Hints & Tips on Dealing with Health Anxiety

Heart on Campus

A little bit of concern about our health is normal, and even healthy! However, for many of us, the threat of Coronavirus has also created increased anxiety about our health, and the health of our family and friends. So, it’s understandable that some of us are finding ourselves more preoccupied with our health than ever, perhaps even causing us a little bit of distress and having a negative impact on our mental health.

Of course, experiencing some worries through the day about contracting coronavirus is completely normal (and absolutely expected in our current situation), but if you are finding yourself spending a lot of your day worrying excessively about it, often asking others for reassurance, or continually seeking out information online, it might be a good time to pause, take a look at what’s going on for you and make some positive steps toward improving your wellbeing.

There are many things we can do which will help refocus our minds, and minimise our feelings of health anxiety:

  • Recognise anxiety is a normal emotional response.
  • Limit or avoid unhelpful media and misinformation.

Anxiety is a protective mechanism, and completely normal in our current circumstances. Many of us are feeling that bit more anxious – especially about our health - than we usually would; you are not alone.  

Limiting time spent checking out social media or watching the news can help reduce feelings of anxiety. Also stick to trusted, official, channels for information so you know it’s reliable and accurate.

  • Cut down or stop the behaviours that are fuelling your health anxiety.
  • Shift your attention away from your body.

Notice when your anxiety increases and learn what behaviours contributed to it. If it’s related to certain things you are doing, then try to limit these (e.g. scanning for symptoms, checking out information online, talking about Covid frequently), or replace them with more helpful behaviours, like those listed below.

While being aware and alert for signs of illness is helpful, we can get trapped in a cycle of constantly scanning for symptoms of illness, which in turn makes us feel more anxious. If you find yourself doing this, shift your focus to a different activity, or try one of the breathing/ ground exercises below.

  • Be aware of negative thoughts and keep your worries in check.
    • Write your thoughts down; this can help give us clarity and a different perspective, lessening the power of our thoughts on us.
    • Give yourself ‘worry time’; when you notice yourself worrying, acknowledge it and set it to one side, then give yourself 30 minutes a day where you can return to your worries, before purposely shifting your focus to something else.
    • Ask yourself if there is a more helpful way of thinking about this - what would I say to a friend who was in the same situation? How likely is the situation I’m imagining? What is the most likely thing to happen? Is worrying about this helping? Is it leading to a plan or action?
  • Get some exercise.

Take an online exercise class (UofG Sport have many virtual classes available everyday) or get out in fresh air; being out in daylight and in nature can have a very positive effect on our mood, and can be very grounding when we feel anxious.

  • Try some breathing and grounding exercises.
  • Remember – your anxious state isn’t permanent; this will pass.

From breathing techniques, to using a favourite smell, or the 54321 technique (pause and identify five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can feel, two you can smell, and one you can taste), these exercises can help ground us when we’re feeling particularly anxious.

When you are in the middle of it, anxiety always feels as though it will never end, but it will. It is undoubtedly a challenging time, but the tendency to jump to the worst-case scenario very rarely reflects reality. Be kind to yourself; your anxiety – and the pandemic – will pass.

 You can read also some of our recent wellbeing articles on the links below:


You can find more information on the CaPS webpages, and if you would like to speak to someone about how you’re feeling, there are a number of support services available:

  • All students and staff have access to Togetherall, a safe space online to get things off your chest and learn how to improve and manage your mental health and wellbeing.
  • You can self-refer to Counselling and Psychological Services (CaPS) via their website for one-on-one support.
  • Peer Wellbeing Support (available in many schools and colleges with more to join soon) is a confidential, student-led listening service, where you can speak to trained peers on issues such as anxiety, stress, isolation or loneliness.
  • Glasgow University Nightline is a confidential listening service operated by students for students, you can find more information on their Facebook page

The UofG Life app also provides useful links to health and wellbeing resources available to students. With easy access from your mobile, discover more on the services provided by Nightline, Togetherall and CaPS. You can download the app via Apple Store and Google Play. You can also access the app via the University’s app website.

 

First published: 4 March 2021

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