Coping with Illness Anxiety Disorder
Experiencing feelings of anxiety after a stressful event or during a highly stressful situation is normal. Feeling anxiety in the absence of any immediate danger or threat is not. An illness anxiety disorder results from feelings of anxiety gone out of control to the point where a person limits or alters his or her normal daily routine.
According to a National Institute of Mental Health report, an illness anxiety disorder exists when ongoing or recurrent anxiety feelings last at least six months and become increasingly worse over time. While there are several available treatments for illness anxiety disorder, there are still things a person can do better cope with anxiety symptoms.
Managing Thinking Patterns
Whether a person experiences mild anxiety or suffers from an actual illness anxiety disorder, feelings of anxiety start with the thinking patterns that run through a person’s mind. The more a person thinks about a potentially stressful situation the more anxious he or she becomes. A person can help reduce anxious feelings by managing the thoughts that fuel anxiety feelings.
Becoming aware of destructive thought patterns is the first step. In most instances, someone with illness anxiety disorder imagines the worst case scenario, which only worsens anxiety feelings. Making an effort to stop or redirect destructive thinking patterns can go a long way towards helping to reduce anxiety feelings.
Anxiety, in general, occurs when a person feels he or she has little to no control over a situation or in general. By identifying areas that can be controlled, a person can help reduce the degree of anxiety associated with different situations.
People suffering from illness anxiety disorder remain in a constant state of emotional turmoil. When a person feels anxious, the body shifts into “fight” mode, which triggers the release of certain brain chemicals and hormones. Likewise, someone who’s in a relaxed state feels little to no anxiety. By practicing relaxation techniques, a person can counteract the physiological processes driving anxious emotions, and in the process reduce feelings of anxiety.
This technique is similar to what a person does when managing thinking patterns only in this case it’s the body’s response that’s being managed instead of the mind’s response. Deep breathing exercises or simply engaging in a relaxing activity, such as listening to music can help relax the body. Practicing relaxation techniques can help for someone who feels anxious all the time as well as for people who only experience anxiety in certain situations.
People who experience severe episodes of illness anxiety disorder may require medication treatment in order to feel normal again. Medications can help a person better manage the emotional aspects of an illness anxiety disorder. There are several different medications from which to choose, though doctors typically base a medication choice on the types of symptoms a person is experiencing.
Antidepressant medications may work well for some people while benzodiazepines may work better for others. Benzodiazepines do carry a risk of addiction and should only be prescribed on a short-term basis. Antidepressants, particularly the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs or SSRIs are an effective treatment for most types of anxiety disorder.
As illness anxiety disorders tend to lead to avoidance behaviors, it’s important not to let the disorder prevent you or someone you know from getting the help they need to feel better.
National Institute of Mental Health