Have you heard of health anxiety?





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Have you heard of health anxiety?
By Beautiful Voyager • Issue #54 • View online
“Some women play hard to get. I play difficult to understand.” — Carrie Fisher

Hello dear beautiful voyagers,
Earlier this week, I ran a poll for my colleagues at Pinterest to learn which topics would be most useful for our ongoing mental health at work education series. I asked people to choose the topic most relevant to them:
  • Environmental anxiety (triggered by recent wildfires)
  • Health anxiety
  • Personal stories about navigating a variety of mental health challenges
Health anxiety won in a landslide.
It shouldn’t be too surprising, considering the global pandemic and all. What was surprising, however, was what happened when I shared the results. Many people had never heard of health anxiety. Hypochondria, yes. Health anxiety, no.
Illustration from "Worried Sick: Health Anxiety and the Do-I-Have-This Disorder"
Illustration from "Worried Sick: Health Anxiety and the Do-I-Have-This Disorder"
Hypochondria or health anxiety?
Healthline comes in handy when clarifying the relationship between the two terms. It tells us that in 2009 the British Journal of Psychiatry asked the question, “Is hypochondriasis an anxiety disorder?” The answer was a resounding yes.
Like Prince, the disorder formerly known as hypochondria has been redefined and people who had once been diagnosed with hypochondria might now be classified as having:
  • illness anxiety disorder, if the person has no physical symptoms or only mild symptoms — marked by a person’s imagination of physical symptoms of illness.
  • somatic symptom disorder, when the person has symptoms that are perceived as distressing to them or if they have multiple symptoms —marked by person’s misinterpretation of minor or normal body sensations as serious disease symptoms despite reassurance by medical professionals that they don’t have an illness.
To make it easier, some therapists use the umbrella term health anxiety to describe these cycles of worry.
Why did the term hypochondria get kicked to the curb?
“To eliminate the focus on medically unexplained symptoms,” according to this NY Times article, A New Approach to Treating Hypochondria. In other words, they learned that the way the term was being used was exacerbating the issue. The new diagnosis “puts its focus on undue attention to bodily symptoms, which, when properly explained, can be very reassuring to patients.”
The poll I ran at work showed me how many people are experiencing some form of health anxiety all alone in their heads. And that, at times, is the scariest place to be.
If you read nothing else in this newsletter, read this: If you find yourself spinning out as a result of sensations you are feeling in your body, you are not alone. And if that spin is affecting your daily life, cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven as an effective treatment for both illness anxiety and somatic symptom disorder.
Change starts with your own curiosity and readiness to explore, fellow voyagers. There are many lighthouses out there to light your way.
Love, Meredith
Love, Meredith
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Healing Resources Beyond Talk Therapy
Don't Push Away Negative Emotions
Mental Health at Work: 3 Guiding Principles
Read on...
Get Out of My Head: Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious
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