use with her clients are EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and SFT (Solution Focused Therapy).  She also incorporates Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Internal Family Systems with clients as needed.  She prefers to work with clients ages 14-100.  She is especially skilled with trauma and parenting problems/support, family issues.

Read more about Krystie here >>

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741