5 Ways to Stop the Health Anxiety Cycle

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Everyone worries about their health sometimes. However, health anxiety can be a quite serious problem when it gets more entrenched. Health anxiety is an obsessive and irrational worry about having a serious medical condition. It’s also called illness anxiety, and it used to be called hypochondria.

With health anxiety, you believe you have an illness that you don’t actually have. Another form of health anxiety is somatization disorder, where you interpret small bodily sensations as being a symptom of something serious.

But health anxiety is a real paradox. There are some things a lot of people try to soothe their anxiety that actually feeds it. This is called the health anxiety cycle. But there is an escape – it’s just different from what you might think.

In this video you’ll learn five things you might do that make health anxiety worse (and what to do instead).
The health anxiety cycle usually starts with something like a sensation in your body or even just hearing about someone else’s illness.

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Therapy in a Nutshell and the information provided by Emma McAdam are solely intended for informational and entertainment purposes and are not a substitute for advice, diagnosis, or treatment regarding medical or mental health conditions. Although Emma McAdam is a licensed marriage and family therapist, the views expressed on this site or any related content should not be taken for medical or psychiatric advice. Always consult your physician before making any decisions related to your physical or mental health.
In therapy I use a combination of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Systems Theory, positive psychology, and a bio-psycho-social approach to treating mental illness and other challenges we all face in life. The ideas from my videos are frequently adapted from multiple sources. Many of them come from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, especially the work of Steven Hayes, Jason Luoma, and Russ Harris. The sections on stress and the mind-body connection derive from the work of Stephen Porges (the Polyvagal theory), Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing) Francine Shapiro (EMDR), and Bessel Van Der Kolk. I also rely heavily on the work of the Arbinger institute for my overall understanding of our ability to choose our life’s direction.
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  1. I’m a 26 year old male and I never had health anxiety until 2018. Here’s an example that #5 absolutely validates: I recently had a fellow I do business with tell me that people my age “need to watch out for testicular cancer”. It triggered me, of course, and I began to exam myself after googling. I discovered something known as the “epididymis”, and immediately thought it was a lump (catastrophize). I went to my D.O. (Physician), who is also a male, and asked him to examine me to see what I was feeling. He felt around and said it was normal anatomy. Now, my mind is racing thinking: “what if he didn’t feel EXACTLY what I’ve been feeling, and he missed it during examination?” So, in short, no it does not help to seek reassurance constantly. It can throw you in another cycle of hell. But, as my good friend who is an ophthalmologist told me, “Chad, are you really going to question a man who attended medical school and residency?” Just relax. I’m trying as hard as you are!

  2. I had to laugh at Googling. It's so true. I had a blood test and my doctor called to tell me I had a hyperactive thyroid . He talked about the causes like thyroid cancer. Of course I did a nights long search for causes. I found nothing but bad outcomes. By 4am the next morning I was in the ER with dizziness and heart palpitations. The ER doctor did all kinds of tests and said he didn't find much wrong including a normal thyroid scan. Seriously, doctors can kill you with their words.

  3. i've been experiencing this for the past few months, from thinking i had covid, believing that my irritated ear piercing was an abscess that would infect my bloodstream and travel to my brain, thinking i had tetanus because i was in a dusty basement and haven't had a tetanus shot in over ten years, to finally projecting my health anxiety onto my cats. when they chew their food weird i have to check their mouth that they didn't break a tooth because a broken tooth could lead to infection and sepsis and death. or thinking that their new electric water fountain is causing a short circuit which could electrocute them if they're drinking at that moment. it's so exhausting and the internet only makes it worse by giving me the opportunity to obsess over symptoms and causes and horror stories.

  4. I've been formally diagnosed with GAD and Hypochondria for many many years. I've never read (and I've read a lot) or being introduced to anything this good! You're amazing. You're clear and give off a sense of peace. Wow. I've subscribed to your YouTube AND podcast! Thank you so much for this.

