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Easing the Worry: Helping a Loved One With Illness Anxiety

Effective strategies for providing comfort and relief for illness anxiety.

Key points

  • Small, consistent efforts can significantly improve the mental health of others with illness anxiety.
  • Suggest seeing a therapist specializing in health anxiety and offer to go along to the first session.
  • Encourage reconnecting to hobbies and writing daily gratitude lists to shift focus from anxiety to positivity.

Illness anxiety, often referred to as health anxiety or hypochondria, is a condition where individuals excessively worry about having a severe illness despite medical reassurance. This persistent anxiety can significantly impact their quality of life and those around them. Supporting a loved one coping with illness anxiety requires empathy, patience, and practical strategies to help them manage their fears.

Here are three stories of clients (names have been altered) from my counseling practice helping their loved ones cope with illness anxiety, followed by practical tips for those living with someone experiencing this condition.

Esther and Her Sister Anna

Esther noticed that her younger sister Anna had been excessively worried about her health for months. Anna would frequently visit doctors and constantly search for symptoms online, convinced she had lymphoma. Her physician ordered tests and, given the results, assured Anna that she did not have lymphoma, but she thought otherwise. Esther wanted to help her sister cope with her illness anxiety constructively.

One evening, Esther gently approached Anna and suggested they spend more time together doing activities they both enjoyed, like hiking and cooking. Esther encouraged Anna to see a therapist specializing in health anxiety and offered to go with her to the first session. She also introduced Anna to mindfulness practices, helping her learn breathing exercises and meditation techniques to manage her anxiety.

Over time, Anna's constant worry began to lessen. Combining professional therapy, quality time with Esther, and mindfulness exercises helped her regain a sense of normalcy and peace.

Lessons From Esther

Encourage Professional Help: Suggest seeing a therapist or counselor specializing in health anxiety.

Spend Quality Time Together: Engage in enjoyable activities that distract from anxiety and build positive experiences.

Introduce Mindfulness Techniques: Teach breathing exercises, meditation, or other relaxation techniques.

Miko and His Partner David

Miko observed that his partner, David, was constantly worried about his health. David's anxiety would spike with any minor symptom, leading to sleepless nights and frequent doctor visits. Miko wanted to support David in managing his health anxiety.

Miko decided to learn more about health anxiety and found resources and support groups. He encouraged David to join a support group where he could meet others facing similar challenges. Miko also started a journal for David, where he could note his symptoms and track them over time, helping him see patterns and realize that most symptoms were not severe.

Additionally, Miko and David established a routine that included regular exercise, balanced meals, and relaxation time, significantly reducing David’s anxiety.

Tips From Miko

Educate Yourself: Learn about health anxiety to better understand and support your loved one.

Support Groups: Encourage joining support groups to connect with others who have similar experiences.

Symptom Tracking: Keep a journal to track symptoms and help identify patterns.

Sandra and Her Mother, Linda

As she aged, Sandra's mother, Linda, was increasingly anxious about her health. Linda would often call Sandra in a panic, thinking she had cancer due to bodily sensations and minor health issues, fearing the worst. Sandra wanted to help her mother find a healthier way to cope with her anxiety.

Sandra began by setting aside time for her and Linda to discuss her health concerns. She ensured Linda felt heard but also set boundaries to prevent constant worry. She encouraged Linda to focus on activities she loved, like gardening and reading, and joined her in these hobbies to provide companionship and distraction.

Sandra also suggested that Linda practice gratitude journaling. Each day, they would write down things they were grateful for, shifting Linda’s focus from anxiety to positivity. Over time, Linda's anxiety decreased, and she found more joy in her daily life.

Suggestions From Sandra

Set Boundaries and Dedicated Times: Establish specific times to discuss health concerns to prevent constant worry.

Engage in Enjoyable Activities: Participate in hobbies and activities that distract from anxiety and provide joy.

Gratitude Journaling: Encourage writing daily gratitude lists to shift focus from anxiety to positivity.


Helping a loved one cope with illness anxiety can be challenging, but with compassion, patience, and the right strategies, it is possible to make a positive difference in their lives. By encouraging professional help, engaging in enjoyable activities, and introducing mindfulness and gratitude practices, you can support your loved one in managing their anxiety more effectively. Remember, small, consistent efforts can significantly improve their mental well-being and overall quality of life.


Brown, Richard J., Skelly, Niamh, Chew-Graham, Carolyn A. (2020) Online health research and health anxiety: A systematic review and conceptual integration, Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, Vol 27(2), June, Article e12299

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