Let me start by saying this: I don’t know your story and I have no idea what you’re going through. But there’s one thing that we probably have in common: the obsession with Googling symptoms and self-diagnosing.
Ever since I was a little kid, I was showing early signs of hypochondria. I was always on the lookout for something that was wrong with my health. And I was always fixated on the thought that I was sick. Then came the Internet and took it to the next level: now,I had a partner in crime who could help me diagnose myself for the 928,427,316th time. And that partner in crime was called Google.
Happily, I’m no longer struggling with hypochondria as an adult. Still, I know how hard it is for people like me to restrain themselves from obsessing over their health. You just have to have your fix; one Google result that calms your anxiety at a time.
It may be tempting to ask Google for answers and keep obsessing over your health, but I don’t advise you to rely on the Internet for self-diagnosing yourself. With this article, I’m going to try to help you break that vicious cycle.
First, let’s talk a bit more about that overpowering anxiety that you’ve been experiencing. Googling your symptoms and constantly worrying about your health while cyber-checking what’s going on, has a proper name: ‘cyberchondria.’
What is Cyberchondria?
In their ‘Cyberchondria: Studies of the Escalation of Medical Concerns in Web Search’, researchers Ryen White and Eric Horvitz define cyberchondria (otherwise known as compucondria) as: “the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology based on the review of search results and literature online.”
In a nutshell, obsessing over your symptoms and googling them all the time falls into that category. Here are the 3 steps that will help you break that habit and start fresh:
1. Tune into Your Body
Most cyberchondriacs google their symptoms because they’re not sure what’s going on with their body. If you want to stop obsessing over your health, listen to your body and tune into what it has to say.
This is where grounding techniques come to the rescue. Grounding techniques are practices that keep you ‘grounded’ in the here and now. They can be extremely helpful for managing overwhelming feelings and anxiety.
There are lots of grounding techniques that you can try: I personally recommend meditation, mindfulness practice, and keeping a gratitude journal. I’ve linked to resources that will help you develop each one of these skills but I want to break down what each one of these three will do for you.
In short, meditation will help you observe your thoughts from a higher level and not get too caught up with your own story; practicing mindfulness will ground you into the present moment by seeing objectively and non-judgmentally your surroundings, and keeping a gratitude journal will shift your focus onto the things that are already great in your life.
2. Reframe Your Negative Thought Patterns
If you feel stressed, anxious, or preoccupied with compulsive thoughts about your physical or mental health, one of the best tools that can I advise you to try is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Essentially, what CBT does, is helping people find new ways to behave by changing their thought patterns.
For example, if you’re into self-diagnosing yourself on mental health, you’re probably obsessing over thoughts like, ‘I’m crazy’, ‘I have this/that personality disorder’, ‘What is wrong with me that I act that way’, and so on, and so on. That crippling feeling that you’re not mentally stable may push you to become obsessed with googling your symptoms, causing you even more anxiety—and worsening the symptoms altogether by focusing your mind on the negative.
So, what does a CBT practitioner do? They help you become aware of your negative thought patterns and substitute your morbid, anxious thoughts with healthier, more grounded ones. In the mentioned example, you could substitute your thoughts with thoughts like ‘I’m okay, I feel grounded’; ‘I’m safe, no one is going to hurt me’; ‘I act the way I do because I’m human’, ‘I’m doing the best that I can and that’s enough’, etc.
3. Go to a Doctor
While most of our obsessions are nothing more than behaviors that we can change by working with a coach or therapist, having multiple persistent symptoms can be a sign of something bigger going on. Even though that’s probably not that case with you, I advise you to go see a doctor if you feel like your symptoms are getting worse or if you just can’t seem to find a suitable explanation for what’s been bothering you.
I know that googling your symptoms can be tempting. But if you zoom out of the way it makes you feel and look at it objectively, you’ll see that it’s nothing more than just reading information on the Internet and trying to label yourself based on uneducated assumptions. Going to the doctor will not only spare you the time and energy spent obsessing over your symptoms, but will also help you diagnose your problem and treat yourself right away.
As always, take any suggestions you read on the Internet with a grain of salt, including this one. Try different tools and find out what works best for you. At the end of the day, obsessing or not, you’ve got all the answers. You just have to learn to listen to your gut and stop looking for answers from the outside world.
I hope this helps you out and if you want to share your story, please do so in the comments below. I’m sure you’ll help a lot of people out!