Do you have ‘cyberchondria’? Why Googling symptoms increases anxiety

Convinced you have a life-threatening illness? You’re not alone
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  • A recent survey published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that 60 percent of people have repeatedly searched for a specific health concern for both themselves and their family online.

    But, psychologists have found that those who obsessively check symptoms online feel more anxious than those who rely on medical professionals.

    Research published in the Journal of Cyberpsychology Behaviour and Social Networking found that due to the amount of medical information available at the click of a button, Googling symptoms might cause more distress than seeking professional advice.

    This obsessive need to check symptoms online has now been called ‘cyberchondria’, defined as ‘unfounded anxiety concerning the state of one’s health by visiting health and medical websites.’

    Sound familiar?

    Here’s 5 tell-tale signs you’re a cyberchondriac:

    • You constantly carry out checks and self-examinations, and diagnose yourself
    • You don’t trust your doctor when he says you’re healthy
    • Your preoccupation with symptoms and health has left you feeling distressed.
    • You need constant reassurance that you’re fine, but don’t believe the answer
    • Your social life, family life or working life has suffered as a result of this.

    The problem with relying on Dr Google

    ‘Often the worse case scenarios get highlighted on the internet and this causes catastrophic thinking in parents,’ says Dr. Sarkhel, consultant psychiatrist and founder of Living Mind. ‘On top of this, if the parents already have existing mental health problems, it becomes even more difficult to process information.’

    This can lead to:

    • Unnecessarily rushing your child to the doctor and/or hospital
    • Acting on treatments recommended on the Internet such as over-the-counter medication which may do more harm than good
    • Inaccurate diagnosis
    • Minimising symptoms so the child’s health is ignored and the parents take no action, leading to serious complications.

    READ MORE: Lesser-known cancer signs you might be missing

    Do you have cyberchondria? why googling your symptoms increases anxiety

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    How to stop being a cyberchondriac

    • Speak to a friend

    If you feel yourself obsessing over a health fear and getting into a state of panic, try reaching out to a friend who can rationalise your worries without judgement.

    • Talk to your GP

    Talk about your fears with your primary GP-by telling them about your tendency to worry and the possibility of needing to get in touch with them, can help alleviate fears and jumping to conclusions.

    • Take breaks from the internet

    Distract yourself and avoid excessively seeking information

    • Use credible sources

    ‘It is not necessarily bad to consult the Internet as long as it is guided by healthcare professionals,’ says Dr Sarkhel. ‘It is important while consulting the health professionals to ask about any credible source of information available on the Internet so that you can use this source more effectively and safely.