An estimated 85 percent of postmenopausal women report having a menopause-related symptom in their lifetime. Although it’s true there are dozens of potential symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause, every woman is different and many experience few and/or only mild symptoms. Yet some women have health anxiety about this stage of their lives, and it can be life-altering.
What is health anxiety?
According to the National Health Service, health anxiety (aka, hypochondria) is a condition in which an individual spends a great deal of time worrying that they are ill or will get ill or debilitated, and that worrying takes over their lives. For example, people with health anxiety:
- Constantly worry about their health
- Often check themselves for lumps, rashes, moles, pain, or other signs of illness
- Conduct lots of research into symptoms and health problems they believe they may have
- Act like they are ill or tell others they are not feeling well
- Mistrust test results, worry that the lab or doctor may have missed something
Health anxiety can cause symptoms itself because of the stress, such as headache, palpitations, digestive problems, and others.
How is health anxiety associated with menopause?
Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels during perimenopause and menopause can cause feelings of anxiety. Some women focus their anxious thoughts on their health and the changes that are occurring in their body. Their thoughts may become obsessive and reach the level of a panic attack.
How to manage health anxiety naturally
Health anxiety doesn’t have to rule your life! You can regain control of your thoughts, your health, and your lifestyle. Here are a few guidelines.
Write it down. Keep track of how often you do health research, check for signs of illness, pretend you are ill, or other anxious behavior in a notebook or diary. Review your entries and make a conscious plan to gradually reduce the number of times you engage in these activities
Distract yourself. Whenever you think about doing any of your health anxiety activities, choose to do something else. Keep a list of options with you so you will be less likely to give into your urges. Examples can include calling a friend, doing yoga or tai chi, taking a walk, engaging in a hobby, or journaling.
Question your thoughts. When you have an anxious thought, such as worrying about a pain in your stomach, counter it with logical explanations, such as “it’s a sign of stress,” or “it’s indigestion from lunch.”
Practice relaxation techniques. Incorporating relaxation practices into your daily routine can help quell health anxiety. Deep breathing, meditation (just start with 10 minutes at a time!), progressive relaxation, visualization, tai chi, and yoga are all possibilities.
When to see a doctor
If you have tried to manage health anxiety on your own with a variety of techniques and you are still anxious, consult with a health professional. Your doctor may refer you for cognitive behavioral therapy or counseling to help you get back on track.
Perimenopause and menopause can be challenging. If health anxiety is a part of this transitional period for you, take steps to get the relief you need and deserve.