Cyberchondria: How to combat the internet condition brought on by googling fictional symptoms

Cyberchondria is a condition on the rise, brought on by googling your own symptoms. However, there are simple ways to treat it, even if there are a little ironic. 



As you read this sentence, you are closer to death than you’ve ever been before. Chances are there’s something within you that will one day serve as your epoch. However, there’s a right and a wrong way to accept the fact that we’re all here for a finite time, and the auxiliary fear that we’ve already contracted something and it’s already too late.

The wrong way, of course, is knocking on the electronic door of a doctor you found on Google, spouting nonsense from the worst case scenarios of your DIY diagnosis participated in the wee hours.

In researching this article, I googled the condition that this act has birthed: Cyberchondria, and frankly, I think I have it. According to the first thing I found on the internet about it, cyberchondria involves misinterpreting normal bodily phenomena as a serious illness as a response to information garnered online. The term also refers to the phenomenon of searching the web excessively for health-related information. Cyberchondria can also involve persistent worrying spurred on by reading unsettling information online, and some people become so concerned by things they read on the web that even subsequent reassurance from a doctor that nothing is wrong doesn’t make them feel less anxious.

Which, I didn’t think I did that, but I kind of see myself in the above symptoms. How long have I had it? Is it fatal?

That being said, this medical neg-vibin’ seems to be a two-step danced primarily by the Americans, and not here, in the land of the logical and sane, but we should not discount the possibilities or malign it as a phoney yankee condition.

So how do we combat the creeping urges of Cyberchondria?

The world of cognitive-behavioural therapy should be our first port of call. CBT usually stands as a standard treatment for anxiety, and it has been shown to be effective for cyberchondria and hypochondria. Bear in mind, that severe cases of diagnosed anxiety disorders, it’s always best to see a therapist say over a google search, or the untrained fingers of an op-ed journalist. But, since googling symptoms may lead to heightened worry even in the absence of a diagnosable anxiety disorder, here are a few tips you can borrow from CBT to help prevent unpleasant worries:

  1. Before you google anything health-related, evaluate your state of mind. Write down the thoughts that are going through your head. If your thoughts are panicked and catastrophic, walk away from the computer for a few minutes and re-evaluate.
  2. Understand your own motivations for doing the search. If words like “reassurance,” “worry,” or other terms that are related to a highly emotional state come up, give yourself a few minutes before initiating a search.
  3. Write down a few different ways you could word your search. What you put into the search box dictates what comes back. What many people don’t realize is that what they put into the box often reflects how they feel and what they already think. Play with different formulations of the search phrase to see if you can pick one that’s more neutral. You could also try clearing your browser and using a separate, private window to do the search so the results aren’t skewed by your previous search history.
  4. Give yourself a time limit. You can always come back to it later if you need more information, but breaking up the time spent on this can ensure that you’re not getting pulled into a state of high anxiety without realizing it.
  5. Always understand the limits of online health information searches. They are just one method of taking care of your overall health. You should always continue to seek other sources of information that are useful to you, including trusted healthcare professionals, acquaintances, and family members.

Feel better?

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