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09th Jan 2024

What is health anxiety? Abbey Clancy’s recent health scare shines a light on the mental health condition

Jody Coffey

Abbey Clancy

“I went hysterical and couldn’t stop crying”

Abbey Clancy has candidly opened up about suffering from health-related anxiety after a recent health scare.

The television broadcaster confessed that a recent trip to the doctor for a believed health woe revealed she likely suffers from the condition.

Health anxiety is when a person spends a lot of time worrying that they are ill, sometimes to the point where it takes over their life and is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder.

While speaking on the ‘NewlyWeds‘ podcast, alongside her husband, Peter Crouch, the fashion model says she was experiencing a numbness in her groin that she convinced herself was Multiple sclerosis (MS).

“It’s when I had these jeans on, they were so tight they would stop the blood where I was sitting down,” Abbey explained, “But googling it, it was MS.”

“I’d been holding [the worry] in so much that when I got to the doctor, I went hysterical and couldn’t stop crying.”

One of the symptoms of MS is numbness or tingling in different parts of the body, among many others.

This led her to book in appointment to get to the root of the numbness.

Abbey went on to explain that the doctor reassured her she did not have MS, but they instead suggested she was likely suffering from a mental health condition.

Peter then chimed in, “Health anxiety is a thing, she has got an issue with that, I’d like Abs to worry less.”

“It feels like she takes on everyone’s problems, It’s a nice thing but it takes its toll,” he added.

What is health anxiety?

According to the HSE, health anxiety is sometimes called hypochondria, and it’s when a person spends so much time worrying that they’re ill or about getting ill that it starts to take over their life.

Symptoms of the condition may include worrying and checking your body for signs of illness, such as lumps, tingling, or pain.

People with health anxiety may always seek reassurance from others that they are not sick or convince themselves that a doctor or test may have missed something.

Health anxiety may also lead those with the condition to obsessively research health information online, and they may even avoid exposing themselves to anything that centres on serious illness as a topic.

Some may even live their lives as if they are ill, for example, by avoiding physical activities or socialising.

Anxiety may actually lead to symptoms such as headaches or a racing heartbeat, further strengthening the belief that they are ill.

According to UCLA Health, health anxiety is a condition that can often go undiagnosed.

In 2021, the health forum stated that health anxiety is a common condition, with around 4 to 5 per cent of people diagnosed.

However, it adds that experts believe that the disorder may affect more than 10 per cent of the population but that it often goes undiagnosed.

Treating health anxiety

The good news is that health anxiety is treatable and there are several ways the worry around health can be lessened.

  1. Keeping a journal to document how often these thoughts arise is a great place to start. This can help a person to understand how much of their time is spent worrying about baseless illness.
  2. Challenging the thoughts can be an effective way of revealing they are just thoughts and not evidence. For example, a headache can come about for many reasons, some as simple as needing to drink more water or get more sleep.
  3. Resuming regular activities, such as physical exercise and socialising.
  4. Breath work and mindfulness are great relaxation techniques for dealing with all anxiety.

However, opt to see a GP if health anxiety or hypochondria is preventing you from leading a normal life as they can refer you for talking and/or psychological therapies and discuss anxiety medicines.