How can I Stop being a hypochondriac?
I have (surprisingly) found hypochondria to be a fairly common anxiety disorder, where the person thinks that any ache, pain, twinge, lump, bump, spot, rash, headache, thought or physical symptom may be a sign of some form of serious illness. Of course they know (deep down) that it is irrational and unlikely, still they become anxious, overwhelmed and begin to think, research and explore all of the worst case scenario of what “may” happen to them – this can become obsessive and begin to consume all thoughts throughout the day.
The fearful obsessive nature of hypochondriacal behaviour often morphs into other anxiety issues, such as:
- Difficulties driving long distances
- Being more than a certain distance from a hospital
- Not liking to be left alone
- Fear of flying
- Social anxieties
- Addictions (to mask / escape from thoughts)
The mentally intrusive nature of this anxiety disorder often derails the persons self-confidence, self-esteem and value and they often are forced to stop working and become dependent on others, thus further reducing their perceived value. Guilt is another silent symptom, feeling bad that your partner has to support you, or that you are being a nuisance to the medical profession etc.
Where does hypochondria come from?
In my experience most sufferers are intelligent and articulate individuals (who often think too much) and have just spiraled out of control following a life trauma that may have triggered some form of guilt or loss, common triggers seem to be; the loss of a relative, having an affair or being made redundant (or let down) in some way, for some, it may be a learned behaviour in childhood from a parent that overly worried about health (theirs or the child’s) – either way, too much time is spent internally checking feelings and externally looking for danger.
The majority of Doctors tend to think of hypochondriacs as nuisances or a drain on their time — patients they are just as happy to lose. However, more recently the condition is being taken more seriously (as it should.) However, hypochondria is a problem of the mind, not the body – and disorders of thought are neither imaginary nor untreatable.
In fact, there is a lot of cross-over between hypochondria and OCD because both anxiety disorders cause intrusive thoughts, ruminations and worrisome thinking, as well as, the constant need for reassurance by trying to be in control of everything (and often, every one.)
Over time, the individual usually becomes more and more depressed and more and more anxious, with new anxieties forming, often based around a fear of travel, social engagements and leaving the house (agoraphobia).
It is exhausting to suffer from hypochondria, frustrating and exhausting! In the early days the hypochondriac is often unaware of their condition and just begin to pay a lot of attention to their body and checking to see how they feel in any moment. Over time this checking, rechecking and then researching what illnesses have similar conditions and worrying themselves with all of the possible negative outcomes, this brings on anxiety and the destructive thinking, checking, researching, worrying cycle becomes more and more habitual and all consuming.
Making excuses to cover up the fears
If we are honest – hypochondriacs come up with hundreds of excuses to justify how they feel and why they can’t just get on with life (I am not mocking you) it is hard because you are in a catch where; you know your obsessive thinking is silly, however, the anxiety feels so real. This means that you have to start to cover up your obsessive behaviours and begin to control others so they don’t make you do something that will increase your anxieties. In addition, because you really do think you have a serious illness there is the need to really get others to believe you, support you and offer a sympathetic ear.
As the condition takes a deeper grip and it become impossible to work or to travel – the need to come up with more and more justifications and excuses increases and the person may spend a lot of their day justifying why they feel ill and what things they can’t do.
Symptoms & hypochondria treatment
The main symptoms of hypochondria fall into two categories; internal and external. The external are the very obvious – going to the doctor for tests, checking the internet or a book to see what a specific physical symptom could be (usually worst case scenario), self checking for medical conditions (including but not limited to taking pulse, checking own blood pressure, checking everyday for lumps or any physical change to the body externally). The internal ones are the harder to control – constantly scanning the body to look for any small change in physical symptoms that could be the first indication of illness becomes second nature for a hypochondriac, almost like a computer program running in the background.
Learning how to overcome hypochondria is quite easy, however, actually doing it is very hard! I help by teaching you how to stop believing all of the thoughts in your mind and work on rebuilding your confidence so you can get back out to face the world again. Whilst we are doing this work it is important to also help you to let go of the trauma that instigated the hypochondria and become more calm with the thought of our own mortality and of those around us.
It takes time and it takes commitment and you have to really want to do it.