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Can EMDR Help with Health Anxiety?

February 22, 2024






Mental Health

Can EMDR Help with Health Anxiety?

What is health anxiety, and who does it affect?

It’s pretty normal to find yourself with occasional worries about your health. But when these worries impact your day-to-day life, it could be time to seek help.

If you are constantly thinking about moles on your skin, irregular heart palpitations and other specific health fears that have never been successfully diagnosed then it may be that you are suffering from health anxiety.

Health anxiety is a mental health condition where sufferers have excessive concerns and fears about having an unknown, serious medical condition. 

Those who suffer from health anxiety may experience frequent obsessive thoughts about their health, resulting in recurring trips to the doctors, medical tests and unnecessary procedures. 

What are the symptoms of health anxiety?

Some of the main symptoms of health anxiety include:

  • Having persistent, obsessive thoughts about your health
  • Excessively checking your body for signs of illness
  • Overly frequent trips to the doctor, and unnecessary medical tests  
  • Seeking reassurance from healthcare professionals
  • Extensive research into symptoms
  • Catastrophizing (e.g. thinking every headache could be a brain tumour)

Health anxiety can also affect the body and cause physical symptoms such as a racing heart, headaches and gastrointestinal distress which sufferers may mistake for signs of more serious illnesses. 

So, while health anxiety may not cause fake symptoms of illness, it can cause other anxiety-induced issues that may be mistaken for symptoms of the problems you’re worrying about. 

If health anxiety is affecting your daily life, do not struggle alone. Reach out to a specialist therapist who can assist you in overcoming health anxiety. 

I offer EMDR treatment that can help individuals suffering from health anxiety overcome their difficulties and feel more confident and less distressed. 

Where does health anxiety come from?

As a type of anxiety disorder, health anxiety may be more common in individuals who have previously struggled with anxiety or other mental health disorders. 

Some triggers of health anxiety may include times of stress, past experiences of serious illness, or if your family were excessively concerned about their own or your health whilst growing up. 

Is health anxiety a form of OCD?

Whilst health anxiety and OCD are considered separate disorders, there are some overlaps between the two - such as obsessive thought patterns, reassurance-seeking behaviour and compulsions (such as frequent visits to the doctor or checking your body often).

It may also be the case that some individuals suffering from OCD may find themselves fixated on their health, with their compulsions being checking for signs of illness or reassurance-seeking from doctors. 

Although they are different, research has shown that EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy) can be effective in treating both obsessive-compulsive disorder and health anxiety. 

How is health anxiety treated?

When untreated, health anxiety can harm your daily life, interfering with relationships, social situations and work. Fortunately, it can be treated by working with a specialist health anxiety therapist. 

Therapy is recommended for health anxiety, and there are several effective treatment types available to help individuals manage their anxiety and reduce their health-related worries, including EMDR, which I offer as both an online or face-to-face service from my clinic near Warrington. 

What is EMDR?

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing Therapy, more commonly known as EMDR, is a clinically proven therapy technique to treat PTSD. 

It is also suitable for a wide range of mental health conditions, including health anxiety.

It involves processing issues and past traumas whilst moving your eyes in a specific way, meaning that your mind is focused on external stimuli whilst processing emotionally distressing material. 

Does EMDR work for health anxiety?

As EMDR targets underlying fears associated with trauma and other mental health conditions, this psychotherapeutic technique can also be effective for health anxiety. 

This is because it helps sufferers work through the beliefs that lead to excessive health concerns by targeting the underlying traumatic experiences or memories that may be causing or contributing to the anxiety. 

Many of those who struggle with health anxiety have had past experiences of serious illnesses, illness scares or the loss of a loved one that has triggered their excessive worry about their health. 

By helping individuals to process traumatic thoughts or memories properly, EMDR can help to reduce reliving or replaying negative or anxious thought patterns or past traumatic experiences, as well as reducing the emotional distress associated with health anxiety. 

Processing and reframing traumatic or distressing thoughts through EMDR can reduce the intensity of anxiety and develop healthier coping mechanisms. 

How can EMDR help health anxiety?

One of the most distressing parts of health anxiety is the negative thought patterns. 

Another benefit of using EMDR techniques for health anxiety is its ability to address the negative beliefs and thoughts that frame the anxiety, often spiralling out of control when the individual encounters a trigger.

How can I beat this?

Therapy is almost always the best route to feeling better. It will help you to develop self-soothing skills and reduce reliance on safety behaviours (such as seeking reassurance from doctors, or excessive bodily checking), EMDR can decrease anxiety levels.

Striving for good health and going to see your GP is important at certain times, but it's also really important to recognize that living with some level of uncertainty is a natural aspect of life. 

Constant worry about potential health issues can take up a significant amount of time and energy, potentially taking away a lot of joy in your life.

In the future (when you are much older!), you may regret spending precious time in worry and fear, especially if those fears never materialise into serious health problems. A balance between being aware of your own body and health and not allowing worries to overshadow the present moment and overall quality of your life.

How does an EMDR session work?

During an EMDR therapy session for health anxiety, I will initially look to understand a bit more about your history, your struggles with the disorder and which particular areas or memories you would like to work on specifically. 

Once I have learned a bit more about you, we will then begin to prepare your mind with coping strategies to assist with your mental and physical symptoms of health anxiety. 

In the treatment stage of your EMDR therapy, we will target the specific traumatic events or worries that frame your health anxiety, whilst I ask you to follow specific eye movements. 

For online EMDR therapy sessions, we will use the ‘butterfly hug’ method, which involves crossing your arms over your chest and tapping. 

Both the tapping and eye movement elements of EMDR are effective as bilateral stimulation grounding techniques. 

EMDR treatment near you

As it is entirely possible to suffer from anxiety and a serious medical condition, clients might benefit from ruling out medical problems with a thorough physical examination before EMDR begins. Starting a course of therapy can then be the best road to recovery and starting to feel better.

Are you looking for a health anxiety therapist near you? If you’d like to try EMDR to work through your difficulties, I offer this service online via video call or face-to-face at my clinic near Warrington. 

Take the first step on your journey to a clearer and happier headspace today. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me to see if EMDR can help you break free from health anxiety. 

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