The spread of COVID-19 continues in the community and with the emergence of the second wave of infections around the world, it is normal for you to be concerned about being infected with the virus. You may engage in some checking behaviours such as taking our temperature, reading of health-related information, and seeking assurance from our family, friends, or professionals. When the worry gets too much and you engage in excessive checking, your response may become unhelpful and lead to escalating anxiety. Leaving your health anxiety unchecked in the long-term can lead to long lasting negative impact that can persist even after this pandemic resolves.
If you have been experiencing anxiety over your health, it is important to keep our anxiety in check. Monitoring our level of anxiety can allow us more control over our responses and hence the level of anxiety and impact on our lives. You can assess your level of health anxiety using a self-assessment tool, the Health Anxiety Inventory.
The HAI is a self-report assessment tool that assesses health anxiety independent of your actual physical health status. It is not meant to replace a former assessment by a mental health professional and it does not indicate a diagnosis of health anxiety, or not. Instead, the scores from your HAI can be used to help you better understand the symptoms of your health anxiety and facilitate conversations with your mental health professional. The assessment tool is reproduced below with permission from the authors.
Self-assessment test taken from King’s College London
How do I know my total score?
To know your level of anxiety, sum up your scores from the 18 questions (“a” = 1, “b” = 2, “c” = 3, “d” = 4). For example, if your answer for question 1 is “b”, then this counts as a score of 2.
How do I interpret the scores?
The score represents your level of health anxiety, with high scores representing higher level of health anxiety. If your total score is 15 and above, it might indicate symptoms of health anxiety challenges. As such, you may wish to consider reaching out to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist for a comprehensive assessment and discuss various treatment options.
Disclaimer: Please note that this assessment is not intended for diagnostic purposes. If you are concerned about your results, please do speak to qualified Clinical Psychologist.
For some, it is possible that health anxiety symptoms are more likely to occur when they are alone and happens less likely when in the company of others.
Here are some things you can do reduce your health anxiety:
Limit the amount of health-related news you consume in 1 day
It is helpful to keep up with the latest news so that we are kept up to date with the latest findings and regulations. However, consuming too much health-related information in one day can lead to an increase in anxiety symptoms. For example, try watching the news just once per day, or reading the news for just 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening.
Be aware when you are seeking constant reassurance
It is quite common for people with Healthy Anxiety to seek reassurance from medical professionals, or from reading about possible symptoms on the internet, or by excessive checking of bodily symptoms. While these behaviours alleviate the feeling of anxiety in the short-term, it has the unintended effect of strengthening and reinforcing the belief that one could really be infected and the need for constant checking is required for to be safe from COVID-19. The inaccurate belief leads to greater worries and anxiety.
Find ways to shift your attention
Some health anxiety symptoms may be exacerbated in certain situations. One can counter this issue by identifying the specific factor in those situations that causes the increased anxiety. For some, it is possible that health anxiety symptoms are more likely to occur when they are alone and happens less likely when in the company of others. Why might this be? Well, one explanation could be to do with the focus of our attention. When we are engaged in a conversation with a friend, our attention is focused on the conversation. However, when our minds are less occupied, our attention tends to be focused on our bodily symptoms. This can in turn make us more likely to notice that something might be wrong with our body and could lead to increased anxiety.
Seek professional help
There are effective ways of treatment for health anxiety. The two main evidence-based treatment options are:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for health anxiety
- Medication with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
If you are concerned that you may have health anxiety, you can reach out for support through the following services:
- Viriya Therapy Centre @ 6256 1311 or email@example.com
- Your nearest polyclinic or GP, which may offer psychiatric support or help with a referral to receive treatment
- IMH outpatient clinic @ 6389 2200
The contributor is a Psychologist at Viriya Community Services.