  5. Sometimes something is actually wrong and you should listen to your intuition, without causing mental harm. There needs balance

  6. What sucks is when you have health anxiety AND an actual health problem. It's all there/real/true you just blow it out of proportion and think you're going to die every day. GREAT! And a lot of these things are so counter-intuitive as well. Me seeking certainty and refusing to listen to my first 2-3 doctors IS WHAT GOT ME DIAGNOSED! Even though I also know that I go very overboard with the anxiety and reassurance-seeking behaviors. Blargh.

  7. Never worried a damn about COVID, but I keep getting recurrent staph infections and it's scaring the crap out of me.

  8. I love the color coordinated books on the bookshelf. That is something I would do. And thank you for your help this has been the best video I’ve seen so far about health anxiety and I am not going to look for any more YouTube videos on the subject.😀

  9. my health anxiety has recently gotten worse and worse, and it is causing me to have anxiety attacks and making me feel actual pains in my body. it is taking over my life and i get so scared, but thank you for this video 🙂

  10. I've been dealing with this for 5+ years and it's been hell. It got to the point I'm agoraphobic and missing life. Prisoner of the walls of the house. It also costs me my marriage and ruined many relationships.

  11. Thank you! have been recovering from anxiety for 9 months and doing much better. I am adding these skills to my tool box.

  12. I've had somatization disorder now for 12 years being diagnosed only 6 years ago. After hundreds of doctors appointments and multiple tests like m.r.i.s, ct scans, ultrasounds over that 12 year span, nothing has been found from these symptoms that I go through. I've tried meds, cognitive behavior therapy, acupuncture and almost everything in the book these past 6 years yet I still suffer from this debilitating disease. I applied for social security disability and got it right away as have just been crippled by this disease. Scary thing is that you don't know what's real and what's not. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year even though I felt no symptoms for that one particular thing. It was found as I had an m.r.i. for swelling under my jaw. My shrink said to stay away from doctors while my doctor said if i'm dealing with real symptoms, i must follow up with a doctor. I feel real painful and destressing symptoms….what do I do? Any advice would be appreciated?

  13. Hi! I am new to your channel. I just wanna say thank you! The topics discussed here are spot on for me. As a person who don't have access to psychiatric counselling anymore, I feel this can help me in a certain way. I am tired to be living like this, I deeply want to change. Thank you so much!

  14. This was great!
    I use to be such a hypochondriac. Use to Google everything, watch YouTube videos about whatever was going on, self diagnose, call the doctor, etc.
    Learning to stop this behavior has helped my anxiety decrease. I even had more time in my day to do other things….
    Thank you.

  15. Hi.. I do have an actual syndrome how do I stop worrying so much abt it? It's pretty miserable. I can't seem to get a handle on the anxiety associated with this. Thank u, u have helped me so much in other areas.❤

  16. Now my health anxiety has turned into panicking when my pulse drops too much while trying to fall asleep. Ive been awake for hours because i fear my heart will stop. The next day it could be checking blood sugar levels 10 times to make sure its still normal. Blood pressure every 30 minutes surely. And god forbid and itch in the throat because that’s surely COVID or an allergic reaction leading to death. The worst is listening to all of the things and advice but in the moment you just can’t take it. Most doctors dont even believe health anxiety is real. I wish more attention and videos were made for people needing help with this like myself.

  17. Spent the past 2 weeks of my life convincing myself that acid reflux was actually agnia/a heart attack despite having tests multiple time and all coming back fine apart from a fast heart rate that calmed down as soon as I calmed my anxiety down.

