According to Anxiety UK, health anxiety is defined as follows:
'Those affected by health anxiety have an obsessional preoccupation with the idea or the thought that they are currently (or will be) experiencing a physical illness.'
This means that for many people, they will regularly have the fear that they may have cancer, aids or a brain tumour amongst many other illnesses. There is also the tendency that if someone else has an illness, the person may feel they have the same. But, people may also be obsessive over being ill or becoming ill with a particular illness, like a stomach bug. From having one symptom such as a headache, many will jump to the conclusion that it's something a lot more serious such as a brain tumour, and in turn this will affect their everyday lives. Anything from a rash, a bite, a cold and muscle pain can all be taken to severity. You will often find many people with health anxiety taking regular trips to the doctors, to make sure they don't have anything wrong with them, otherwise known as a safety behaviour. A personal example was the time when I was getting really bad stomach aches, and was sure that there was something wrong and so I went to the doctors. After a few tests, I found out that is was just my anxiety creating the physical symptoms.
For me, it's not so much about being obsessed with getting a disease, cancer or a heart attack; although I am prone to jumping to conclusions. It's mainly the obsessive and controlling fear of being physically ill in front of people. For me, this is mainly being sick or having stomach bug, but it could even be something like a nosebleed. I question and analyse how I'm feeling pretty much from the moment I wake to the moment I sleep and this can be hell; as not only do you feel ill, but you are in a high state of anxiety.
Many people would say now; "don't focus on it" and "stop focusing on yourself". But if you felt ill, you wouldn't ignore it. So for someone who feels ill pretty much all of the time due to anxiety and has fears of illness, it would hard to justify your statement. Just like if someone has a fear of dogs, and they are constantly worrying that a dog might be near them, you can't just ignore it. You're scared.
It can become a downward spiral. For example, every day when I have school, I will wake up feeling ill, which is typical of the flight or fight system. However, feeling this way will make me think I am actually ill and have a bug. Therefore, I will find it very difficult to leave the house. Especially if I have to get in car or a bus etc. Because I feel I cannot escape, it becomes a big issue. Of course, this heightened anxiety will increase the symptoms.
I've had this fear for as long as I can remember, but it got really severe back in 2012, when my anxiety began to creep in. You can read more about it here. I've had to cope with it for a very long time, and I'm not going to deny it; it's very debilitating. For example, struggling with public transport in the fear that I cannot escape incase I am ill. Not going to school, incase I am really ill. Not doing driving lessons, incase I cannot leave. Basically, it hinders anything and everything from going for a walk to giving a presentation. I know for some of you reading this it sounds absolutely ridiculous, but think about your worst fear and how debilitating that is. The mind is extremely powerful and my phobia works in just the same way as yours.
Recently, however it's taken a new turn. I am avoiding certain foods in the fear that it will make me ill. For example, I won't eat some meat, I will be obsessive with dates and dairy amongst other things to ensure that I don't get ill. Even though I know bugs are all around me, I try to prevent illness in any way I can. Obviously, not eating certain foods and eating less food is in no way good for my health and I am slowly trying to overcome this area of anxiety.
I hope this has been helpful to you in some way. I know many people will say "stop worrying" and "there is nothing wrong with you", but it's hard to when it's a fear. Don't forget, talking is the most important bit of advice I can give you. Don't bottle your feelings up and certainly seek professional help if you feel you need it.