Losing a loved one is traumatizing. Grief is a difficult emotion for many people to endure. Especially, if your loved one has passed due to a complicated illness or injury. Knowing your loved one suffered due to their illness or injury can make grief feel more overwhelming. The grief from their passing coupled with the unfortunate circumstances of their death can take a toll on your mental health. Read below to learn how grief can trigger health anxiety and what you can do about it.
Health anxiety, also referred to as illness anxiety disorder or hypochondriasis (hypochondriac), is a psychological disorder. Health anxiety leads you to become overly obsessive over your health. You may have an intense fear of serious illness or injury. Or you may believe that you have an undiagnosed illness, even if you have no physical symptoms.
You may become hyper aware of normal body sensations or minor physical symptoms and take them as signs of severe illness. For example, twitching muscles or fatigue. Health anxiety can result in severe distress that causes more harm than the physical symptoms themselves. You may believe you are chronically ill even when medical examinations prove otherwise. Health anxiety can disrupt your daily life if not treated.
Somatic symptom disorder and health anxiety are often mistaken for one another, though they are quite different. Someone with health anxiety has a constant fear or worry about their health. They may feel as if they have physical symptoms or mistake normal body functions as physical symptoms of an illness.
But people with health anxiety never actually have physical symptoms, their symptoms are psychological. People with somatic symptom disorder, however, do experience physical symptoms.
Somatic symptom disorder is when a person has physical symptoms that are unexplainable by medical professionals. Like those with health anxiety, people with somatic symptom disorder regularly obsess about their health and symptoms.
But while they are experiencing physical symptoms, these symptoms are rarely life threatening or harmful. Somatic symptom disorder is described as a mental health condition like health anxiety disorder.
Health anxiety, or illness anxiety disorder, is a long-term condition that can fluctuate in severity over time. You may experience increased health anxiety symptoms with age or during times of stress, like a death in the family.
Symptoms of health anxiety can manifest because of hyper preoccupation with the idea that you’re ill based on normal bodily functions. A grumbling stomach or minor ache will send someone with health anxiety disorder spiraling into a fear fueled frenzy of distress.
Symptoms of health anxiety disorder may include:
There is no clear cause for why someone develops health anxiety disorder. For some people it could be their personal beliefs or personality. They may have a difficult time with uncertainty over their bodily sensations. Any inconvenient or unfamiliar bodily sensation may lead them to believe something is gravely wrong with them. These types of people may be prone to anxiety in other areas of their life as well.
In some cases, health anxiety may be passed down from family members. If you had parents who were excessively worried about your health or their own, your health anxiety could be a result of their influence.
Other times a past experience with severe illness, such as an illness or disease experienced during childhood, may trigger health anxiety in adulthood. Finally, a traumatic event like the death of a loved one can also trigger health anxiety.
Health anxiety is a repercussion of grief. The loss of a loved one causes everyone to grieve in their own way. Grief is difficult for us all but may affect some of us more severely.
The usual symptoms of grief may include sadness/ depression, fear, denial, anger, and loneliness. Most people experience these different emotions through different stages of their grief. How severely one grieves depends on their personality and their relationship with the deceased.
Grief induced anxiety is common, especially in those who are prone to anxiety or mental health disorders. Health anxiety could occur as a result of the death of a loved one, especially if the person died of an illness. Or it can be due to the grief of having a close friend or family member diagnosed with a terminal health condition.
The anxiety may be borne out of their experience watching their loved one suffer from their illness or disease. They may develop an intense fear of dying or suffering in the same way. Thus, their health anxiety disorder is born.
Health anxiety can have a different affect on every individual depending on the type of loss and the circumstances surrounding the loss.
Health anxiety is more likely to occur if your loved one died from a disease or illness. Their death may trigger you to be fearful of your own health and wellbeing. You may become obsessively fearful of contracting illness or developing a serious health condition.
Even more so, you may be concerned about dying from the same illness as your loved one. You may start to believe that you are experiencing the same symptoms of the deceased, although you aren’t.