  18. Your videos are so helpful. I play your vidoes when my mind starts to catastrophize; they stop me from going further into the darkness🙌

  19. I can so relate to this such as:
    – earlier this year I stubbed my toe and never had seen a bruise under the nail before. I ended up convincing myself I had a rare type of cancer called subungual melanoma even though it looked nothing like what I had.
    – after getting my first dose of Pfizer I have had symptoms of sinus tachycardia / pots syndrome which should resolve in a few months or a couple of years. But at points I convinced myself that I had back pain from scoliosis, headaches from meningitis, myocarditis from heart palpitations, adrenal gland tumor because of occasional pain, abdominal aneurysm because I'm thin and can sometimes see my stomach move up and down, some sort of neurological illness from tingling sensations in my arms legs etc. I even thought I might be having a stroke because my face felt a little weird. I am a young healthy guy but because I spent so long worrying about having side effects from the covid vaccine, when I had a minor reaction that my doctors are trying to understand I blew it all up. I went to A/E twice and ecg / ekg showed no heart issues, nothing unusual on my blood tests and my cardiologist just wants to do some more monitoring to figure this all out. But fear of the unknown just means every day I'm trying to find out what I have and self diagnose and it's really starting to get to me, especially with the strain the nhs is under at the moment in the UK.

  20. Wow this was so powerful! I found myself immersed in this. I’ve been having some major health anxiety and depression. I started having digestive issues that came out of nowhere and I was obsessed with finding out what’s wrong. I’ve done so many tests with normal results but I still have some issues both mentally and physically. I’ve learned to kind of accept things as they are, & seek professional help for things but also to enjoy what is going on in my present life. I try to tell myself “this amazing thing is happening at this time, even when some other things still exist.”

  21. There is that, but there is also a big problem in America where people do have problems, but can't afford the doctor, so they ignore them and hope they go away on their own. There is also a big problem where doctors do not believe female patients. Yes, a headache once in a while is nothing to worry about, but a constant headache you have had for months 24/7 is. Being tired for a little bit is normal, especially if you go to sleep late. But if you got to sleep early constantly and get 9 hours of sleep and feel like you have slept for 4, that's not normal. Or twice I mentioned to my doctor that intercourse is painful. They just told me to use lube (even though I was). It has now gotten to the point where I changed my nuvaring and it was a burning pain, similar to a UTI feeling. I really doubt that it's just all in my head from sexual trauma, because painful forced intercourse doesn't feel like that. While no, we shouldn't jump to conclusions, having lots of medical issues isn't out of the realm of possibility. I mean maybe I'm not the type of person you are talking about. I don't think I have uterine cancer or anything, but a yeast infection isn't out of the realm of possibility.

  22. I've never had this but recently got struck bad with this one. Of course it started with googling a symptom I had for weeks and hearing stories of worst case scenarios. The symptom is gone (why would I go to the doctor again to check) but I'm left dealing with the anxiety. It makes sense that our brains get stuck in these thought patterns but we can unlearn it!!! 13:49 was so simple yet incredibly helpful. Thank you so much for sharing it! For me praising God also helps drive fear out. I've had other types of anxiety that took years to manage with mindfulness and with praise it has been much faster. Not only do I switch my focus from myself to God but it also bring joy. I know it's not always easy. Don't identify with fearful thoughts (you observe your thoughts, you are not your thoughts) and set your mind on things above (God's goodness) ❤

  23. I didn’t have health anxiety until Covid either. I had my first surgery Dec 2020 (wisdom teeth), got covid after that, then had an eye doctor tell me if I saw floaters in my eye I needed to see a retina specialist. So guess what, everyday since then I’ve seen eye floaters, which I’ve learned anxiety can cause floaters. It’s a hell of a circle to be in, but this channel has helped me so much!

  24. Dr. McAdam – Thank you so much for this video! It hit key points that I have been trying to work through on my anxiety journey. Lately, I have been experiencing some brain fog/clarity issues that tend to result in some tension-related headaches. It's really concerned me over the last few weeks, but I know that it is just my anxiety. Each of your key points are exactly what I have been ruminating on in the past and are things that I plan to address moving forward. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness in sharing all of this information!

