It’s getting to be that time of year again, folks! Illnesses are running rampant and fear of getting sick before the holidays seems to be top of everyone’s mind. But for a certain collection of people, persistent worry about one’s health and wellness are a year-round affair. Sometimes these worries are so intense and so consuming that the person may even be diagnosed with ‘Health Anxiety’ – a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by an excessive fear of being or becoming ill. While there are many ways to treat this condition, we often start by getting on the same page with a powerful metaphor: the noisy body!
The Noisy Body
The human body can be thought of as a complicated collection of systems, all of which are working together to allow optimal functioning in day-to-day life. Just to stand up and walk across the room requires the engagement of many systems – your skeletal system will help you stand, your muscles and joints will propel you forward, your respiratory system will help you take in oxygen and your digestive system will begin breaking down the food to use for energy – just to name a few! And beyond these “bigger” systems, there are also millions of receptors and chemicals that are constantly working together and influencing one another in order to keep you alive. It’s actually quite amazing, all that goes on inside a single body on any given day… and it comes with its fair share of “noise”!
Imagine Your Body as a Car
An often-used metaphor for the “noisy body” is to compare it to your car. Just like the human body, there are many complicated and interconnected systems that keep a car running on any given day; you’ve got converters, engines, exhaust pipes, ventilation systems, windshield wipers, radio – you name it!
Now, unless you are driving the newest electric model, your car probably makes a fair bit of noise as you’re driving it from point A to point B. Maybe your air conditioning vents whistle a little, maybe you hear a clang of metal as you drive over a particularly bumpy patch of road, maybe the passenger side door creaks when it opens in winter. None of these sounds mean that your car is seriously damaged or in need of repair – they’re just normal sounds that come with owning a car and driving it around every day!
Of course, it’s good to take the car into a mechanic for regular service and maintenance and, from time to time, there may even be larger issues that require diagnosing and fixing. This is true of human bodies as well. However, a certain amount of day-to-day “noise” is not only to be expected, but completely normal given the complexity of systems involved!
Call to Action
Those who struggle with health anxiety tend to “listen” more attentively to the natural sounds of their body which can lead to an increased sensitivity for bodily changes that most people would ignore or miss. It is this “hypervigilance” to the steady stream of (relatively) benign physical sensations that sets the stage for health anxiety.
So, if you feel you are losing large amounts of (precious) time to unnecessary worry about health and wellness, consider taking action by reaching out to a mental health clinician today.