Health Anxiety and COVID

India is witnessing a sudden unprecedented surge in COVID 19 and is in a state of severe crisis. Each day the reported number of new infections and deaths are setting new records and is bringing forward the image of collapsed healthcare system of the country. While only a few months back, with the decreased number of cases, arrival of the vaccines, vaccination drive in the country and loosening of restrictions, people had slowly started to move forward to “normalcy”; this huge second wave has shattered the lives of many around us. Haunting news, images and videos of people crying over losing  their loved ones,  people struggling to get a bed in the hospital, shortage of oxygen, long queues outside the crematoriums and burial grounds, doctors pleading the public to stay home and maintain COVID appropriate behaviors  flooded the Indian media and social media. The second wave has led to a stronger realization that the number reported in the newspapers and television everyday is not just a mere statistics, but someone’s parent, child or sibling.

 

These have certainly heightened the fear, anxiety, panic of the public by manifolds. People are not only scared about infecting themselves with the deadly virus, but are also extremely concerned with the health of their near and dear ones, especially about the health of the elderly. While people are becoming increasing alarmed about their Health status and familiarizing themselves with different medical terminologies, mental health professionals have indicated the significant surge in what is known as Health Anxiety or Illness Anxiety. It is a mental health condition referring to “excessive worries and obsessions related to a perceived threat to one’s health.”. While it is natural and justified to be anxious about one’s health during this point of time, but the COVID anxiety differs from Health anxiety in terms of the intensity of the anxiety. If left unattended, Health Anxiety may go severe with time, and may start affecting one’s functioning. 

 

CLINICAL FEATURES

• Health Anxiety presents a persistent preoccupation with having or acquiring a serious illness.

• Every symptom, not matter how small, is given disproportionate importance. A person with Health Anxiety is hypersensitive to any bodily changes or sensations, and often misinterprets them as dangerous if he/she find any.

• There is a high level of anxiety about health, and the individual is easily alarmed about personal health status. He/ she  is easily alarmed about illness, such as by hearing about someone else falling ill or reading a healthrelated news story. 

• In many cases, illness or symptoms become the central feature of one’s identity, and a frequent topic of his/her social interactions.

• A person with Health Anxiety spends a lot of the time on the internet trying out find out more about the suspected disease and seeks repeated reassurance from family, friends or doctors.

• He/she is likely to visit many physicians for the same problem, and often are y dissatisfied with their medical care.

• In Health Anxiety, the illness related preoccupation is chronic and persistent, but the nature of specific suspected illness may change over time.

 

In present scenario, with the rise in the COVID cases, mental health professionals have witnessed increase in the number of cases of Health Anxiety and a further deterioration of those who are already diagnosed with this condition. They have become pathologically avoidant, home-bound and practising repeated hand washing, checking their body temperatures, respiratory functions, level of oxygen (SpO2) and testing their ability to smell and taste over and over again. Many are also doubting the accuracy of the tests results, hence a negative COVID result is also not enough to relief them from the anxiety.

 

TREATMENT

Regardless of how helpless it seems, Health Anxiety is a treatable condition. Through Psychotherapy, Counselling and medications in some cases, the individual can lead an absolutely normal and productive life despite having this condition. Here are a few techniques and tips which can be used to deal with COVID induced Health anxiety:

• Know you are not alone: Understanding that you not alone in this difficult time and sharing your overwhelming emotions with close ones will give you a sense of comfort. It is important to remember that there is no shame or judgment around if you are experiencing anxiety. These are difficult times and we all are in this together.

• Stay away from ‘Dr. Google’: Internet is flooded with information, but most of it is inauthentic and not reliable. Limit your reliance and need to feed yourself with unnecessary information. It is doing you more harm than good. “Self-diagnosing” or “Self-medicating” are probably the worst ways to deal with such things. Face the situation, as avoidance only provides temporary relief and worsens it in the long-run. 

• Limit your exposure to Media: The sensational reporting in media about the failed healthcare system, deaths, cremations is very likely to trigger and worsen your anxiety. We already know what we ought to know. Staying away from these negativities is very important for our mental health.

• Effective Coping Strategies: Engaging in your hobbies,  positive and productive activities like yoga, meditation, cooking, gardening, painting, playing indoor games, reading, photography, connecting with friends and family, solving riddles/Sudoku/puzzles, etc. ensures you are in a healthy state of mind and thus better equipped to deal with problems. Learning new skills keeps the brain active and boosts self-esteem.

• Set Goals and go at your own pace: Acknowledge your uniqueness and set your personal achievable goals. It’s okay to go slow. A ‘START’ is more important. Achieving small goals regularly is huge boost to one’s mental health. Moving forward matters, the pace doesn’t.

• Attitude of Gratitude: Thinking about the worst might seem natural, but our Mind is very flexible and can be trained to look at things differently. Developing an attitude of gratitude, counting your blessings and being thankful for the small things in life has been proven to promote mental health and resilience. 

• Seek professional help: If you feel your anxiety has started impacting your functioning please seek professional help. There are well established strategies in Psychotherapy and Counselling to manage Health Anxiety. Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is one such evidence based therapy.

• Be patient: Upon consulting a professional, stick to that one particular professional for an adequate time period and try to trust him/her and the process. Doctor-shopping or going for second/third opinion is only going to worsen the condition. 

 

 


web
counter