  25. Really powerful video. I really like the point about becoming aware of the stories we tell ourselves when anxiety hits. Thank you for the video! 🙏

  26. I can not believe you did a video about this I really needed this.. I’ve been having so much fear about literally everything and been noticing literally every little sensation in my body

  27. I have already saved this video in my "Watch Later" playlist cause I definitely need to listen to these wisdom words again and again until I somehow comprehend them! I am planning to use YouTube and watch your videos every time health anxiety thoughts penetrate my mind, but Youtube is a huge source of anxiety for me and if I attempt to watch one video of yours, then the algorithm will interfere and suggest me a bunch of stressful things before I even hurry up and turn my smartphone off.

  28. When I have a doctor's appointment, I almost always think: what will the doctor say today? What will he find? What's wrong with me? What will he find in my blood test? How much will this cost? Etc etc. That's why I hate/don't like to go to the doctor and dentist. That's why the doctor will find highblood pressure when he takes these tests on me.

  29. this video came just at the right time! I have been worrying so much about my stomach lately that it even drove me to panic attacks! Thank you so much for all your content <33

  30. First of all, thank you very much for all of your videos as I am finding much helpful information. My question is, if an anxiety attack can make me feel awkward or uncomfortable in a non-threatening situation, is it bad or unhealthy to try to force myself to sit in these types of situations longer? Particularly like a social setting. Thank you very much in advance.

  31. Thank you for the video. Lately I’ve convinced myself that I am deadly allergic to all seafood, nuts and some of my favorite fruits. It’s incredibly frustrating because accidentally eating, say, something that contains Stawberries leads me to panic attacks. I’ve been thinking of getting allergy tests, but now that doesn’t seem like the way to go 🙁 I think I’ll stop checking every single ingredient list for things I have always eaten and /know/ doesn’t contain any of my fear foods

  32. I would like to add. Always be your own health advocate. As someone who has worked for years with doctors they do not have the time, or are limited because of insurance companies to do what is best for you. You must advocate for yourself. If you have persistent pain, unusual bleeding, unexplained blurred vision, etc do not wait. Don't assume the worst either. Just go and do NOT settle until you are given an answer for it.

  33. I am so tired of my phone ringing telling me another person that I love has cancer. And in almost every single one it was not because the people ignored their symptoms too long, it was because the doctors didn't take their symptoms seriously enough and follow through with getting to the bottom of it. Then months later the symptoms have become so intense they can't take it anymore, they go back to the doctors only to be told it's stage 4 cancer.

  34. i have been suffering symptoms of anxiety in certain situations which i have found so distressing the anxiety is like a loop in my head but since watching these videos and taking notes i am making good progress with my symptoms thank you so much this is helping me so much

  35. Thanks for this video! It has given me some important tools. I never worried about health until I was diagnosed with cancer 7 years ago and had to do radiation and chemo. I've had no recurrence, but when you've gone through that it's like someone broke into your house and almost killed you. You begin to check and double check doors and windows, you listen to every sound and wonder if someone else is trying to get in. That's the cycle I am in. Part of me tells me that I'm just being legitimately concerned, the other part of me says I am making too much out of it. And just about the time I get calmed down, something will pop up in social media about someone diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer because they felt a small symptom and ignored it. Cycle begins again. Think this video will help.

  36. I'm so glad you talked about that feeling of doom. I used to get these panic attacks in the middle of the night. I was convinced I was being warned I was going to die. I would literally sob. It went on for a while until I told my husband who was like, "You need to see a therapist." It did not even occur to me that it was a panic attack. I wish this was talked about more openly… especially in religious communities, where those types of feelings can be blurred with what you believe are warnings or promptings or whatever you want to call them.

  37. 2 weeks before I left for a trip to China I had this fear of one of my parents dying. I sat them both down and talked to them about it. While I was gone, my dad took his life. This has made it very difficult for me when intense fears come up because I don't know if it's anxiety or some sort of premonition.

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