The fear and worry you feel about your health may carry over onto other people in your life. For example, you may start to fear for your children's health or your spouse’s. Fearing for their life and yours only makes your anxiety worse. You may live your life feeling that you or your loved ones are unsafe wherever you go.
Having a constant fear of dying or getting ill takes a toll on your mental health. The trauma you experienced from the death of your loved one makes you fear death itself. Death can come suddenly with no warning or after a period of suffering.
Either way, no one has control over when or how they will die. The uncertainty of death may make you feel as if you have no control over your life. And the loss of control can affect you deeply in all areas of your life.
Health anxiety disorder can be your way of trying to gain control over your life. You might believe that if you are vigilant about your health, you can cheat death. Ultimately, no one can cheat death. Though you feel as if you are taking control over your life by being vigilant about your health, the irony is that health anxiety disorder robs you of all control. Your obsessive behaviors, actions, and thoughts over your health take over your life like an addiction.
If you have health anxiety, you may exaggerate common symptoms as being life threatening. A recurring cough, for example, may become a symptom of lung cancer. Or a fast heart rate may be a sure sign of heart attack, though no other symptoms are present. Completely normal body reactions become life threatening in the mind of someone with health anxiety.
You may be unable to discern between real physical symptoms and those made up in your head. It can be difficult to convince someone with health anxiety that their symptoms are normal and nothing to be worried about. Because in their mind, they are experiencing real symptoms. If you have health anxiety disorder, your imagination can overtake reality. You may begin to feel and see physical symptoms of illness that don’t exist.
People with health anxiety disorder usually fit into two groups: care avoidant and care seeking. Care avoidant people will avoid any kind of medical attention for fear of their health scares being confirmed. Or they may not trust medical professionals because they believe that their concerns are not taken seriously.
Care seeking individuals will usually seek out frequent attention from medical professionals. They may frequent their doctor’s office and ask for regular treatments or tests to confirm they are healthy.
Frequent medical care can result in a buildup of medical bills or time away from work. People with health anxiety may face financial difficulties due to medical bills or unemployment (if they’re fired due to their absence at work). An impact on their finances or employment situation can disrupt their quality of life.
Suffering from health anxiety may ultimately lead to your relationships suffering. Your overt obsession about your health may cause you to distance yourself from others. You may be fearful of being around others in case you catch an illness. Or your numerous doctor’s appointments and obsessive behaviors (such as time spent researching illness) can take time away from being with your friends and loved ones.
Additionally, your health anxiety disorder may push people away. It is difficult for others to watch someone suffer from health anxiety. They may grow tired of listening to your constant fears about your health. Or tire from trying to reassure you, you are not dying.
Health anxiety disorder can deteriorate mental and physical health if you don’t seek treatment. Constant fear and worrying can be taxing on your mental health. It can lead to depression and in serious cases, suicidal thoughts.
Having health anxiety puts you in a state of constant stress. Stress may in turn cause physical symptoms like a lowered immune system (which can lead you more prone to viruses), lack of sleep, body aches, or digestive problems. Without treatment, health anxiety can harm your overall wellbeing and health.
Dealing with health anxiety and grief can feel isolating but it doesn’t have to be. Your likelihood of recovering from health anxiety increases when you have a strong support system. It’s important to find people with whom you can be open with about your feelings. The death of a loved one is traumatizing. Finding support to help you cope with your loss is the first step in recovering from health anxiety disorder.
You may find emotional support from your friends, family, or trusted authority figures such as your pastor or priest. It may also be a good idea to find an in person or online support group for those suffering from grief or health anxiety. There is comfort in knowing that other people are experiencing the same thing as you. A support group with others who share your pain and understand your situation may make you feel less alone.
It’s recommended for people with grief induced anxiety to seek professional help. Especially if your condition worsens or begins to negatively impact your life. Seeking the care of a therapist or medical professional who is experienced in treating psychological disorders is most helpful. A trained professional can help you navigate through your grief and anxiety. They can teach you healthy ways to cope with your grief and overcome your health anxiety.
