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Worried Sick? How To Chill Out for Your Health

By: Stacey Colino

health anxietyDid swine flu freak you out? Did contaminated peanut butter make you lose your cool? Do health headlines give you the jitters?

You’re not alone. “Health anxiety” often spreads faster than an illness—and can cause its own adverse health effects. It’s a phenomenon that often occurs when news about a serious illness that you didn’t even know existed dominates the headlines. “There’s an interaction between people’s natural fears and worries about their health and the media hysteria that directs our attention to things that could potentially harm our health,” says Gordon Asmundson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Regina in Canada and co-author of It’s Not All In Your Head: How Worrying about Your Health Could Be Making You Sick—and What You Can Do about It. “But often, health anxiety goes beyond the facts or inherent risks associated with an illness.”

While a reasonable amount of concern about your health can help you tune in to symptoms that might require medical treatment, too much health anxiety can take over your life, interfering with your peace of mind and your ability to function. If you’re spending hours a day scouring the Web for information about your symptoms or a particular condition, or you’re taking extreme measures to avoid risk—like skipping your child’s soccer game to avoid contact with other people—your health anxiety may be approaching the problematic zone, Asmundson says.

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