My name is Cat, and I manage the support services at Meningitis Research Foundation. I have a long background in mental health services, and am a qualified Mental Health First Aider.
The 2019/20 outbreak of COVID-19 is an unprecedented health crisis for the whole world. Understandably, we have been talking to lots of people who are feeling anxious around their health, and the health of others in their household or family. Many of these people have experienced meningitis previously, either in themselves or a loved one, and therefore know the potentially devastating impact of an infectious disease.
Research has shown that people who have meningitis and septicaemia can experience stress and anxiety after their illness. We hear from people that generally worry about their health daily and suffer from health anxiety, who feel that this current unfolding situation we all face has made these feelings much worse. In this blog, I hope to explain a little about health anxiety, some tips that might help, and how our services can help to support you.
What is health anxiety?
For a long time, health anxiety was an unrecognised condition and something that people would feel embarrassed about, which of course only intensifies feelings of isolation. Previously known as hypochondria, health anxiety is now a recognised condition – one which can be very hard to live with.
What are the symptoms of health anxiety?
You may notice that you constantly worry about your health or the health of others in your family. You may find yourself frequently checking your body for signs of illness, and new lumps and bumps, or new pain. Many people I speak to obsessively Google symptoms and this can give inaccurate and often frightening results. People with health anxiety may take the same actions that someone who is poorly, for example not going out or visiting people through worry about infecting others.. Sometimes, if there is a local case of illness, people worry excessively that they have caused this illness in the community.
Feeling like this daily and managing these feelings can be hard. Worrying that you or someone close to you could fall ill, even die, is very difficult, and sometimes you might continue feeling this way even if you are reassured by a medical professional. Anxiety in itself can cause symptoms of pain and headaches and this can exacerbate the worry you feel. The world may seem unclean and unsafe, and some people may display symptoms of OCD around cleanliness.
How can someone practice self help?
In times of worry and uncertainty, you may find it helpful to keep a diary. It helps to visually see the worries you have and empty the mind. You could also add how many times daily you check your symptoms or your body for any changes. Adding notes of your fears against your more balanced thoughts may be beneficial to give you something to look at throughout the day.
Give yourself goals daily, but do not put too much pressure on yourself. You may have a goal not to Google symptoms for half a day, or a full day. If you do not manage this today, try again tomorrow.
Relaxation techniques can help. Managing breathing, practising Yoga or holistic remedies can support to manage the feelings of anxiety. Lots of great yoga and relaxation videos are available for you to follow in the home.
It is important that if you cannot manage your feelings, and you feel things are getting worse you should talk with your GP who can support you and discuss therapies such as CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and talking therapy.
Lastly, and so importantly, talk about your feelings. Do not feel embarrassed to pick up the phone to someone you can trust such as a friend or family member and if you need us we are here to help and we understand. You can contact us confidentially by phone, live-chat or email, and we will always help in a kind and understanding way.
Call our free helpline on 080 8800 3344, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.