Fever, chills, bumps, rashes, sore throat, sniffles, headache, oh my – could you have any of these symptoms mean you might be seriously ill?
In the age of COVID-19and now monkeypoxexperts have seen a rise in people experiencing anxious feelings about their health. Social media and the internet – and therefore self-consulted medical advice – exacerbate these worries.
While worrying about your health is normal, experts say to not catastrophize symptoms such as a cough and build improbable scenarios around health.
They recommend easing your concerns about your health by researching facts about illnesses but referring to medical professionals for official diagnoses.
What is hypochondria?
Somatic symptom disorder and anxiety disorder, formerly known as hypochondria, is an excessive fear and preoccupation of illness, according to Andrew Rosen, founder of the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders.
“It’s not just something that the person thinks about, if they happen to not feel well, they think about it pretty much all the time, they worry about it, they obsess about it, they lose sleep over it,” Rosen says. “They will go to doctors very frequently because of the fear, or they won’t go to doctors at all because of the fear.”
People with illness anxiety disorder, despite medical professionals saying otherwise, will continue to have “irrational and cognitive distortions around something minor being something major,” says Crystal Burwella psychotherapist with an expertise in anxiety.
The differentiating factor between people who are “understandably cautious and concerned about something like COVID or monkeypox” and clients who experience illness anxiety is that the latter will have consulted medical doctors and received no medical diagnosis, yet continue to have “extreme anxiety,” Burwell says.
Burwell says those with a history of anxiety are most likely to experience illness anxiety since diseases like COVID-19 and monkeypox will amplify existing conditions.
How has health anxiety changed in 2022?
Though health anxiety worsened in the past few years with COVID-19, Rosen says it had already been aggravated in the past decade due to social media and the availability of information at our literal fingertips.
“As soon as they get a funny feeling or symptom that they think is something, they Google it, and they get worse, because they look for the worst thing they can find,” Rosen says.
Ken Goodman, a licensed clinical social worker, explains that health anxiety can also be an extreme reaction to external triggers, such as news reports or social media posts about illnesses like cancer.
“The person who has health anxiety would then take … that social media post, and exaggerate it to the worst possible scenario, and believe that this might be happening to them,” he says Goodman, board member for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and creator of “The Anxiety Solution Series” audio program.
How can I cope with anxious feelings about my health?
Experts recommend people who are anxious about their health maintain a system that regulates how they approach their worries in a rational manner. One way is to “wait a reasonable period of time” to see if the symptom goes away on its own, and if it doesn’t, then see a doctor, Rosen says.
“Do not go and be your own doctor, don’t Google,” Rosen says.
Myths about monkeypox:A look at symptoms, treatment and other common questions
“It’s definitely not going to transmit as fast as COVID, and it would probably take a decade to have the amount of people who have been infected with COVID become infected with monkeypox,” Abbate says.
Burwell suggests taking control of the factors that you can, such as taking a test if you feel COVID-19 symptoms, but to take care of your emotional health by rethinking how you approach your health concerns.
She recommends attributing what you’re experiencing to other factors other than disastrous scenarios in order to get outside black and white thinking.
“Life is usually so much in the gray,” Burwell says.
Contributing: Sara M Moniuszko
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism