People with hypochondria may find that anxiety around COVID-19 can seriously affect their mental health.

To mark Mental Health Awareness Month this May, we’re bringing you research-backed information to help support the mental well-being of you and your loved ones during this difficult time. You can view all of our content for Mental Health Awareness Month here.

Health anxiety, or hypochondria, is the irrational, obsessive fear that a person has or will have a serious medical issue.

Doctors now also use the term illness anxiety disorder when referring to hypochondria.

People with the condition become convinced they have specific illnesses, even when medical professionals reassure them that they do not.

The following article gives information on managing health anxiety during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

a woman sat on her sofa and looking worried as she has Hypochondria and is worried about COVID-19Share on Pinterest
Following healthy daily routines may reduce feelings of stress or anxiety during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It is entirely normal for a person to have feelings of stress or anxiety during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, if these feelings become obsessional and irrational, they can have a severe impact on a person’s mental health.

Common obsessions of hypochondria and illness anxiety disorders can include:

  • thinking a cough must be a sign of lung cancer
  • constantly researching symptoms of illnesses
  • requesting multiple doctor visits or calls, often on the same day, or for the same reason
  • avoiding certain objects, such as door handles, in case they are contaminated
  • repeated checking of the body for symptoms of a disease
  • avoiding going to the doctor for fear of receiving a diagnosis

The OCD Center of Los Angles estimate 46% of the population has clinically significant hypochondria.

People who have hypochondria may experience their obsessions and anxieties more than usual during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommend people with hypochondria follow these methods to cope with health anxiety:

  • Keep a diary of how obsessions present themselves, for example, frequency of checking symptoms and calling doctors for reassurance and reduce how often these occur every week.
  • Write down balanced thoughts beside a list of health concerns.
  • Keep busy with other activities, such as going for a walk or calling a friend.
  • Try to do activities that the person has been avoiding due to health concerns, such as gardening or jogging.
  • Practice relaxation exercises, and mindfulness.

Limiting time spent watching the news or checking social media can also reduce feelings of anxiety, especially during the COVID-19 outbreak.

People who feel stressed or anxious may benefit from following these guidelines from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) :

  • Make sure to get information from credible news sources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Set limits on the frequency of viewing news and social media.
  • Follow healthy daily routines.
  • Get plenty of exercise, such as walking, stretching, or yoga.
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation.
  • Do something meaningful and enjoyable, such as reading, cooking, or jigsaw puzzling.
  • Connect with family and friends to discuss concerns and feelings.
  • Join an online mental health group to share feelings.
  • Contact helplines, such as a Warmline helpline, for support.

People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue any treatment they are receiving from their doctors.

People with mental health conditions should also be aware of any new or worsening symptoms and report them to their health provider.

Some people may find themselves caring for someone who has hypochondria. There are several ways a person can assist someone they are caring for, including:

  • Encouraging them to seek treatment from a medical professional.
  • Educating themselves on the symptoms and signs of the condition.
  • Helping the person learn about hypochondria or illness anxiety disorder and their triggers.
  • Talking to the person about their thoughts and feelings.
  • Gently discouraging symptom checking and behaviors that continually seek reassurance.
  • Not encouraging or feeding into their obsessions and anxieties.
  • Providing reassurance to a degree, but not allowing the person to constantly ask for guidance, regarding supposed symptoms.
  • Discouraging nonessential trips or calls to the doctor.
  • Helping them cope with anxiety by encouraging distracting activities, mindfulness, exercise, journaling, etc.
  • Providing a patient, nonjudgmental support system.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to recognize signs of health anxiety and manage them appropriately.

A person with illness anxiety disorder can speak to a doctor or medical professional if they feel their health worries affect their quality of life.

A doctor can provide medication for anxiety and provide information about psychological therapy.

People who have hypochondria are generally not at greater risk from COVID-19 itself. However, the stress and anxiety it can cause may lead to concerning symptoms.

In 2016, researchers in Norway discovered that people with high levels of health anxiety had an increased risk of heart disease of about 70%.

Anyone with concerns that they have COVID-19 should be aware that the viral infection shares many symptoms with other conditions, such as the common cold.

Learn more about COVID-19 symptoms and how they compare to the symptoms of other conditions here.

People should make sure to only read about the condition if it will not contribute to health anxiety or hypochondria.

If a person is unsure if they are experiencing a health condition or health anxiety, a doctor can offer advice on diagnosis and treatment. They will also advise on what is a genuine health concern and what is not.

A person who has hypochondria may feel their anxieties increase due to a rise in information about COVID-19. However, there are many helpful resources and methods of coping available to people with health anxiety.

People with health anxiety about COVID-19 can practice mindfulness, avoid the news, and exercise regularly to help support their mental health.

If a person with hypochondria feels a decrease in their quality of life, they should contact their doctor or health provider.