It is entirely normal for a person to have feelings of stress or anxiety during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, if these feelings become obsessional and irrational, they can have a severe impact on a person’s mental health.
Common obsessions of hypochondria and illness anxiety disorders can include:
- Thinking a cough must be a sign of lung cancer
- Constantly researching symptoms of illness
- Requesting multiple doctor visits or calls, often on the same day, or for the same reason
- Avoiding certain objects, such as door handles, in case they are contaminated
- Repeated checking of the body for symptoms of a disease
- Avoiding going to the doctor for fear of receiving a diagnosis
The OCD Center of Los Angeles estimates 4-6% of the population has clinically significant hypochondria.
People with hypochondria may experience their obsessions and anxieties more than usual during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommend people with hypochondria to follow these methods to cope with health anxiety:
- Keep a diary of how obsessions present themselves, for example, frequency of checking symptoms and calling doctors for reassurance and reduce how often these occur every week.
- Write down balanced thoughts beside a list of health concerns
- Keep buddy with other activities that the person has been avoiding due to health concerns, such as gardening or jogging
- Practice relaxation exercises, and mindfulness.
Limiting time spent watching the news or checking social media can also reduce feelings of anxiety, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.
LOOKING AFTER MENTAL HEALTH
People who feel stressed or anxious may benefit from following these guidelines from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- Make sure to get information from credible news sources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO)
- Set limits on frequency of viewing news and social media
- Follow healthy daily routines
- Get plenty of exercise, such as walking, stretching or yoga
- Practice mindfulness and meditation
- Do something meaningful and enjoyable, such as reading, cooking, or jigsaw puzzling
- Connect with family and friends to discuss concerns and feelings
- Contact helplines for support
People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue any treatment they are receiving from their doctors.
People with mental health conditions should also be aware of any new or worsening symptoms and report them to their health provider.
SUPPORTING SOMEONE WITH HYPOCHONDRIA
Some people may find themselves caring for someone who has hypochondria. There are several ways a person can assist someone they are caring for, including:
- Encouraging them to seek treatment from a medical professional
- Educating themselves on the symptoms and signs of the condition
- Helping the person learn about hypochondria or illness anxiety disorder and their triggers
- Talking to the person about their thoughts and feelings
- Gently discouraging symptom checking and behaviours that continually seek reassurance
- Not encouraging or feeding into their obsessions and anxieties
- Providing reassurance to a degree, but not allowing the person to constantly ask for guidance, regarding supposed symptoms
- Discouraging nonessential trips or calls to the doctor
- Helping them cope with anxieties by encouraging distracting activities, mindfulness, exercise, journaling, etc.
- Providing a patient, non judgemental support system
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognise signs of health anxiety and manage them appropriately.
Author: Anna Smith
Medically Reviewed: Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP
Publication: Medical News Today
Title: Hypochondria and COVID-19: Health anxiety and coronavirus