Psychotherapy, CBT & Counselling in London Marylebone

CBT Health Anxiety in London

CBT Health Anxiety in London

CBT Health Anxiety in London

In this article, we are going to discuss how Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help with Health Anxiety. Firstly, we will talk about the signs of health anxiety. Secondly, we will be looking at how a person develop health anxiety. Finally, we will look at how CBT can help you deal with Health Anxiety.

1. What is Health Anxiety?

Health anxiety is a preoccupation with health concerns, which may manifest as a conviction that one has a serious illness. In order to meet formal diagnostic criteria for a health anxiety diagnosis, this must cause social or occupational impairment, significant distress and be present for a minimum of 6 months.

Everyone experiences health anxiety from time to time. To clarify, health anxiety can be adaptive and necessary; this is what motivates us to seek medical advice and care when we are ill. However, for some people this can occur very frequently in the absence of more serious symptoms and can cause serious distress. As a result, some individuals may misinterpret minor symptoms to be caused be a serious illness, for example headaches as brain tumors. In conclusion, some people may be more vulnerable than others to developing these difficulties.

2. How does a Person Develop Health Anxiety -CBT Health Anxiety in London

Predisposing factors

There are some factors that may make some individuals more likely than others to develop health anxiety, for example: Biological vulnerability (where someone experiences higher autonomic arousal than others). Experiences of those close to them being ill. Negative experiences of medical care which reduces their trust in medical opinion and reassurance.

Family histories of health anxiety can also increase the likelihood that a person will themselves misinterpret physical sensations as being caused by serious illness and remain hyper-vigilance to physical sensations in their body.

Core beliefs

Core beliefs may include: The belief that one is responsible for their own symptom monitoring, analysis and management. Individuals may perceive themselves to be vulnerable and helpless. This may lead them to believe that they are weak and likely to become ill as a result.

Precipitating factors

Precipitating factors may include: Stress. Exposure to others who are sick. Hearing about a disease through word of mouth or the media. Common health complaints (e.g. heat rashes, colds, sore throats, headaches etc).

Perpetuating factors for CBT Health Anxiety in London

Perpetuating factors center mainly around dysfunctional thought patterns. This includes: Hyper vigilance to and scanning for symptoms in one’s own body. The belief that anxiety cannot cause the physical sensations one is experiencing. Attention to disease relevant information. Selective recall of disease related information (e.g. only thinking about serious illness that may be causing symptoms rather than balancing this with more minor illness that may also explain symptoms). Misinterpretation of experiences and symptoms. Internet searching of symptoms. Avoiding activities that elicit symptoms. Frequently seeking reassurance from medical professionals or others regarding symptoms also maintains these difficulties.

Protective factors

Protective factors include: interests in socializing or engaging in other activities, support from friends or family and a willingness to challenge their health-related beliefs.

CBT Health Anxiety in London - How we understand Health Anxiety.

Here is a brief introduction to the CBT ideas and skills that can be helpful in improving Health Anxiety. This will help you understand health anxiety and how to address it even at difficult times in the your lives.

Below is an example of how a CBT for health anxiety may look in brief:

Bob has a highly stressful meeting coming up, where many of the managers of his company will be attending. As he prepares for this meeting, Bob begins to experience heart palpitations and notices that he is feeling hot. Bob’s palms become sweaty and he is starting to feel nauseas. Bob thinks back to his great-uncle who had heart problems and worries that this is now happening to him. The more he thinks about this the shallower his breathing becomes and he begins to believe his symptoms fit this diagnosis more and more. As a result, Bob decides to cancel the meeting and go home so that he can research his symptoms further.

This can be understood within a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy framework as follows:

Predisposing factors

Factors that may increase the likelihood that health anxiety will develop may include: Exposure to others being ill. Bob may also have a biological vulnerability if he has a more arousal autonomic response to stress. A selective bias to recall disease-related information.

Precipitating factors

Factors associated with the definitive onset of health anxiety: The stress Bob experienced in thinking about his upcoming meeting led to physical sensations of anxiety, including sweating, a racing heart and nausea. As a result Bob’s attention immediately switched to recalling a family member who had experienced heart problems.

Perpetuating factors

Factors that maintain the problem once it has become established: Bob misinterpreted his symptoms as being caused by heart problems rather than by the anxiety of the upcoming meeting. Cancelling the meeting is also a perpetuating factor as this as a maladaptive coping strategy. By avoiding the meeting Bob has missed an opportunity to notice the link between anxiety and his physical symptoms. If Bob had gone ahead with the meeting he may have noticed his symptoms alleviate as the meeting progressed and finished. Finally, Bob has left to search his symptoms online, which will further increase his belief and concern that he has a serious illness. This maintains the cycle, as Bob believes that this information will keep him safe.

Best CBT Health Anxiety in London

This cycle could be improved if Bob were to challenge some of his disease-related beliefs, including the use evidence for and against his symptoms being heart problems, considering alternative explanations and learning more about anxiety. In addition, response prevention would also be helpful in encouraging Bob to remain within meetings even when these become stressful so that he feels confident that feeling anxious and being in meetings will not result in serious heart complications or disease.

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