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Health Anxiety

About ten days ago, Laura and I came down with the plague. Well, OK, not the plague. More like the flu actually. We experienced energy draining fatigue, headaches, fever, chills, a constant cough and even back pain. We spent close to two days in bed and have just now overcome our symptoms with the sole exception of a lingering, but dissipating cough.

Of course we wondered if we could have done something to prevent this malady from occurring. When we saw our doctor, he suggested that we might have gotten our flu shots too early this year (apparently, they reformulate the shots as the year goes on). Of course, he said we had no way of knowing that and, no, he wasn’t recommending that we start getting two flu shots a year.

Maybe we didn’t wash our hands often enough. Or maybe we weren’t sufficiently attentive to getting enough sleep every night. Or maybe we spent too much time around crowds at the mall. Maybe…YIKES! Stop it!

We could see ourselves starting to fall into classic health anxiety so we rethought our concerns a bit. In doing so, we realized that we usually engage in most of the truly important behaviors for reducing health risks—we don’t smoke, we keep our weight under control, we have a good diet, we exercise and so on.

Worrying about people’s sneezes, washing hands excessively, avoiding crowds, etc, do little to nothing to actually prevent most cases of the flu. But they can cause stress and take up a lot of time if you let such worries spin out of control.

How about you? Do you let health worries dominate your life or is your health anxiety a normal, subclinical concern? Here’s a list of some questions to ask yourself in order to answer that question:

  • Do you spend an hour or more most days worrying about your health?
  • Do you frequently ask other people to reassure you about your health status?
  • Do you take precautions against contact with germs that most people don’t (e.g., using Kleenex to open doorknobs)?
  • Do your worries interfere with living a happy life?


If you discover that health anxiety interferes with your life, get help. You can overcome this problem by working on it. A good therapist can help you to see that most “over the top” strategies to keep you well (e.g., using hand sanitizer ten times a day), rarely accomplish their goal.

You can learn to stick to the basics for keeping yourself healthy. And you can learn that if you do get sick, you’re quite likely to cope with it just fine. People get sick all of the time and they generally get better and move on with their lives. You can do the same with a little help.

Sick woman photo available from Shutterstock.

Health Anxiety

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D.

Charles H. Elliott, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and a Founding Fellow in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is also a member of the faculty at Fielding Graduate University. He specializes in the treatment of adolescents and adults with obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, anger, depression, and personality disorders. Dr. Elliott is coauthor of: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2nd Ed), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Why Can't I Get What I Want?, Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be?, and Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth. His website is:

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APA Reference
Elliott, C. (2012). Health Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2012
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