Hypochondria is an anxiety disorder marked by the persistent and misguided believe that you have serious health problems when no health problems are present, or where those physical symptoms that are present are caused by your own mind. Hypochondria is a complex disorder – one that has many causes – and we explore those causes in this article.
Hypochondria and Anxiety?
Hypochondria can often develop from issues with other forms of anxiety. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out what causes your anxiety and how to stop it.
Causes of Hypochondria
Hypochondria can be serious for a lot of people. But what causes it isn't entirely known. First, make sure you take my anxiety test to better understand your anxiety.
One of the main causes of hypochondria is panic disorder, although technically a person would be diagnosed with panic disorder and not hypochondriasis. It's caused by an oversensitivity to the way a person feels, combined with serious panic attacks that mimic terrible diseases – all leading to the person feeling as though something must be wrong with their health. Even generalized anxiety disorder can cause these types of issues.
Other potential causes for hypochondria are listed below.
- A History of Physical and/or Sexual Abuse Observing or experiencing physical and sexual abuse, particularly as a child, can result in a heightened sense of physical vulnerability and lead a person to suspect serious health issues when they are not present. A history of abuse can also lead a person to feel a sense of insecurity in their interpersonal attachments, which causes them to engage in compensatory care-seeking behavior.
- Google Syndrome There is some evidence that search engines may contribute to hypochondria. People Google weird feelings they have, and find that they're linked to serious diseases. They then start to believe they may have a bad disease, and this type of behavior is reinforced.
- A Serious Childhood Illness A serious illness during childhood wherein the individual feared for their own health and was the focus of much health-related attention from the people surrounding them can lead to a conviction as an adult that any health abnormality could have serious consequences, and/or to indirectly seek the same attention they received from their caregivers when they were a child from doctors as an adult.
- Serious Illnesses or Deaths of Family Members or Friends Seriously ill family members or friends can create an environment, for a child especially, where love and attention are directly linked to illness. Observing this, the child may assume that they must be ill to deserve love and attention, and continue to hold this belief subconsciously even into adulthood. When a close family member or friend dies, at any point in a person’s life, the shock and grief related to the death can easily trigger fear and obsessive concerns about personal health.
- Difficulty in Expressing Emotions People who have difficulty in expressing their emotions, whether it is due to the way they were raised to behave or to traumatic past experiences that caused them to feel “safer” at an emotional distance from other people, may find that the only way to connect emotionally with others is to provoke concern in them regarding potential health problems. A person who does this may not even realize they are doing it, apart from being aware on some level, perhaps even subconsciously, that being sick and having people worry about them makes them feel better.
- A Hypochondriacal or Overly Protective Parental Figure Learned behavior from a hypochondriacal caregiver is a prominent cause of hypochondria. Behaviors taught to a person during childhood are likely to persist into adulthood by helping to form their beliefs about the world around them. A child with a hypochondriac as a caregiver is likely to believe that it is healthy to constantly question one’s health, and that a primary feature of the world around them is that it is a highly dangerous and unhealthy place. An overly protective caregiver instills many of the same lessons into a person during childhood, while also teaching them the notion that people who care about them ought to worry constantly about their health and be highly receptive to their health complaints, even when they are minor.
Learning the specifics of the cause behind a person’s hypochondria is the first step towards addressing their core beliefs about why illness “needs” to be a part of their life and cultivating healthier beliefs to replace them, so that eventually they can be healthy, happy, and even happy to be healthy.
Make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test to understand your hypochondria further, and to learn more about how to control the anxiety that comes with it.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.