Medical professionals can also prescribe medications to ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Certain medications can make it easier for you to cope with your grief and anxiety. Though medications are not a long-term solution, they can be beneficial when combined with cognitive therapy.
Learn more about health anxiety disorder by doing independent research. Read books or articles, listen to a podcast, or watch YouTube videos about the subject. Learning more about your condition can help you better understand why you feel the way you do. It may help to convince you that your fears or health symptoms are psychological. The more you know about your condition the more you can recognize its symptoms. Knowing more about health anxiety may make it easier to recover from it.
Grief induced anxiety is difficult to overcome without first processing your grief. Health anxiety can manifest as a coping mechanism for grief. It is a way to focus your mind and attention on something other than the bereavement over the death of your loved one. It’s a way to avoid feeling uncomfortable feelings of sadness and loneliness. Though grieving is a difficult process, it’s necessary.
Seek outside help for coping with your grief in a healthy way. Allow yourself to feel emotions you may have hidden deep inside. Let yourself cry, laugh, scream, curse, or do whatever it is you need to, to release your feelings. Processing your grief may take time, so be patient. But once you can accept the death of your loved one and find peace, you can begin to heal from your health anxiety.
Health anxiety may cause you to obsessively focus on one part or function of your body. The more you obsess over a part of your body, the more you will notice any physical sensations. These physical sensations can lead to worrying thoughts which trigger your health anxiety disorder. Before you know it, you are having a full-blown panic attack. It’s important to recognize when you begin to obsessively focus on a body part or a particular sensation you are feeling.
Once you recognize the beginnings of obsessive thinking, change your focus of attention. Immediately put your focus into doing something else. Do a physical activity like going for a walk or hitting the gym, listen to music and dance, focus on a creative hobby (like painting), or start cleaning your room.
The goal is to stop obsessive thinking in its tracks by focusing your attention elsewhere. Doing a physical activity that requires more focus on what you are doing rather than what you are feeling will take attention away from obsessive thinking.
Call up your friend for a chat next time your health anxiety is triggered. Talking with a friend or family member will get you out of your head. You’ll be forced to focus on the conversation rather than anxious thoughts about your health.
And the more entertaining the conversation, the better. Ask your friend to tell you juicy gossip that will keep your attention on them and not on your body.
Being in nature is both meditative and good for your health. A little bit of fresh air can make all the difference when you are about to spiral into obsessive thinking. Put on a pair of sneakers and take a stroll through your neighborhood or local park.
Focus your attention on the sights and sounds around you. Pay attention to the lighting and the cool, brisk wind against your skin. Being out in nature helps you feel connected to the earth and to your highest self.
Anxiety is a mental disorder that causes mental and physical distress. Learning how to relax and ease anxiety can help with your health anxiety disorder. Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness techniques teach you how to calm your inner storm. They can help you to slow down your racing or anxious thoughts, giving you time to think clearly. They can also act as methods for relaxation.
Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness techniques help you to get out of your head. They teach you to focus on the present moment and retrain your mind to become more aware of yourself and surroundings. The daily distress caused by obsessing over your health can for at least a short period be quelled during a yoga, meditation, or mindfulness session.
Self-care should be a priority for all of us regardless of whether we’re grieving. But it becomes even more important during stressful times, like after the loss of a loved one. To help you overcome your grief and health anxiety, be sure you are taking care of yourself.
Health anxiety especially may cause you to neglect your needs due to unreasonable fear. But neglecting your needs can worsen your symptoms of anxiety and grief. For example, eating poorly, not exercising, or not getting enough rest can result in low energy and mood.
Whereas leading a healthy lifestyle and getting plenty of sleep can naturally improve your mood and energy levels. When you feel better you are less prone to anxious or depressive thoughts. Be sure to make self-care part of your daily routine. Take care of yourself while also doing things you enjoy.
Going for a massage, watching your favorite movies, or getting your nails done are part of a healthy self-care routine. Focus on the good things in life and you will give less attention to your worries and fears.
