Health Anxiety and the Black-or-White Thinking Fallacy

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Health Anxiety and the Black-or-White Thinking Fallacy

Learn a cognitive behavioral therapy technique to change your thought patterns.

People with health anxiety often see health and illness in rigid, unchanging terms. Errors in thinking, or thought distortions, inaccurate, biased thoughts. We all have these twisted thoughts sometimes. However, people with health anxiety tend to have it more often than those without health anxiety. And this can cause great distress because it leads us to draw inaccurate conclusions about our current or future health.

Black-or-White Thinking

One type of thinking error is called “black-or-white thinking” (or “all-or-nothing thinking”). This type of thinking involves seeing health and illness in absolute categories, instead of taking a more balanced approach and seeing things on a continuum. People with health anxiety often engage in this cognitive error because they assume that one is either perfectly healthy or terminally ill, leaving little room for anything in between the two extremes. categories.

This type of rigid thinking leads us to jump to conclusions and destroy every symptom because we believe a symptom = disease and disease = death in the end.

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How To Challenge This Thinking Mistake

The truth is that health status is not a light switch (“on” or “off”). Health and disease exist on a spectrum. Most of us are not perfectly healthy. Many of us have minor health issues and probably all of us have at least a few ways we can improve our health. Also, having a health issue is not a death sentence. Many people with chronic and/or acute health issues can live long (and very fulfilling) lives. Begin to change your thinking by viewing health and illness on a spectrum or continuum.

Next, if you find yourself spinning when you notice a symptom or sensation in the body that indicates you are not “perfectly healthy,” stop and ask yourself a few questions:

  • If this symptom or sensation indicates a real health issue, how do I “hang” in the middle of the spectrum? What are all the “in between” possibilities (ie the diseases that never end)? Try and think of the many possible minor issues that could lead to this symptom except for the worst case scenario.
  • Do I make general conclusions about how bad it is to have a disease based on one or a few situations I’ve seen or heard?
  • Do I know someone in my personal life who has faced a disease and was able to cure it or treat it/manage it effectively?
  • Have I faced a disease before? How did I manage/overcome it, physically and/or emotionally?
  • How can I emotionally cope with an illness if I have an illness? My social support system, personal resilience, faith, therapy, adaptive coping skills, support groups, self-help books, personal hobbies and resources? Have any of these things helped me cope with illness or other struggles in the past?
  • How can I physically cope with this disease? What medical resources will allow me to manage, treat and/or overcome this disease or illness?
  • What does it look like to cope and live well with this disease?
  • Have I witnessed any examples of people in my life who were able to cope with an illness, physically and/or emotionally?
  • If I have X disease/disease, am I overestimating the chances that it will be incurable, debilitating and/or fatal?
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Changing the way you think about illness takes hard work and time! Keep these questions and use them when you find yourself caught in the all-or-nothing trap. Over time, if you continue to work on these thoughts, you will be less likely to think that any illness = death and, therefore, will be less concerned about the symptoms.

Remember, like most things in life, there are many other explanations besides the two worst possibilities! Keep working on this thing and don’t stop. You can improve health anxiety by making small changes in your thinking and behavior every day.