Health anxiety (sometimes called hypochondria) is when you spend so much time worrying you're ill, or about getting ill, that it starts to take over your life.
Check if you have health anxiety
You may have health anxiety if you:
- constantly worry about your health
- frequently check your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling or pain
- are always asking people for reassurance that you're not ill
- worry that your doctor or medical tests may have missed something
- obsessively look at health information on the internet or in the media
- avoid anything to do with serious illness, such as medical TV programmes
- act as if you were ill (for example, avoiding physical activities)
Anxiety itself can cause symptoms like headaches or a racing heartbeat, and you may mistake these for signs of illness.
Self-help for health anxiety
Keep a diary
- note how often you check your body, ask people for reassurance, or look at health information
- try to gradually reduce how often you do these things over a week
Challenge your thoughts
- draw a table with two columns
- write your health worries in the first column, then more balanced thoughts in the second
- for example, in the first column you may write, "I'm worried about these headaches" and in the second, "Headaches can often be a sign of stress"
Keep busy with other things
- when you get the urge to check your body, for example, distract yourself by going for a walk or calling a friend
Get back to normal activities
- try to gradually start doing things you've been avoiding because of your health worries, such as sports or socialising
Try to relax
For more tips, see Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust's self-help guide for health anxiety (PDF, 1.49Mb).
Non-urgent advice: See a GP if:
- your worries about your health are preventing you leading a normal life and self-help isn't working
If the GP diagnoses you with health anxiety, they may refer you for a psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or offer you a medicine for anxiety.
You can also refer yourself directly for psychological therapies.
More help for health anxiety
- You can find a private registered cognitive behavioural therapist through the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)
- Anxiety UK has a list of self-help groups for anxiety
- You'll also find mental health apps and tools in the NHS apps library.
Media review due: 5 September 2021
Page last reviewed: 26 September 2017
Next review due: 26 September 2020