It’s normal to feel sadness or emptiness after we lose someone we love. Though they are forever in our hearts, we wish there were other ways to feel close to them. Finding a way to feel more connected with your deceased loved one may help with your grief and health anxiety disorder. Nothing can bring back the ones we’ve lost but there are some ways we can better keep them alive in our memories.
Ashes made into jewelry may be a way to feel connected to your deceased loved one. Each handmade jewelry piece incorporates a small portion of your loved one’s ashes into the design. The ashes are mixed in with the metal or stone of your jewelry pendant or ring.
Ashes made into jewelry allows you the opportunity to keep a part of your loved one with you always. It’s a personal memorial keepsake that only you will wear. No one needs to understand the meaning behind your jewelry but you. In this way, you may feel more connected to your loved one in their absence.
Photo engraved jewelry uses laser engraving technology to engrave the deceased’s likeness onto a jewelry pendant or keepsake. You choose a photo of your loved one that you hold dear to you. A jewelry craftsman will then copy that image onto your remembrance jewelry keepsake in either black and white or color.You can then carry your favorite photo of your loved one with you wherever you go.
It may act as a comfort to see their smiling face whenever you are missing them. Photo engraved jewelry can also be engraved with your choice of message, quote, or the name of your loved one.
Fingerprint jewelry and keepsakes allow you to hold onto the most unique characteristic of your loved one, their fingerprint. Fingerprint jewelry takes an imprint of your deceased loved one’s thumbprint and engraves it onto a necklace pendant, keychain, or other memorial keepsake. It’s a unique and special way to celebrate your deceased loved one and keep a part of them with you.
Like ashes made into jewelry, cremation jewelry incorporates a small portion of your loved one’s ashes into the jewelry design. However, cremation jewelry contains a small compartment where your loved one’s ashes are held.
Cremation jewelry is designed to be self-filled. You can fill the jewelry yourself with your loved one’s ashes, making it a more personal experience. Knowing you have a part of your loved one with you always can help to ease grief and grief induced anxiety.
Writing a letter to the deceased might help you feel closer to them. Part of grieving is wishing we had more time with our loved ones to tell them how we feel. You may wish you had been able to apologize, thank, or tell the deceased how much you cared for them before they passed. Knowing you missed your opportunity to do so can cause much distress.
One way to ease this distress and feel more connected to the deceased is to write them a letter. Grab a pen and paper or a journal and write a letter to the deceased as if they were still living. Write down anything you wish you could have told them before they passed. Writing can feel therapeutic as a way to release your thoughts and feelings. It can make you feel as if you are speaking directly to your loved one. Later, save the letter or place it beside their grave marker for more closure.
Stay clear of any influences that may trigger your health anxiety. Watching news reports on current health scares or movies that portray illness can be triggering. It’s important to protect your mind from anything that might lead to obsessive thought patterns.
If you often surf the web or come across health-related articles on social media, stop using the internet. Only use it when necessary and even then, be careful of what websites you visit. The web is full of useful information, but it is also full of false information. Don’t let yourself fall prey to false information about health that can send your health anxiety into overdrive.
Health anxiety leads you into a pattern of fearful thinking. Your thoughts soon consume you and you accept them as truth without verification. But just because you believe something to be true, does not mean that it is. For example, a jealous person may have once told you that your hair was ugly. You accepted their opinion as fact and never bothered to seek validation elsewhere. As such, you led your life believing your hair was ugly.
What you didn’t realize was that the person who told you your hair was ugly, didn’t really believe it was ugly. They told you it was because they were jealous. Had you refused to believe them and asked another person’s opinion, they would have told you your hair was beautiful. But because you never questioned the first person’s opinion, you took their statement as fact.
Using the example above, think of your thoughts as opinions. Just because you have an anxious thought or line of thoughts, doesn't mean they are true. If you feel your heart flutter, for example, you might believe it is a sure sign of a heart attack. But if you question this thought, you’ll discover that a fluttering heart could also be a symptom of stress, medication, or exercise. Rarely is it a symptom of something serious. Your thoughts are not facts. Challenge your thoughts next time they lead you astray down the path of anxiety.
