How to manage your health anxiety during the pandemic

Living with a chronic health condition can be all-encompassing. Physical symptoms can trigger mental health reactions and health anxiety is a common side effect. Triggers, medications, symptoms - all of these are things you’ve got to think about when managing a long-term condition but health anxiety can see you obsessing about these things.

Of course, anyone can develop health anxiety - you don’t necessarily have to be living with a pre-existing condition. It tends to be housed within the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum of disorders, as people living with the condition have an obsessional preoccupation with the idea that they may be ill. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a reason as to why you’ve developed health anxiety but the most important thing is bringing it under control - which is hard given the current pandemic.

Coronavirus has seen more of us worry about our health than ever (and with good reason). But if you’ve already got health anxiety, the pandemic may have sent you spiralling.

So here’s how to spot health anxiety, calm flare-ups, navigate coronavirus and where to go if you’re struggling:

Signs of health anxiety

According to the NHS, the main symptoms include:

  • Constantly worrying about your health
  • Frequently checking for signs of illness
  • Asking other people for assurance that you’re not ill
  • Worrying that your GP or tests may miss important signs
  • Spending a lot of time reading health information on the internet
  • Avoiding anything to do with serious illness - like the news or medical TV programmes
  • Acting like you’re ill (whatever that looks like to you)

Anxiety disorders can trigger a host of physical symptoms which feel really serious. Headaches, heart palpitations and sweat breakouts are really common symptoms and they can be scary - especially because they’re often associated with illnesses. Having a panic attack can feel like you’re having a heart attack.

Managing health anxiety during coronavirus

Get off Google

How many times have you asked Dr Google if that headache is a brain tumour, or your sore throat is Covid-19? We all do it and most of nearly always regret looking stuff up on the internet because we always plump for the worst-case scenario. Make a vow that you won’t search your symptoms anymore - or at least for one week. At the end of the week, see whether you’re still experiencing those signs and if so, go to see your GP rather scaring yourself online.

Avoid social media and/or sensational news

Choose where you get your news from. If tabloids and Twitter are freaking you out, only read from really reliable sources like the World Health Organisation, the BBC or medical journals. They tend to be impartial and science-driven rather than having to entice readers in with dramatic headlines.

Wash your hands and remember your mask

It’s totally normal to be worried about coronavirus - leave the conspiracy theorists to downplay its severity. But there are really simple things you can do to mitigate your risk. Washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water is absolutely crucial, as is remembering to wear your mask when you’re in enclosed spaces. Both are super simple moves that will protect you and help you to protect others against the virus. Think of your anxiety as your superpower - you won’t be as cavalier with safety measures as others and that’s going to help you to stay healthy.

Stay active

It’s easy to say but keeping active is your best bet in keeping those anxious thoughts at bay. Make sure that you go outside for a daily bout of exercise and try to keep moving throughout the day at home. If you feel tempted to start reading health articles on your laptop, get up and have a stretch, breathe, then return to your desk and see if you still want to read. Just implementing that pause may be enough to stem the tide of anxiety.

Acknowledge your worries

It’s really important that you’re alive to what you are feeling - all mental health can be improved by talking about it. Chat to your friends or loved ones about your worries, write them down and acknowledge the fact that most of the time, it’ll be your anxiety talking the reigns when it comes to reacting to health-related news. Once you process that fact, you can work out coping strategies.

Available help

  • As with everything, your first port of call should be your GP. They may recommend that you try cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or other forms of talking therapy and they'll be able to refer you if they think it necessary
  • Anxiety UK is a charity dedicated to all kinds of anxiety. Become a member and you’ll get access to various exclusive benefits for calming flare-ups and maintaining balance
  • Subscribe to an app like Headspace, which has lots of guided meditations for every kind of scenario and mental health need

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 21 July 2020
Next review: 21 July 2023