Hypochondria is a constant worry over the state of your own health even when nothing is wrong. Often the person believes they have a specific illness, or notices little bodily changes and experiences severe health anxiety as a result. This article will explore some of the ways to treat hypochondria, and discuss possible cures.
Cure for Hypochondria?
Hypochondria is something that can be controlled with the right coping tips. Make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test to learn what these coping tools are.
Hypochondria: Available Treatments
Hypochondriacs first have to acknowledge the problem, and they need to accept that their fears are something to treat. The problem is that it's very hard to convince yourself nothing is wrong (even if you know the thought is irrational) when you still feel physical symptoms. That's why treatments also need to be very intensive. Make sure you take my anxiety test to learn more.
The following are important tips for curing your overall hypochondriasis:
Commitment to Healing
Hypochondria requires recognition that there is a problem and commitment to healing it. This is made difficult for hypochondriacs because they are convinced that there is a physical ailment where there is none and are constantly being told that there is nothing wrong. However, the symptoms a hypochondriac feels may be very real to him or her even if no illness is present, and the psychological disorder causing them is also a very real thing.
Committing to treating hypochondria usually involves the recognition both from the sufferer from hypochondria and from the person responsible for treating them that mental exercises can heal physical symptoms.
A hypochondriac may be reluctant to believe that psychological help is what they need. Even if they know it is irrational, they may find it hard to forget about the symptoms. However, it is worth pointing out that the brain is medically recognized as having a huge influence over the body, and can affect how well and even whether or not the body heals.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has three main aspects. These normally include exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring and relaxation training. However, in cases of hypochondria, CBT focuses on the latter two (except in the case of health anxiety caused by panic attacks).
Cognitive restructuring entails training the mind to replace its negative beliefs and thought patterns with more positive ones. Keeping a journal can help you and your therapist to uncover what these underlying beliefs may be and to address them directly.
Relaxation training, on the other hand, is designed to give a person with hypochondria useful tools with which to combat feelings of anxiety, obsessive thoughts about physical discomfort and the perceived need to be diagnosed with an illness. Such training may involve controlled breathing exercises, visualization routines, or grounding techniques for quelling panic such as looking around and naming physical objects in a room in order to reconnect with reality and combat self-doubt.
A class of antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, has been found to be useful in treating some cases of hypochondria. It is theorized that antidepressants cause improvement in some people with hypochondria because of the various types of other mental disorders that can be associated with hypochondria.
One type of hypochondriac develops their disorder after or during the serious illness or loss of a loved one usually a family member, significant other, or close friend. In cases such as these, depression is likely to be a large component of their disorder. SSRIs treat the depression by raising the levels of serotonin in the body, serotonin being a neurotransmitter or brain chemical that helps to regulate mood and promote positive thinking.
Another type of hypochondriac may simply have a variant of obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD, manifesting as an obsession with their body and a compulsion to control and regulate it. OCD is another anxiety disorder that, like many such disorders, is often treated with SSRIs.
The third type of hypochondriac engages in somatization, which means that they over-focus on their bodies. This is especially true of those with panic attacks. Minor bodily discomforts that another person might ignore or not even notice becomes all that this type of hypochondriac can think about, causing the discomfort to seem to grow in intensity until it becomes unbearable. By helping to regulate mood and promoting mental relaxation, antidepressants such as SSRIs help to prevent the obsessive negative thought patterns that this type of hypochondriac experiences.
It should be noted that this is not an approval of SSRIs. Only that this is the reason they're commonly prescribed. The serotonin makes it harder for the person to focus on their negative thoughts and symptoms, and the anxiety is kept under control. Because of the side effects, though, medications should often be a last resort.
Supplemental Preventative Activities
Alongside the above treatments, or as a prelude to them, it can be beneficial to a person with hypochondria to adopt the following healthy lifestyle changes:
- Taking Up Yoga Yoga is a gentle style of exercise that will help you to prevent the muscle aches and twinges that can set off obsessive worries. It will also help you to learn to control the symptoms of anxiety such as a rapid heart rate and shortness of breath by teaching you controlled breathing techniques and generally strengthening your cardiovascular system.
- Replace Web Searches for Illnesses If you find yourself frequently Googling physical symptoms to find out what the possible causes might be, don't. The internet is full of information about worst-case scenarios that you probably don't have, and will only make you more worried. The common term for this behavior is cyberchondria. If you find yourself online, make it a habit to replace Googling the symptom you are tempted to search for with Googling the name of an animal that begins with the same letter and learning interesting facts about them instead.
- Eating Healthy Foods Eating healthy foods in healthy amounts and not binging on fatty, oily, or high-sugar foods is not only great for your health, but will also prevent both stomachaches and the various physical discomforts that often accompany being out of shape, including shortness of breath and sluggishness. Reducing these negative sensations will help control your somatization problems.
- Maintaining a Sleep Schedule Sleeping well at night is very important to maintaining both physical health and psychological balance. For those with hypochondria, sleep improves positive thinking and decreases physical sensations that occur during sleep debt. If you find that anxiety makes it difficult for you to sleep, it may help you to establish a comforting bedtime routine. This routine might involve setting a regular bedtime and always being in bed by that time, drinking a cup of herbal, non-caffeinated tea before bed, and/or reading a chapter from a favorite book to give you something non-worrisome to dwell on as you wait to fall asleep.
Curing hypochondria, or the obsessive search for cures, does not happen instantly. It takes time, effort, and commitment to changing one's life for the better. However, with therapy, medication if necessary, and positive lifestyle changes, you can train your mind to use its curative powers for good rather than ill.
Make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test as well to get a better idea of what causes your hypochondria and what you can do to stop it.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.