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Managing Health Anxiety and Fears about the Coronavirus

The coronavirus is dominating the news at the moment, causing a great deal of fear and anxiety for many people worldwide. Any time there is a public health concern, like a new strain of a virus, worries and fears can be amplified, even in those who don’t usually manifest signs of anxiety.

Health anxiety is relatively common and affects as many as 6.5% of us. This figure jumps up to almost one in ten when obsessive-compulsive disorders revolving around illnesses are included. People suffering from health anxiety will often fixate on certain illnesses, such as cancer or viruses and try to adjust their environment in order to reduce their risk.

For many, fear and worry over the recent outbreak of the coronavirus is starting to take hold – and is there any wonder considering all the media attention it’s receiving and the constant tally of infected ones? However, while worry is a normal response to things we can’t control in life, if certain fears and anxieties begin to dominate or rule our lives, it’s essential to take action and do something about it.

Here are a few things that may help you to take back control of your thoughts:

Take a step back from the media

While it’s important to stay informed about how to manage ourselves health-wise, it’s not helpful to be glued to every news report or article discussing the topic – doing so will just fuel and feed our fears. So try to limit your media consumption regarding stories relating to the virus outbreak. Public health officials are working hard to understand this virus better and how to limit the impact. If you need updates, check out the government’s resource for the most accurate and up-to-date information here.

Avoid fear-mongers

Fear fuels fear. If you’re constantly chatting with anxious people who are immersed in catastrophizing and fear-casting, you will struggle not to allow their anxieties to rub off on you and become your own. Avoiding negative people is important at the best of times but is essential amidst a public health scare. Just as you will do your best to minimise your risk of exposure to viruses, you need to do the same with people who fuel your stress.

Watch out for avoidance strategies

If you’re feeling worried about the coronavirus or any other infectious health concern, you may be tempted to stop using public transport and stay locked inside your house. While avoidance techniques may seem to help in the short-term, it can worsen your anxiety in the long run. Check-in with yourself – you can choose to either try and avoid the fear or push through those avoidance feelings. When worries begin to impact your daily routine, it may be time to consider speaking to a therapist.

Take normal precautions

Most viruses – coronavirus included – are spread through everyday contact, such as a cough, sneeze or touch. Where possible, try to avoid close contact with those who are not well and do your best to practice good (but not obsessive) hygiene habits, such as washing your hands thoroughly before eating. You could also try carrying some hand sanitiser in your bag for quick disinfection after using public transport. Keeping your immune system healthy and happy can help too, by eating a balanced diet, regular exercise and getting a good night’s sleep.

Recognise when you need help for health anxiety

The key difference between plain anxiety and health anxiety is the continual inability to be reassured. Someone concerned about their health will usually stop being worried after a doctor reassures them that everything is OK. However, a person struggling with health anxiety will continue to feel anxious and worried, needing repeated reassurance, even despite several negative test results.

The hardest part for people suffering from health anxiety is to realise that they need to see a mental health doctor – a psychiatrist – rather than their regular GP. If you’d like to get help to overcome health anxiety, Positive Mind Works can help. Our online service offers flexible and convenient appointments with an experienced Psychologist or Psychiatrist from the comfort of your own home.

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