How to Distinguish Between Health Anxiety and Actual Illness

Sep 5, 2023
Matilda Kensington
How to Distinguish Between Health Anxiety and Actual Illness

Understanding Health Anxiety Versus Actual Illness

The line that separates health anxiety from a genuine physical condition can be quite blurry, just like how my two kids, Amara and Benedict, have a rather confusing boundary around who is in charge of tidying up their shared room. But trust me, mothers know just how to determine whose toy is left out, and similarly, I'll help you navigate between health anxiety and real illness.

Nailing Down the Basics: What is Health Anxiety?

You know how anxiety rears its ugly head just when you're about to take that leap, like skydiving or even as simple as trying out a new dish? Health anxiety is that, but way worse. It is characterized by an excessive worry about having a serious illness despite having no, or only mild, symptoms. It's like assuming an asteroid will hit your house every time you spot a tiny, harmless insect in your garden. Health anxiety can cast doubts and uncertainty, causing a dark cloud to hang over even the most mundane and non-threatening symptoms, making health anxiety sufferers interpret normal bodily functions as something serious.

Recognizing Actual Illness – When It’s Not All in the Head

Contrary to health anxiety, an actual illness is when your body is genuinely dealing with some form of disease. It's like that one time my car wouldn't start - not because of my apprehension, but because of a dead battery. There are telltale signs when an actual disease lurks in your system — clear symptoms, persistent pain, and evident physical discomfort. These can be diagnosed by proper medical tests and treated by actual medical interventions. Whereas in health anxiety, the distress is more psychological than physical.

Spotting the Difference: Symptoms, Timing, and Impact

The ability to distinguish between health anxiety and actual illness is like knowing when a child is crying for attention and when they actually need something. In health anxiety, symptoms often change and are not connected to a particular condition, and appear or get worse in times of stress. On the other hand, actual illness usually involves consistent symptoms that are not influenced by one’s anxiety levels, and they persist regardless of what's happening in your life. The impact of health anxiety on a person's life also tends to be more extensive than a physical illness, as it involves a constant fear and worry, which can significantly alter a person's lifestyle.

When Two Worlds Collide: Health Anxiety and Physical Illness

Life has a hilarious way of complicating things, doesn't it? Just like the time Benedict decided to be Spider-Man and broke his arm while at the same time, Amara managed to run into a pole, giving herself a nosebleed. On their own, the situations were simple enough to deal with, but together, it was utter chaos. Similarly, health anxiety and actual illness can co-exist. The presence of physical illness can fuel health anxiety, and in turn, health anxiety can exacerbate the symptoms of the physical illness, creating a relentless cycle.

Seeking Professional Help: When to Reach Out

Remember that time when your roof was leaking, and you thought, "I got this. I don't need help." only to have a full-on indoor pool the next day? Yes, that’s the point where calling the professionals might be a good idea. In distinguishing between health anxiety and actual illness, it is crucial to seek professional help when daily functioning becomes difficult, when worry does not dissipate even after proper medical assurance, or when physical symptoms do not align with normal bodily functions and persist over time.

Embracing Adaptivity: Coping Strategies and Management

Just as a good cookie recipe demands a pinch of adaptivity to nail that perfect taste (trust me, I've had countless failed experiments before I mastered my oatmeal raisin cookies), managing health anxiety and actual illness requires adaptivity. This may involve cognitive-behavioral therapy to challenge and change unhelpful thoughts, relaxation techniques to manage stress, healthy lifestyle changes, or medications. Always remember that one coping strategy does not fit all. It takes a bit of blending and customizing to pull out the perfect plan. And don't worry, just like finding the perfect cookie recipe, it's absolutely okay to make a few messy attempts before hitting the sweet spot.