Mayo Clinic: Illness Anxiety Disorder
Harvard Health: Always worried about your health? You may be dealing with health anxiety disorder
Health anxiety self help resources: worksheets and workbooks for working through your anxiety
SAMSHSA (substance abuse and mental health services administration): National helpline that offers 24 hour support for anyone going through a mental health crisis. They can offer guidance or referrals for getting help. If you experience suicidal thoughts, they are available 24/7 to speak with you and get you help.
The 7 best anxiety support groups of 2021: An article by Healthline.com that describes 7 different online support groups for dealing with anxiety.
FaceBook support groups for hypochondriasis
Griefshare.org is an online organization that connects you with sponsored support group events and meetings. They also provide resources for dealing with grief.
Resource guide for coping with grief: Includes information for online help as well as useful information about the grieving process.
Mindfulness techniques for reducing anxiety and focusing your mind in the present.
10 minute meditation for anxiety and depression: YouTube has plenty of free guided meditations that may be useful.
5 best apps for yoga and meditation: Guided yoga and meditation routines.
You can stop your health anxiety by taking deliberate action to overcome it. Seek outside help to work through your health anxiety. Reach out to your personal support group as well as medical professionals. Through a process of cognitive therapy, group therapy sessions, and medication, you can learn to overcome your health anxiety disorder.
Health anxiety will make you believe you have physical symptoms of an illness that don’t exist. Or you may believe that normal uncomfortable bodily functions (such as a gassy stomach or fatigue) are symptoms of something more severe. In some cases, health anxiety may produce real physical symptoms due to chronic stress.
Stress can have negative physical effects on the body such as lowering the immune system, digestive problems, or increased heart rate. When your mind is in a constant state of worry, such as the case with health anxiety, you put yourself under a lot of stress. Chronic stress can over time lead to physical symptoms or illness.
Grief can trigger in some people hypochondriasis, also known as illness disorder and health anxiety. A person who is in constant fear or worry about getting sick is called a hypochondriac. But while hypochondriacs are mostly associated with having a fear of germs, grief triggered hypochondriacs fear illness or death. They may have an intense fear of germs because they fear contracting a virus, thus making them a hypochondriac.
Grief induced health anxiety is triggered by the death of a loved one. Someone who suffers from grief induced health anxiety may fear dying the same way their loved one did. Or they may fear death itself and so, overcompensate by remaining vigilant about their health. Not everyone who experiences a death is at risk for developing health anxiety. But your risk factors are greater if you have a predisposition for anxiety or your loved one died due to a terminal illness.
You can ease your anxiety after losing a loved one by being patient with yourself. Take the time to grieve properly. Reach out to others for support and be kind to yourself. Open up about your feelings and know that there are others going through similar situations to yours.
Understand that you are not alone in your pain, sadness, and anxiousness. Take care of yourself by practicing self-care. If your anxiety is negatively impacting your life, seek professional help from a therapist or doctor.
Health anxiety at its worst may be a person who refuses to leave their home for fear of harming their health. They may lose their job, friends, or savings due to their obsessive-compulsive behavior towards convincing themselves they’re sick. In severe cases, health anxiety can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts.
Health anxiety may fluctuate in severity over the course of your life. Everyone experiences anxiety at some point, but some people are more prone to anxiety than others. Health anxiety can never totally disappear (everyone worries about their health at times) but it can lessen over time.
Your best solution for reducing health anxiety is to seek help and resources for coping with health anxiety. Through deliberate focus and cognitive therapy, you can train your mind not to spiral into anxious thought patterns.
If you or a loved one are experiencing health anxiety, don’t hesitate to get help. Health anxiety can grow worse over time. It may negatively impact your life and take a toll on your mental and physical health. Reach out to someone you trust for help with overcoming your health anxiety. Taking one step towards recovery is one step closer to leading a normal happy life.
August 22, 2022 by Frances Kay