Maintaining health , although not always in the foreground, is one of the values that guides our day to day. We do not want to get sick and, therefore, we eat some foods and leave others, we do sports, we rest well … and, above all, when we feel something that we think should not be there, we go to a health professional to give us an answer about what is going wrong.
This discomfort creates a worry that usually disappears when, for example, the doctor explains what happens and how to solve it. However, there are people who are constantly concerned about their health . These people would suffer from a psychological disorder called hypochondria.
What is hypochondria?
Hypochondria is a disorder in which the person is completely sure of having a serious or life-threatening illness . This belief is maintained despite the fact that different specialists (usually many) have investigated and ruled out the existence of any kind of pathology.
At the base of this disorder would be a great susceptibility to perceive any body change to which is added a misinterpretation of sensations that, any other person without that extreme concern for health, would qualify as normal (for example, strong heartbeats , cough…).
This belief leads them to go to many medical consultations (behavior called “doctor shopping”) whose results never satisfy them and, in the long run, constant frustration causes them an added discomfort that ends up affecting all vital areas of the person.
In fact, it is common that, if they go to a psychological consultation, they do it more because of depression or anxiety problems than because of the concern of being sick. It is also very common to find that family, social or work relationships are affected.
Symptoms of hypochondria
Briefly summarizing what has been exposed so far, the essential characteristic of hypochondria is concern and fear of becoming ill or having the firm conviction of suffering a serious illness , based on exaggerated interpretation of bodily perceptions. Other symptoms are:
1. Excessive anxiety in the face of the fear of getting sick.
2. Constant control and attention to one’s own body to detect any variation.
3. They center all their conversations , with acquaintances and strangers, around their suffering and signs of illness.
4. They look for information that confirms their fears either by asking other patients or, increasingly common, by searching the internet .
5. Visits to health specialists multiply despite the deterioration of the trust they place in them since they never confirm their suspicions.
How to stop being a hypochondriac?
The best way to overcome the disorder is always to consult a mental health professional to help the person change their interpretations of the body’s signals.
It is a difficult process since it is a very useful behavior that has ceased to be healthy by taking it to the extreme which causes excessive suffering. However, it cannot be expected that the person stops worrying about their health because these perceptions are necessary so that doctors can tell us how to overcome a disease when it occurs.
The work from the psychological consultation, in addition to overcoming the fear and anxiety that this generates, is intended to rebuild the life of the person . Overcoming a disorder is not getting rid of symptoms, but learning to live in a healthier way that brings us closer to the best version of ourselves that we always have in mind.
Although our first advice is that the affected person consult a mental health professional , we indicate some guidelines that can be presented as the first steps to combat hypochondria:
1. Stop the constant search for confirmation of sickness beliefs . Both talking about it all the time and looking for information in different sources are intended, even if you are not aware, to calm that fear of illness and anxiety in the short term. However, in the long run it assumes that this fear is maintained or intensified and that we seek that confirmation more and more quickly.
2. Shift the focus of attention. Do not concentrate all your attentional resources on your body and all the sensations that it causes. Some days you feel bloated, others maybe a bit sore or fatigued … It is in constant operation and the changes are totally normal. Seek to displace part of that energy that you use to the outside, to attend to your surroundings. Surely you have been focused on your body for so long that you have stopped feeling many other things.
3. Do not constantly anticipate negative or catastrophic consequences for those bodily signals that worry you. Try to be thoughtful and consider different alternatives. Most of the time the simplest is correct. For example, stomach pain is more common due to poor digestion than an ulcer.
4. When you contrast your concerns do not ignore the results to the contrary . As if you were a scientist posing a hypothesis, you must take into account the information both for and against. If you have had a lot of tests done and the result is that everything is fine, keep that in mind.
5. Learn a relaxation technique . Continual fear or anxiety makes your body suffer. The different relaxation or meditation techniques help the physiological regulation of these emotions that cause us so much discomfort. This regulation, in addition to helping you overcome or keep that fear at bay, will allow you to have another perspective of the situation.