You wake up and you don’t feel like yourself—and it’s not just a case of the Mondays. Surveying your body you find that your throat hurts, your head is reeling, your lymph nodes are tender and small coughs escape your chest. Great…you’re sick.
Instead of taking the hours out of your busy day to see a doctor, you turn to the most convenient source, THE INTERNET. Eventually, a variety of sites present you with about twenty options of what exactly MAY have invaded your body. The list includes the likes of strep throat, mononucleosis, the common cold, smoke exposure, and scarlet fever. What? You now have two options—assume the best, sip some cold medicine and go on about your day, or succumb to the mind-numbing thought that scarlet fever may be running rampant through your body and make a bee-line for the doctor’s office in search of assurance and antibiotics. (Quick—what would you do?!)
Frequent excessive reactions to this kind of situation may indicate the presence of hypochondriasis. According to AllPsych Online, hypochondria is defined as a “preoccupation with fears of having a serious disease based upon a misinterpretation of bodily sensations”. But where do we draw the line? How do you know if you are simply paying attention to the signs of an impending internal battle or if you may be overacting in true hypochondriac fashion?
Clinical Psychologist Sylvia Gearing, Ph.D. describes hypochondria as a “condition of anxiety”. She notes that often hypochondriacs may behave in one of two ways: either they greatly overreact to small physical ailments that may actually be bothering them, or paranoia may induce them to react even with no present symptoms at all.
“If the patient has an exaggerated response to any sign of a medical issue, they may be experiencing a form of hypochondria,” she states.
Does this sound like you? We asked Dr. Gearing to set the record straight and describe some red flags that may indicate that you’ve crossed over from concerned to totally pre-occupied.
Do you worry too much?
Dr. Gearing suggests that if you find yourself spending hours of your day consumed by the thoughts of sickness and other physical health issues, the behavior becomes unhealthy. In her opinion, spending too much time constantly anxious about any one thing indicates that maybe you’ve crossed the line and have begun to teeter into dangerous territory. However, a certain amount of health awareness is important for everyone.
“While it’s important to not overreact to a physical issue, it is equally important to check out something that seems amiss,” say Dr. Gearing. “If you see something that worries you, see a medical professional to be reassured”.
Dr. Gearing explains that another telltale sign of hypochondria is resistance to claims by medical professionals that things are just fine. Often, despite doctors’ best attempts to convince them otherwise, hypochondriacs continue to fixate on and obsess over their health.
“Most people misunderstand how intense the fears of the hypochondriac can become,” Dr. Gearing observes. “They suffer endlessly due to their fears and become very isolated at times due to constant fears and preoccupations.”
Are your thoughts affecting your daily routine?
Cases of hypochondria frequently vary in severity. “It can range from recurring thoughts to full blown hermits who don’t leave their homes,” explains Dr. Gearing. “Generally, hypochondria becomes a way of life for most people and they consider their fears a normal part of protecting themselves in the world”.
Dr. Gearing also notes that in most cases, those who are affected by hypochondria don’t realize that they have a tendency to blow things out of proportion. It’s anxiety that often spurs these feelings, and the affected person is not often able to control it.
What can you do?
If you know someone who may be suffering from hypochondria, try to exhibit great patience with them, and be sure to establish your belief in their personal strength.
If you believe some of these factors strongly apply to you, Dr. Gearing suggests that you consult a mental health professional to help you obtain proper care. It is also important to live healthily. Exercising regularly and consuming a balanced diet are a few of the ways you can help yourself feel your best and help maintain balance. Although it may be difficult, also try to find ways to help slow down your thoughts and manage your stress.
“Life is to be lived,” says Dr. Gearing, “not worried about!”
Dr. Sylvia Gearing, is a clinical and media psychologist based in Dallas, TX. She’s been featured on shows such as the Today Show, Geraldo, and Dr Phil. You can read more about this and other topics at (www.GearingUp.com).