Health Psychology is a specialist field of Clinical Psychology that utilises techniques specific for coping with physical health complaints or medical conditions. When undergoing medical intervention, being newly diagnosed with an illness (especially if a long-term condition), or suffering from medically-related symptoms, stress can be high. Those undergoing these unwanted situations have to cope with emotional strain, future uncertainty, and alterations to their home and work schedules or leisure activities. Many times, previously depended-on coping strategies are no longer available. Some may feel that their previous support network no longer understand them. Changes to eating, sleeping, fatigue, mood, and interests are all common. These secondary implications of the primary medical condition may need support too with new strategies for handling your emotional health when dealing with medical concerns. Using similiar techniques as discussed in Clinical Psychology, but adapted to the specifics of the medical condition, my many years of work in inpatient hospital settings can help you feel more psychologically in control to cope better with what lies ahead.
Health Psychology can also address the confusing diagnosis of medically unexplained symptoms, functional disorders, or other physical symptoms that have no clear medical cause. Sometimes a medical professional may say the symptoms are “stress related.” Psychology can help people make sense of these symptoms by explaining the complex interaction between the brain, emotion states, attention, and neurophysiological systems (such as the central nervous system, the sympathetic system, and the immuno and endocrinology systems). The interaction between these systems (including how stress about the unexplained symptoms can heighten the symptoms!) becomes a primary focus to help you identify new ways of thinking about and managing the symptoms. If you’ve ever heard “it’s all in your head,” I aim to teach you the perfect response to this- “Of course it is! And here is why…”
When more serious medical conditions have been ruled out, some of the continuing symptoms commonly found to be related to the stress response include:
Understanding these symptoms in relation to the stress response can help manage the symptoms, if not reduce them over time.
Lastly, we all understand that we are aging, and our health is not guaranteed. For some, this idea can create great anxiety. In a world making great strides in medicine but also enduring global reactions to unknown viruses, the threat of unseen illnesses can feel very real. Health anxiety can feel exhausting and influence our relationships and lifestyles in negative ways. With the threat always unknown and potential, the stress around the “what ifs” can paradoxically contribute to physical symptoms and panic. Health Psychology aims to interrupt this spiral and help you find strategies for coping with this anxiety. Understanding the psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrinology system (PNI), the vagus nerve, and other aspects of somatic functioning is one step towards tackling these worries. The use of other techniques of CBT, ACT, mindfulness and behaviour strategies can all combine to give a sense of greater mastery of our worry about disease and illness as we grow older.