A Helix of Anxiety: A Qualitative Analysis of the Personal Experiences of Individuals with Health Anxiety

Bulut B. P., Bozo Ö.

STUDIES IN PSYCHOLOGY-PSIKOLOJI CALISMALARI DERGISI, vol.42, no.1, pp.165-198, 2022 (ESCI) identifier


Hypochondria is at the center of debates about the mind-body problem in that those individuals with this symptom experience physical complaints in the absence of ‘real’ illness. The study examined how individuals with hypochondriac complaints experience their ‘illnesses’ or anxiety about it. Also, how they establish their interpersonal relationships with the people they get reassurance, especially with physicians, was understood. The sample consisted of 14 individuals with high health anxiety, and their ages were between 19-55 years old. The data were collected through face-to-face semi-structured interviews. The Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis method, which offers a systematic approach to study participants’ subjective experiences, was used. As a result, four superordinate themes emerged: ‘Causal attributions of health anxiety: Loss at the core as unfinished business,’ ‘Being drawn into a vortex of symptoms,’ ‘Endless calls to experts for naming own experiences and eliminating uncertainty,’ and ‘Every cloud has a silver lining: Benefits of being/feeling ill.’ The findings are important for both mental and physical health professionals working with these individuals since the experts’ physical-psychological distinction does not correspond with the reality of those people. The prominence of a loss experience that these people associate with the onset of their symptoms also points to the importance of dwelling on the issue of loss while working with these people. In addition, it was observed that the information given to the participants about their health status had a short-term relaxing effect, and they had an ongoing search for “what their illnesses are.” For this reason, it was thought that providing information that the physical symptoms do not indicate a serious situation at the focus of the treatments applied would not work. In conclusion, it is possible to say that therapists working with patients with hypochondria should help them understand the continuity of their desire to know what is happening in them after establishing a therapeutic alliance with the patient.