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Cyberchondria is using the internet in an excessive manner to research health symptoms or conditions, leading to increased stress and illness anxiety.
Cyberchondria can negatively affect your mental and physical health.
You can combat cyberchondria by researching responsibly, discussing symptoms with your provider and reducing or eliminating time spent online.
Am I a cyberchondriac?
We’ve all been there. You notice a certain ailment – a cough or a headache that won’t go away – so you jump online to do a little research, scrolling through articles and forums, and begin to self-diagnose. Before you know it, an hour has passed, and your seemingly normal problem doesn’t seem so normal anymore. In fact, you might even feel more anxious now than when you started consulting with the “doctor” – Dr. Google, that is.
What is cyberchondria?
For many of us, it’s second nature to pull out our phone or laptop and start searching the internet for the answer we need. It’s quick, easy and offers us a wealth of health-related information – literally at our fingertips and from the comfort of our own homes.
But when searching for medical information online leads to becoming hyper-focused on a condition or disease you may or may not have (especially if you gravitate toward the worst-case scenario), it can become a problem. There’s a term for this: cyberchondria.
Similar to a hypochondriac, cyberchondriacs use the internet to excessively research certain symptoms or health conditions, which can lead to increased anxiety and stress about a medical condition – or even a possible serious illness – often long after you’ve stopped searching. In some cases, health-related anxiety can interfere with your daily life to the point of becoming debilitating. In addition to the mental impact, increased anxiety and stress from cyberchondria can also impact your physical well-being, leading to higher blood pressure, headaches or even digestive issues.
Do I have cyberchondria?
Cyberchondria isn’t an official medical diagnosis, so there aren’t any clear-cut symptoms or criteria. There are some signs to look out for, though.
You may have cyberchondria if:
- You feel an intense or compulsive need to check your symptoms online, sometimes even multiple times a day
- Your internet searches make you feel more anxious and stressed than knowledgeable
- You find yourself worried about multiple health conditions or diagnoses, rather than just one
- You jump to the worst-case scenario, assuming you have a serious illness or disease (even when your symptoms are minor)
Tips to combat cyberchondria:
1. Write down your symptoms first. It’s helpful to write down the symptoms and health concerns you’re experiencing before you jump on WebMD or other search engines. This helps ensure you’re pinpointing symptoms specific to you, and not generalizing based on what you read.
2. Make an appointment with your primary care physician. By scheduling an appointment with your primary care physician, you’ll be able to discuss your symptoms with a trusted medical professional you’re already comfortable with.
3. Research realistically. Just because you read it online doesn’t mean it’s true. Researching health information online can feel empowering for some people, but it can be overwhelming for others. Use your online searches as talking points to discuss medical advice with your doctor, not as the ultimate source of truth.
4. Trust your health care provider. The internet doesn’t know you or your medical history. Talk with your physician about your symptoms and health concerns. If you tend to overreact or jump to conclusions, tell your doctor. He or she can address your fears accordingly and provide necessary reassurance.
5. Take a break online. Don’t be afraid to put your phone and other digital devices away if you start to feel anxious. Practice some deep breathing, take a walk or talk with a family member to help relieve your mind of any obsessive thoughts.
If researching health care information has left you feeling uncertain or anxious, put your digital device to good use by scheduling an appointment with your primary care physician. Be sure to share any feelings of health-related anxiety or worry you have so your doctor can provide the best care for you!
Find a doctor
If you are looking for a primary care physician, you can search for one who’s right for you in our provider directory. Providence physicians can connect you with an experienced mental health professional who can help you cope with the anxiety or stress that may accompany a health diagnosis.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.
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